How to Recover from Burnout : Sean Nemecek
As pastors and ministry leaders, how do we recover from periods of high stress, great anxiety, and even burnout? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Sean Nemecek, Regional Director for Pastor-in-Residence Ministries. Sean is the author of The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout. Together, Sean and Jason explore one of the biggest mistakes that leaders make when it comes to burnout. They also discuss the importance of finding safe spaces for recovery. And Sean shares the hope of never burning out again.
Looking to dig more deeply into this topic and conversation? Every week we go the extra mile and create a free toolkit so you and your ministry team can dive deeper into the topic that is discussed. Find your Weekly Toolkit below… Love well, Live well, Lead well!
- Video links to this week’s episode – easily share with the ministry leaders in your church
- Audio links to this week’s episode – easily share with the ministry leaders in your church
- Additional resource links from this week’s conversation – so you and your team can easily find what is mentioned or referenced
- Ministry Leaders Growth Guide – key insights and concepts from this week’s conversation as well as engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process
- Full-text transcript of this week’s episode – review something you heard, pass along snippets, post tweets, create presentations to share, or use in whatever way you find most helpful in developing your ministry leaders
- Shareable Social Graphics – Feel free to post them on your church social accounts, your personal accounts, or use them as graphics in your communications
Share the video with your ministry leaders >> YouTube
Share the audio podcast with your ministry leaders…
Additional Resource Links
www.seannemecek.com – Sean’s website where you will find his podcast, books, and other resources.
The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout – Sean’s book takes Christian leaders on a journey from burnout through recovery and on to spiritual transformation. This book integrates biblical interpretation, theology, psychology, and contemplative spirituality into a holistic approach to recovery.
Connect with Sean Nemecek – Twitter
Feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or just want to talk? Complimentary Coaching Session for Pastors http://PastorServe.org/freesession
Ministry Leaders Growth Guide
Key Insights and Concepts
- The percentage of pastors who are satisfied with their ministry has dropped 20% over the past 8 years.
- There are multiple causes for burnout including, but not limited to, trauma, conflict, shame, fatigue, pressure, and doubt.
- Isolation is very unhealthy for ministry leaders and must be overcome if there is to be full recovery from burnout.
- A team, or at least one safe person, is absolutely essential to help pastors and ministry leaders move out of burnout.
- Church boards do not often create supportive environments where a pastor feels safe and comfortable reaching out to them if they are struggling with feelings of fatigue or burnout.
- Pastors and ministry leaders need people in their lives that are not trying to get anything ministry-related out of them and are just interested in them as a person.
- Sources outside of a local church leadership team can be incredibly helpful in navigating seasons of burnout, such as a spiritual director, counselor, mentor, or ministry coach.
- There are resources, both free and paid, available to pastors and ministry leaders to help them move out of a state of burnout.
- It’s healthy to engage in safe relationships early and often, before burnout intensifies and becomes harder to recover from.
- Giving voice to the issues and struggles one is facing is a helpful early step in solving them
- Focusing on God’s will, remaining in His love, and bringing our stress and problems to Him helps ministry leaders avoid burnout.
Questions for Reflection
- In what areas have you seen a decrease in pastoral satisfaction from a big-picture perspective? Have you seen it in yourself personally, and how?
- What are some things you are dealing with that has led or could lead to burnout? (ei. Conflict, toxic cultures, doubt, isolation, shame, unresolved trauma, lack of healthy boundaries, financial pressures, spiritual stagnation, etc.)
- When have you found yourself becoming distant from people due to the shame and anxiety that shows up from burnout?
- What past experiences have made it hard to open up to others both in your personal life and to other church leadership?
- Who do you have in your life that loves you for you and isn’t in the relationship to get anything ministry-related from you?
- What roles (mentor, spiritual director, ministry coach, friend, therapist, etc.) would you find helpful to have in your life right now? What is holding you back from pursuing these relationships?
- What resources do you have access to that can help you with a current state of burnout or help prevent a future state of burnout?
