noAbout five years ago my family and I went to dinner with a key family in my church. The objective of the dinner (besides fellowship and strengthening our relationship) was to have a hard conversation. I had seen all the warning signs and the shepherd side of me could not sit back and do nothing. What was happening you might ask?

I could see that the wife and mom I had asked to dinner was on the edge of burnout.

When I first started as pastor at my church three years ago, I was on a mission to recruit leaders, volunteers and build teams – and that I did. I identified and placed key leaders in every ministry in our congregation. Our church started to grow and it was evident God was blessing our community of faith, so why did I get concerned?

I noticed one particular person (a very sweet woman) that was showing up on too many of my ministry teams and leaders lists. She was a teacher in our kids ministry each Sunday. She was a small group leader for our youth group each Wednesday night. She was (along with her husband) an adult small group leader and they hosted the group in their home (I could do another post on why it’s overwhelming to both host and lead a small group, but others have covered this). She was also the point person and face of our Serve ministry.

The first three she was already doing. The last one was one that I had asked her because I thought she’d be a good point person and face for our Serve ministry. What changed? I noticed stress in her eyes, her voice, her family and she always seemed liked she was on the verge of crying when I talked to her. It was obvious she was overwhelmed, but she didn’t know how to say, “No.” So I arranged this dinner with our families and I set out to intervene before she burned out, broke down or quit the church all-together.

Here are some key concepts to consider as I look back on that preemptive conversation:

  • The person is always more important than the program.
  • Just because someone says “Yes” doesn’t mean you should let them.
  • Some people need help saying “No.”
  • Be sensitive to people that always volunteer when the request goes out.
  • Don’t take advantage of someone’s kindness or lack of boundaries.
  • Set limits and boundaries. We asked people to worship (attend church), grow (be in a small group) and serve (volunteer in or lead a ministry).
  • Show your people you care for their souls and prioritize their spiritual life and family life above your ministry need.
  • If you’re always needing more and more volunteers for new ministries, maybe you need to simply. I’m a huge believer in being a Simple Church.
  • It takes guts to make “the ask.” It also takes guts to believe God will provide when you give someone a break. Read that again.
  • Focus on broadening your volunteer pool/team. Don’t always go to the same people.
  • You may have heard “20% of the people do 80% of the work.” Don’t buy it. Don’t accept it.
  • Teach the value and reason for service and expect a dream team of servants to carry the load. (A good case study is to look at Church of the Highlands up-close and their use of their Dream Team)
  • Care more about church health than church growth. It will be better in the long-run. Don’t miss understand me. Growth is good – just don’t do it at the expense of church health.
  • Be an Ephesians 4 leader and raise up and empower other equipping leaders. I talk about this in my book Church Leadership Essentials.
  • Ask your staff and ministry leaders tough questions and be on the lookout for ministry burnout.
  • Pray for wisdom, direction and discernment daily.
  • Pray that God would bring to mind new people to serve.
  • Teach your staff and team leaders to always thank people that serve and let them know you care for them. Our staff sent out weekly, hand-written thank you notes. I write about this in my book, too (shameless plug).
  • Be proactive in giving people an “out.” Maybe have people sign-up to serve for a set time length (like 3 months or 6 months or for the summer).
  • Set the example. If you are spread too thin and on the edge of burnout yourself, you can imagine the example you set for your congregants.
  • Above all love and lead well. You’re a part of a bigger story than building your own kingdom.

What was the result of the hard conversation? The family thanked me for my concern and the woman cut her four ministries down to two and is still serving to this day. Be on the lookout friends and pastor your people well.

“The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few,” he told his disciples. “So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.” – Matthew 9:37-38 (TLB)

Greg Atkinson

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