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3 Tips to Avoid Ministry Burn Out

Can You Care Too Much or Will You Burn Out?

The first time we facilitated a group for couples that were struggling in their marriage, we were very emotionally involved. We heard their struggles and their pain and we felt for them. We wanted to help.

The group met for ten sessions and we eagerly looked forward to hearing about how they were applying some of the concepts we taught. At the end of the ten sessions, there was a couple that recommitted themselves to their marriage. We felt deeply rewarded.

We felt defeated when another couple decided to divorce.

Our emotions went up and down based on whether or not the couple improved their relationship.

This took a toll on us.

So, what’s wrong with caring for people?

Nothing is wrong with caring for people. The problem is protecting yourself from being becoming burned out.

I know that we could not have continued to be in this ministry if we continually lived with that emotional roller coaster.

We see this same thing happening with new mentors. They want to help couples and they get very emotionally invested in the couple’s success.

I understand. They care. But, sometimes they don’t continue in the ministry because of the toll that it takes on them.

Here are three tips that I use to protect myself from burn out.

Tip #1: You Don’t Own the Work

I’ve watched a number of couples work on their marriage.

Some couples are very diligent and they spend hours working to improve. They do all the exercises. They study hard. They talk to each other about all their issues.

But, some couples don’t do the work. We’ll give them an exercise and they don’t complete it. They’ll agree to go on a date, but they don’t find the time. They’ll agree to talk about an issue, but they do. For some reason, they don’t really work on it.

We can give them tools, education and encouragement, but we can’t make them do the work.

Tip #2: You Don’t Own the Results

Because I don’t own the work, I don’t own their results.

A couple’s success or failure isn’t my responsibility.

This thought has freed me from burn out. I used to ride that emotional roller coaster based on whether a couple was succeeding or failing. I thought that if I had only done this or said that, it would make a difference. I couldn’t continue in ministry for long that way.

It’s comforting to me to know that God also has this problem. Jesus said in Matthew 23, “Jerusalem,

Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

I guess God doesn’t own the result either.

I can care. I can encourage. I can pray. I don’t own the results.

The best I can do is to do my best.

Tip #3: Someone Else May Be More Effective

One woman came up to me after a class and said, “I’ve been to three therapists and this class helped me more than any of them.”

I’m glad that it was helpful for her, but I suspect that there are therapists that hear, “I went to Phil and Michelle’s class, but you were far more impactful.”

I know that others may be more helpful than I am. Maybe it’s a personality thing. Maybe the people are in a place where they can hear something and make a change. Maybe the other person is far better than I am.

I’m happy when they find someone or something that helps. It doesn’t have to be me.

With experience, I’ve come to see that I’ll burn out if I continue to own a couple’s work or response.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • You Don’t Own the Work – The couple has to work on their relationship.

  • You Don’t Own the Results – It’s up to the couple to make progress. Whether they succeed or fail, you can only do your best.

  • Someone Else May Be More Effective – People need different things at different times. I don’t take it personally. I’m just glad when they find something that works for them.

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