- Do you have at least one person you can go to that is a good listener and cares about you as a person, who is willing to gently challenge you? If not, do you have people in mind that you could begin to see if they would be a safe person for you?
- Do you think you’re currently working for God’s favor and approval, or are you submitting to His will and resting in his love?
- Are you willing to do the work to heal from burnout or prevent burnout? What plan will you put in place to ensure healing and/or prevention takes place?
As pastors and ministry leaders, how do we recover from periods of high stress, great anxiety, and even burnout?
In this episode, I’m joined by Sean Nemecek, Regional Director for Pastor-in-Residence Ministries. Sean is the author of The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout. Together, Sean and I explore one of the biggest mistakes that leaders make when it comes to burnout. We also discuss the importance of finding safe spaces for recovery. And Sean shares the hope of never burning out again. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello friends, and welcome to yet another insightful episode of FrontStage BackStage. I’m your host, Jason Daye. And as always, we sit down with a trusted ministry leader each and every week and have a conversation in an effort to help you and pastors and ministry leaders just like you embrace a healthy, sustainable rhythm for both life and ministry. We’re proud to be a part of the Pastor Serve Network. And with each of these episodes, our team creates an entire toolkit for you and the ministry team at your local church to use to dig more deeply into the conversation. And you can find that at PastorServe.org/network. There you will find lots of different resources, including links to videos and the audio for this conversation, but also links to other resources. And every single week we create a Ministry Leaders Growth Guide. This gives you an opportunity to learn more and to reflect upon the topic that we discuss. And you can use this with the ministers and the leaders at your local church to really help develop your leadership there. So be sure to check that out at PastorServe.org/network. And if you’re joining us on YouTube, it’s good to have you. As always, please give us a thumbs up. Be sure that you drop your name and the name of your church in the comments below. We love to get to know our audience better, and our team will be praying for you and for your ministry. Whether you’re joining us on YouTube, or your favorite podcast platform, please be sure to follow, to subscribe, to hit the notification bell so you do not miss out on any of these great conversations. And today, we definitely have a wonderful conversation. At this time. I would like to welcome Sean Nemecek to the show. Sean, thank you for joining us. Good to have you with us.
Thanks, Jason. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Yeah, brother. Now, there’s no secret right now for those of us in ministry, and I’m sure for everyone watching along and listening, that times right now for pastors… we’re feeling the stress. Research shows the percentage of pastors who say they are very satisfied with their ministry has dropped by 20%. It was at 72% back in 2015. Now it’s down to 52%. And Barna has done a lot of research around that and other organizations. This is an alarming trend. Stress, burnout, general weariness, means pastoring, right now Sean, feels really difficult. In fact, David Kinnaman, the CEO of Barna, recently shared that a drop in the level of pastoral health this significant isn’t just unprecedented. You know, it’s not just that we haven’t seen this before, but it really signals a crisis that the church has to address. And so, Sean, in your work and in your ministry, I’m curious about your thoughts on pastoral burnout. And do you agree that the church is really facing a crisis around this?
Yeah, absolutely. I am getting calls every week from pastors who are burned out. Sometimes it’s their spouse who calls me and says, I think my husband or my wife needs help. So yeah, it’s definitely a crisis. It’s reaching just astounding levels. I’m hopeful about this. There are a number of resources that are coming out, including my book, but others that are starting conversations around how we can turn this thing around. But I’m afraid it’s gonna get worse before it gets better. And we need all the help we can get right now.
