It seems like every time I turn around I encounter another Christian leader (or pastor) who is burned-out or well on their way. What is going on and how would you know that YOU are on this  hurtful and harmful road at the moment? My experience has taught me that there are a multiplicity of reasons for this it’s not simple or easy to diagnose.

Cary Niewwhof shares some very helpful insights by giving us warning some warning signs that our hearts are just not in it anymore–burnout has begun to take over!

Guest Post by Carey Nieuwhof

When it comes to ministry, every leader knows you’re supposed to throw your heart into your work. But can you do that if you’re experiencing burnout?

Take a moment to reflect on how you started out in ministry — with your heart fully engaged. You felt a call, a passion, a deep hope and an optimism that you’re going to make an impact. Nothing was going to stop you.

While leaders start out like this, many discover that there’s a shift somewhere along the way. It changes.

Sure, some of that can be from the cynicism and disillusionment that seems to be an epidemic these days (in culture and in the church).

But I know a lot of other great leaders who want to do ministry, but somewhere along the line, their heart stopped working.

And that’s a serious problem.

It’s hard to throw your heart into your work when your heart isn’t working. 

Too often, their heart goes numb. Not just for a day, or a week, but often for a long season. Or sometimes, their heart goes numb indefinitely.

What I mean by numb is that you don’t feel things anymore, or when you do, you feel them incorrectly — the emotions you’re supposed to feel are not the emotions you actually feel.

I know this because my heart stopped working properly after a decade in leadership.

I had run at a ragged pace for years. Our church was seeing double-digit growth year after year, and I didn’t know how to keep up, so I just worked more hours—not a smart plan.

Before I hit full-on burnout, my body (soul?) fired a warning flare. The flare? My heart stopped working.

See if you can relate to any of the five signs that you’re heart isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. It’s often a sign that you’re heading into burnout, that you are already burned out, or that something else is deeply wrong.

5 Warning Signs You May Be Experiencing Ministry Burnout:

1. You don’t feel sad when you’re supposed to.

One sure sign your heart isn’t working happens when you hear bad news. Here are a few examples:

Someone tells you they just learned they have cancer, and you want to care. And intellectually, you’re concerned. Except you didn’t feel your heart sink or your gut plunge when you heard the news. If you were being honest with yourself, you felt nothing. 

Similarly, a staff member tells you they’re leaving. It’s not a great time for them to leave, and they’re a great team member, but you just felt flat when you heard the news.

You get the P&L that shows your church is running significantly in the red this quarter and dipping too far into reserves. Rather than sound the alarm bells, you just shrug. You feel nothing.

You know your heart isn’t working when at work and at home, bad news simply doesn’t penetrate. It’s like trying to pour water into a cup that’s already overflowing. It can’t get in.

2. You’re not happy when you’re supposed to be.

Not only do you not respond to bad news with appropriate emotions, but good news no longer makes you smile.

You watch your daughter come in first at a track meet, and while everyone else is cheering, you cheer too. But inside, your heart isn’t actually taking it in.

Your team tells you that they just crushed their quarterly targets…and you smile on the outside, high-fiving them. But inside, you’re still numb.

Worst, you’d perform a baptism and you know with everything in you that this is one of the best things that can happen to a person. It’s such a profound, moving moment. But to you, it feels mechanical.

3. Your reactions are disproportionate.

A third sign your heart isn’t working is that you do experience emotions, but not nearly in the right proportion.

A board member shows up 5 minutes late for a meeting, and sure, that’s not cool. But you lose it on them. You handled a 2 out of 10 problem with a 12 out of 10 response.

Or, you hear that one of your staff has had an affair and that you need to deal with it. That’s a 10/10 leadership challenge, but you almost shrug it off and feel it like a 2 out of 10 problem.

The same dynamic happens at home. Something that should not be much of a big deal gets an over-the-top response… while you underreact to an actual crisis.

4. Your reactions are the opposite of what they should be.

A fourth sign that your heart isn’t working is that your reactions are present (high and low), but they’re the opposite.

Although you’re loathe to admit it publicly, when someone’s struggling or suffering, you’re secretly happy about it.

Similarly, when someone’s happy, you feel resentful or even upset about it. Not cool. Not healthy. Not good.

5. The temptations keep coming in strong.

Everyone gets tempted.

When your heart is healthy, temptations come and go and are usually easy enough to control. You have enough self-control to not do something stupid that would blow up your life and the lives of those around you. The temptation comes, but it passes quickly enough.

But if your heart isn’t healthy, temptations linger longer and present themselves more strongly.

You can find yourself preoccupied with lust, greed, bitterness, anger, jealousy, faction, impatience, division, and a host of other sentiments that you know don’t come from the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, missing in action are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control. All the things that are supposed to characterize Christian leadership and the Christian life.

So What Do You Do About Burnout And Getting Your Passion for Ministry Back?

If any of these sound familiar, it’s a sign that your heart isn’t working the way it should. The bad news is that it’s a serious condition. The good news is that there’s hope and there’s healing.

Here are three things you can do to start the road to recovering from burnout: