Does ‘Just Get Over It’ Actually Work? Thoughts on Overcoming Burnout

Some things take longer to get over. Burnout is a serious condition that has resulted from a grinding down process which has taken years, perhaps decades. Those of us who are unfit and overweight dream of a quick fix to our problems. The truth is that we cannot undo 100,000 greasy pizzas with a few well-meaning dry crackers and a walk around the block. It is a process of change. We do realise this and know that it is pointless to ask the one on the diet if they are feeling slimmer at the end of each day. For those on the recovery path from serious pastorpain, the road will be long. For some it will be months, others years, others longer.

How do the damaged take such time out to recover? For me, I was fortunate to have some accumulated long service leave up my sleeve. It was a great blessing to have some months to be in the forest and not have the pressure to have to work, although it was never my dream to use this time to wallow in a pit. Days blur into weeks and months and sometimes there is no real improvement to show for it. I just thought that a bit of time off would do the trick, but the bite of burnout has been much more vicious than I would ever have dreamed. It takes time but sometimes we don’t have enough. The opportunity to rest is spoiled by the pressure that soon I will need to be the provider again. Soon I will have to be an ex-burnt out guy.

Sometimes people try to start back too soon. Whether it’s in their old role or a new one, they have to, or choose to, get back in the race. There is a lot of fear that comes with this as our confidence in our abilities has been shaken to the core. What if we really aren’t better? What if we crash again, will it be worse? A leader that keeps wearing out and falling behind could never really lead well again. Could they? I hope so. It would be good to have more time but our world cannot give us this time.

Just Get Over It!

Those words sound so right and yet are so hard. It is hard to get over pastorpain. It’s not a simple formula as we who are in it don’t know exactly what we are supposed to be getting over. Is it bitterness or unforgiveness? If so, then that’s something to work on. Pastorpain goes well beyond these two and so to say “get over it” shows that you don’t even understand where I am and how I got here. That’s one of the reasons for these writings; to show that it’s not just a case of getting over it, otherwise I could have worked that out and done that a long time ago.

It’s also hard to get over something that is an ongoing pain in your life. In life, sad and difficult times come and go and we are left to work through minimising the residual effects. Pastorpain is ongoing. There are issues of confidence for the future and present status that makes moving ahead more difficult. Time spent wondering what went wrong and all those doctors and psychologist appointments. Then there are issues of future career choices.

Sometimes people choose to give it another go and sometimes pastors realise that it’s time to go back to being a teenager and wonder what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. I have never been a person who gets hung up on titles and positions, but it is a sobering thing to lose descriptions like “effective leader”, “good pastor” and be left with titles like “burnt out”, “sick”, “lost” or “a mess”.

POSTED ON January 31, 2014
  • Sparkling_jewel

    If you look from a spiritual perspective, burnout can be equated as trials and tribulations. It is through burnout that the Lord strengthens you and shapes your direction in life. Your sweat is never as priceless as compared to when the glory of the Lord falls in your church, His Bride. “You will indeed drink from My cup but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by My Father” ( Matthew 20:23 ). Burnout gives you the access to sit next to Jesus.

    • In your opinion, how do we know when burnout is trials and trIbulation that needs to be walked through, and when something needs to change?

      • Sparkling_jewel

        Pastoral ministry is the most challenging ministry and very often pastors are the ones who suffer burnout. Burnout happens when these pastors feel extremely distressed as a result of not achieving a goal ( or goals ) during the course of leading the flock. At this point of time, many would feel like they are failures and could then be on the verge of giving up on their ministry because they don’t see positive results. Little do they know that this may be a test from the Lord. When the Lord tests them, they should be able to hear the voice of God during these times of trials if they have been walking closely with the Lord. It is at this hour of test that the Lord is doing a transformation, be it in their character or the way they lead or it could be the Lord is birthing new ministries in the church. If the pastors cannot catch the spiritual vision here, they would go the easy way by giving it up all together, thus they would not see the glory of the Lord in the end. On the other hand, if these pastors renew their spirit in the Lord and keep praying in the Spirit, they will actually be able to endure and persevere till the trials are over and they begin to see victory. So, when burnout occurs, the pastor needs to know that something good is around the corner and that we walk through it with much anticipation that positive changes are taking place. Well, I don’t know if my opinion here has answered your question. Let’s discuss.

        • So, are you saying all burnout situations can be avoided if they were simply more in tune with the spirit and what He is doing? Seeing God and the trial He is taking them through? As in, are you saying all burn out situations are simply trials and tribulations?

  • Jim King

    From my discernment burnout is from constant or frequent unfulfilled expectations. As a retired prison chaplain I saw it among my colleagues who were trained at the same seminaries as many pastors. My approach is that I am a chosen, called, and gifted vessel of the Holy Spirit to be led by Him in the current moment. (The past is history, the future a mystery and now is a gift, that’s why they call it the present:)). If I let my expectations be defined by the wisdom of men and it is at all in conflict with God’s intentions I will wear out in the spiritual warfare I am in. Congregational pastors in North American have great pressures from their congregations that have had their expectations formed more by the general and a kind of “churchianity” culture that is from the wisdom of men. I have great respect for those respond to that calling but trusting God to guide you in the current moment in the face of “Christian” culture is exactly what the revivalists the Great Awakenings and other revivals had to face and their perspectives need to be imitated.

Steve is a consulting psychologist and speaker who specializes in leadership and team development in the corporate and education sectors using a strengths-based approach. Seven years ago he went through burnout after two decades of pastoral and missionary work. While recovering from burnout, Steve wrote the book pastorpain to help those who are struggling with the challenges of ministry and to help churches to understand how they can support their pastors.

Steve is currently undertaking doctoral research looking at the challenges faced by new principals of Independent Schools. His consultancy work brings him into contact with leaders from around the world. You can visit his website at