Yeah, Sean, and I would definitely agree with that. In the work that we do we’re experiencing the same thing and the crisis seems that not only is burnout growing, is this a growing trend. But there’s just this lack of confidence that pastors are kind of experiencing around ministry. Sean, in the work that you do and in your newest book, The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout, you really focus on a holistic approach to recovering from burnout. And, likely, most of us here watching and listening along, pastors and ministry leaders, are aware of the many causes of burnout, right? We could go through, you know, stress, anxiety, expectations, pressure. Whether it’s pressure we put on ourselves or external pressures, right? Conflict, toxic cultures, doubt, isolation, shame, unresolved trauma, lack of healthy boundaries, financial pressures, spiritual stagnation, we could go on and on, with a lot of these causes for burnout. But Sean, you focus on recovering from burnout, and then really avoiding getting back into a cycle of burnout. Oftentimes, it seems if you are experiencing some form of burnout in your life or in your ministry, as leaders, we often think we can dig ourselves out of it on our own, right? That we can figure this out on our own. But Sean, you say that this really is the biggest mistake that leaders make. They believe that they can get through burnout alone. But the truth is that you cannot fully recover from burnout alone, right?
Yeah, absolutely. I tell pastors that I’m coaching all the time, it’s good that you’ve gotten me and you’ve got others in your life to help you. Because it’s impossible, really, to climb out of burnout on your own. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work that you have to do. Anybody who’s in burnout has a lot of work to do to recover. It’s good work. It’s hard work. But you really have to have at least one good, safe, empathetic voice in your life. I had to have a team of people around me that helped me learn what it was like to talk to people who were safe again. And then that ballooned into a whole group of people now. But yeah, it’s absolutely essential. Because one of the things that is a marker of burnout is isolation. The shame and anxiety that leads to burnout tends to cause us to pull back from people, to hide from people. And the only way out of that is to really find somebody who’s safe, but has an empathetic voice and a good listening ear, to help us begin to come out of that hiding place.
Yeah, that’s so helpful, Sean. And real quick, you touched on this just a bit there. You know, that the isolation piece, that we tend toward isolation when we’re experiencing burnout, and shame, anxiety, these types of things. But why is it? Is there anything beyond that, that tends to make leaders, ministry leaders especially, feel like, Oh, I can’t do this on my own?
Well, I think it’s the nature of any type of senior leadership, not just in ministry, but I’ve heard this from business people as well. That it’s lonely at the top, you know. There’s a tendency to think that nobody understands where I’m at. I mean, we see this in Scripture too. Elijah was like, I’m the only one left. But I think part of it, in the church especially, it’s isolating because we’re just so afraid of opening up. And many times, church boards and ministry teams have not responded well to a pastor who struggles. And we’ve all heard horror stories about pastors who have lost their job when all they needed was just a little bit of help. So I think the overall culture of the American church especially tends toward pushing pastors toward this isolated state of being. We don’t have to go there. But it’s pretty common.
Yeah, that’s helpful, Sean. And I think it gives us some handles on the reality of what going through burnout might feel like in regard to how we share this with, maybe some of the key leadership at our local church. And I would agree Sean, that there is, not just a hesitancy, but almost a fear, because you don’t know how they’re going to take it, how it’s going to turn out. And as you said, we’ve all heard stories of things going sideways very quickly, and that can be disheartening. So with that, and with the reality that, not only is it difficult for ministry leaders to seek help. But it’s absolutely necessary for them in order to really recover, fully recover, from burnout. What are some ways that we can pull those two things together and say, hey, here are some thoughtful ways of how to overcome that isolation in a healthy way, in a thoughtful way, that will give you some confidence and not just fear. And again, not that there is no fear. Because anytime we’re entering into a conversation, there is some of that. But how do we kind of quell those and put ourselves in a position to really engage and come out of the isolation and get that healthy help?
Yeah, when I’m coaching pastors through burnout, one of the questions I always ask is, do you have any close friends, any friends, who just love you for who you are? And they’re not interested in getting any ministry stuff out of you? Most of them will think for a long time and say, No, I don’t have anybody like that. That’s a problem. Just to admit that right off the bat, we all need friends like that in our lives. And if we don’t, we’re in an unhealthy place. But if we’re in that place, then we’re probably going to need to find some people in a more professional capacity who can help us. I had mentioned earlier, a group of people, a whole team, that I had to connect with so that I could learn how to relate in this healthy way, again. I started by talking to my doctor. He was a member of my church, but he was very good at listening to what I was experiencing. And we explored if there are physical things going on. Thankfully, there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me, he just said you need to take about a year off, which obviously, I couldn’t do. But I also then started to reach out to some others. I contacted a local pastor who I saw as a leader in the community and just asked if he’d be willing to meet with me for breakfast. And he became my mentor and paid for breakfast for the next year. And every Thursday, we met and he basically just told me, yes, that’s normal. What you’re experiencing is normal. And that was so healing to hear. Beyond that though, I also hired a counselor to talk about some of the issues I was experiencing around shame. I hired a spiritual director to help me learn to listen for God’s voice in my life a little bit better. And I hired a ministry coach, who really helped me see that the things that I was doing in ministry were good, they were healthy. But I needed that kind of affirmation because I wasn’t getting it from anywhere in the church. And then I just started hanging out with another pastor who was a friend. He wasn’t there to mentor me, he wasn’t there for anything other than just hanging out and talking. And that team of people I met with regularly for that first 18 months of recovery, and they saved me. I needed every one of them in one way or another.
Yeah, that’s so helpful to hear from your own experience. And Sean, some listening or watching along might say, Wow, that sounds like a lot. Like, you know, that’s a lot of different people. I don’t even know who those people might be in my life right now. That sounds like it could be really expensive. I mean, there are all types of barriers that we tend to mentally throw up right away whenever we’re wrestling through something like this. Can you speak to some of those common things that leaders, pastors, ministry leaders might be thinking of? Oh, I can never. It may be that works for you, Sean, but I could never do that myself.
Yeah, it is a lot. I mean, I was in a really desperate place. Feeling like there was something deeply broken in my soul. And so reaching out to all of those, it was expensive. I was spending probably $150 a month on all of that. Not every pastor needs all of those. Having one or two of them is a great place to start. And you could start with a counselor and meet with a counselor for a while and then switch to a spiritual director for a little while and then switch to a ministry coach. All of them can be used, but they don’t have to be used simultaneously. But a lot of spiritual directors and counselors and ministry coaches are interested in seeing you healthy, they’re not interested in just getting your money, and so some of them will work pro bono. I used some denominational support for my counseling. They offered nine sessions which cost me, I think it was $25 a session or something like that. So there was help available, and my spiritual director was willing to meet with me on whatever I can pay type basis. And when I’m coaching pastors, I tell them if money is a problem, we have resources, we can find a way to make this work. So don’t let those things be a barrier. If you’re asking for help, personally, feel free to ask for financial help, too. Because you never know what God’s going to do and what he’s going to provide in those spaces.
Yeah, that’s helpful. I love that, Sean, because really that’s one of those excuses that we throw up. You notice right away, oh, I could never do this. And I hear this in other spaces, you know? I’m sure you have two incomes, like marriage counseling, or family counseling. Like, Oh, that’s so expensive, we can’t afford that. So we’re just going to try to figure it out, or whatever. And we know that seldom goes well. And those can just be kind of mental blocks that we throw in there, as opposed to true obstacles. There are resources, there are ways, and it just takes that initiative to reach out and have a conversation with a ministry coach or a potential counselor or spiritual director. Or like you said, if you’re part of a denomination, or some sort of ministry, or church network or a planting network, to reach out. Maybe have a conversation to see if there are ways to help. Because I agree with you, Sean, all of us who are in this… we’re all in this for pastors and for ministry leaders and to provide that care and assistance. So I love that, because I think that helps answer a big question that a lot of ministry leaders might have, or like I said, a block that they might create that may not necessarily be there. But the value, I think Sean, of saying that we need other people in our lives, is huge if we are to move through burnout. And as you said, Sean, in your experience you were in a really deep season, but that’s not everyone’s experience. Some people might just feel a little overwhelmed or they might have some uncertainties they’re wrestling through. And regardless of where you are on that spectrum of the depth of your need right now, it’s healthy to engage in conversation with others, regardless, so that you don’t digress into deeper places, right, Sean?
Yeah, absolutely. We all need people who can hear us say, this is where I’m struggling, and respond to that, without judgment, or advice, or teaching us or any of that stuff. But just, oh, that must be hard. Tell me more about that. They’re listening, you know, and they want to understand. And we need to hear ourselves say those things out loud, too. That’s one of the great benefits of having these relationships, is you hear yourself talking about the problems that you’re experiencing. And that gives you the courage to face them. We use a phrase sometimes, name it to tame it. That when you’re willing to face the problem and speak it out loud, you’ve actually gone a long way down the road to solving that problem.
Yeah, that’s great, Sean. And we all know that our internal conversations can be so damaging. So just the idea of opening our mouths, getting it out there, bouncing it off of someone else, sharing it with someone else in a safe space, as you said, helps us get it out of that internal conversation, which can become very, very negative, very toxic. You know, when it’s all in here, and we’re not actually saying it. Once you say some things, it helps you process it a little better and realize some things. So many times you mentioned this idea of safe relationships, safe spaces. Share with us a little bit about, how do we know if it’s a safe space? What are some of the markers or some things we should be looking for, in regard to safe people and safe spaces?
Safe people are people who are good listeners. That’s where it starts. You need people, like I said, who, they’re not interested in giving you advice and telling you what to do or controlling you. They’re interested in, and they’re curious about, what you’re experiencing. So it starts there. Finding safe people is risky, because if you trust too much too early, you can get burned pretty badly. So it starts by taking small steps. Little bit of trust at a time until you find somebody who really is deeply interested in you as a person. They’re not going to share their thoughts about it unless asked. And people who are interested in your wellbeing, they’re going to challenge you to grow to become healthier. They’re not going to let you get away with wallowing in your pain or offering excuses where you’re avoiding the problem. They’re gonna call you to deal with the problem, but they’re going to do so gently and firmly. And because they’re interested in you, they’re interested in your health, you will know that, and they’ll be trustworthy because of that. So it takes a while to develop those types of relationships. But over time, you’ll find somebody who is really deeply interested in you. And that’s one of the big keys to look for.
Yeah, I love that, Sean. That’s helpful. And one of the things that you share there, I think that’s important for us to key in on, is that there’s value in someone just being able to listen to what you have to say. However, if they care about you, they’re going to listen to what you say, and then gently help you process through and invite some things out of you, to help you get to a healthier place. So it’s not just someone who’s sitting there, and you’re saying how terrible everything is. And they’re like, yes, everything is terrible, you’re right. You know, it’s not like somebody’s sitting in it with you. It’s them genuinely listening, hearing, not trying to necessarily solve all your problems or issues, but inviting you into thinking through them maybe a little more deeply, or from a different perspective, inviting you to a place of health, right?
Yeah, I have a couple of guys I meet with almost every Friday for two hours, and we just share what’s going on in life. And every once in a while, we’ll ask one another, tell me what’s happening inside. What’s your internal critic saying? And we’ll say those things out loud. And it’s amazing how much, when you say them out loud, it’s really hard hearing yourself say those things. But it’s even harder when somebody else says, you know that’s abusive, right? You would never talk that way to somebody else. How can we change what you’re saying to yourself? And then we’ll remind each other of the promises of God, and replace the internal critic with God’s promises. And that work is so hope-filled, it’s so wonderful to experience, because it gives you a handle to hang on to, and something to anchor your soul with. So yeah, it’s experiences like that, that are so powerful when you have safe people in your life.
Yeah, that is super helpful. Sean, in your book, The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout, you do have a chapter in there titled, if I remember correctly, Never Burnout Again. And so I want to ask you, Sean, is it possible to get to a point where you never burn out again? And if so, what’s kind of the key to that? Because I think that’s a question that a lot of people might assume, hey, there’s gonna be periods of burnout in life. And maybe you can help define that a little more, and let us know, you know, is it possible to avoid burnout altogether?
Yeah, so there are a couple of things I can say around that. First, this isn’t a guarantee. I’m not making a promise with the book that everybody who reads this will never burn out again, okay? But I believe that it is possible to have a way of working and a way of relating to God and others that will prevent burnout from happening. Burnout is what happens when we’re not managing our workplace stress well. From a spiritual perspective, I say that burnout is what happens when our inner life with God is no longer able to sustain our outer work for God. When we’re working for God, we’re trying to earn his favor. We’re trying to prove ourselves. And that approach to ministry is just toxic. It’s gonna lead to burnout every time. Instead, what we need to do is have a relationship with God where we’re sitting in his love, we’re offering our grief and our pain to him, where we’re submitting to his will, and where his love just begins to flow through us. So that ministry isn’t something we have to push to do. It actually becomes a natural outflow of the love of God within us. When we have that approach to ministry, then we’re not going to burn out again. It’s going to be a slower approach, it’s going to be more of a rhythm of work and rest, rather than constant go, go go. There’s less urgency to it. There’s more trust in the work of the Holy Spirit and not trying to be the Holy Spirit ourselves. So really, burnout is a warning sign that our whole approach to work needs to change. And when we refocus our ministry on submitting to God’s will, on remaining in his love, and bringing our griefs and pains to him, burnout, when we’re in that space, burnout is impossible. And so as long as we remain there, and we don’t regress to our old ways of working, we’re not going to burn out again. But it takes a lot of intentional work. It’s deep spiritual work to get to that space.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s super helpful. Sean, this entire conversation has been absolutely fantastic. I so appreciate the work that you do. And the fact that you invested time and energy into putting together The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout, and I encourage those who are watching along, listening along, to pick up a copy for yourself, probably a copy for a friend. Because we all have friends in ministry as well, that we care about, right? But you have other resources beyond this book that can help pastors and ministry leaders who are sensing themselves, and again, wherever you might feel yourself on the spectrum of burnout, right? I know that work that we do, Sean, you and I both and our teams, we always want to help encourage and catch ministry leaders earlier in the cycle of, you know, moving toward burnout rather than later. Because, as you said, there are ways that we can approach life and ministry and create those rhythms that will prevent us from really hitting rock bottom or hitting the depths of burnout. So what are some of those resources that you have available or that you’d point people to?
Sure, let me just say first, while I’m all in favor of avoiding burnout, don’t be afraid of it. Because it can be something that God uses to develop you. If you do the work to recover from burnout, you’ll be a better leader than you ever were before. And that’s the hope that I want to present in this book is that doing this work is worth it. It makes you a much better leader. We have several resources on my website, SeanNemecek.com. If you go there, you can find the book, you’ll find more information about the book. There’s a guide there for how to start your own cohort of leaders to go through the book together. There’s also a companion guide for the book. It’s a substantial kind of workbook that takes you chapter by chapter and gives you more exercises to work on. I’ve got a suggested reading list, most of the books on that list were books that I used to help recover from burnout. And there’s other resources as well, we’re going to be adding more and more as time goes on. So that’s it, SeanNemecek.com. And you can find more about it there.
Awesome, brother. And for those of you watching, listening along, as always, we will have links to all the resources that Sean mentioned in our toolkit, which you can find at PastorServe.org/network there, we have all the links. So if you’re driving down the road right now, and you’re trying to jot things down, just hold on. Just visit PastorServe.org/network, we’ll have links to Sean’s resources and all those things that he mentioned. Sean, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you join us and brother, I just want to thank you for the work that you are doing as you’re coming alongside pastors and ministry leaders and really helping them get to a place of health. You know, it’s a joy to see ministry leaders, like yourself, who are investing in pastors. So thank you for the work that you’re doing.
Thank you so much, Jason. It’s great to partner with you, and the work that Pastor Serve does.
Thank you, brother. Oh, God bless you.
Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
Shareable Social Graphics
Strengthen Your Church
Strengthening your church, for us, begins by serving you, the pastor!