It was the spring of 2016 when our world began to implode.
Just six months earlier, my parents were killed in a tragic car accident that took both of them home to Heaven. The grief and trauma from that event began to expose some unhealthy practices in our church plant in Western South Dakota. My husband and I love ministry, but we have found this to be both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because we are both all in and usually unified in serving the local church. However, it is a curse in that we love what we do, and therefore often run harder than we should. We had run hard for almost six years getting our church plant off the ground and then even harder to maintain our growth and all the responsibilities that come with a growing and multiplying church. So in the fog of deep grief, the plates we had been spinning began to crash to the ground.
What we discovered was that too much of the church plant rested on our shoulders, and it was more than we could bear. While the plant was successful from the outside looking in, from the inside we found that we had failed to develop the leadership structure necessary to shepherd and lead the current church attendance and were in no way prepared for future growth.
What ultimately transpired was Doug and I stepped away from our church plant and Doug took a denominational position leading church planting for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Those four years in Texas gave us time to do ministry at a very different pace and in a different role. We were able to rest, refocus on our calling and our identity in Jesus, yet still engage with and coach Texas church planters and their spouses.
When God made it clear that He was calling us back into church planting, we knew two things for sure—we knew we wanted to be back in the West and we knew we had to do this in a different way than we had before. Here are five things I wish I had done better as a church planting wife and mom that would have perhaps saved me from burnout:
1 Say “No” More – My nature is to be a people pleaser and, at the risk of my own well-being, commit to too much. Boundaries are good and healthy things. Saying “no” doesn’t make you less than, nor does it make you like or love the person who is doing the asking any less. Saying “no” applies to your children too. You don’t have to do everything offered to kids these days—every sport, every dance team, every club, every art class or music lesson. I’m not saying that extracurricular activities are bad, but when you’re living out of your car and your daily dinner comes from a drive-thru and your kids are getting to bed way later than they should, perhaps you are over-committed. Choose one or two things for your kids to participate in, and say “no” to the rest. Then, make a meal at home and eat around the table. Slow down and talk about your day. Read your kids bedtime stories. And reconnect as a couple when the kids go to bed.
2 Know Your Gifting – One of the quickest ways to arrive at burnout is saying “yes” to things that are not in your gifting and not what you are passionate about. Granted, there are seasons in every church, particularly a church plant, where you must fill a need until a more suitable volunteer can be found. For me, this was children’s ministry. Don’t get me wrong; I love kids, but children’s ministry is not my passion. Can I do it? Yes. Is that where I thrive? No. Serving on the greeter team and worship team and discipling young women is where I thrive. So, plug a hole temporarily, but quickly raise up a leader to take over so that you can flourish in your calling.
3 Date Your Spouse – I cannot stress this enough. One day, your kids are going to leave the house. You don’t want to be complete strangers when that day arrives. If money is tight, trade off babysitting with another couple you know or take advantage of the kids being in school and do a lunchtime date. Additionally, there are loads of creative dates to go on that don’t cost much money. Also, we have learned that if date night isn’t scheduled and put on the calendar, it probably won’t happen. So put date night on the calendar. You’ll be glad you did!
4 Make Family Night a Priority – For us, Friday nights are family nights. You will be hard pressed to get time with the Hixson family on Fridays. When the kids were still home, we loved to have family game nights with homemade pizza, or we would watch a family friendly movie and pop popcorn, or we’d take turns choosing our favorite places to eat, or we loved to go hiking or kayaking. As an empty-nester, can I just tell you, the days go by fast. Don’t miss getting to know your kids and making memories and traditions with them. As the saying goes, don’t sacrifice your kids on the altar of ministry.
5 Take Sabbath Seriously – Sabbath is mandated by God on purpose. When He rested after creation in Genesis 1 and 2, it wasn’t because the God of the universe was tired. Rather, He was modeling for us our human need for rest. Sabbath reminds us that we are finite and dependent on an infinite God. Sabbath helps us acknowledge the churches we lead, the family He gave us stewardship over, the friendships we have—all of this is held together by Him. Ignoring Sabbath mimics the sin of Adam and Eve. Their sin was less about eating the fruit and more about their hearts believing the lie the Serpent told them—that with a bite, they could be like God. To not observe Sabbath says that we believe this whole gig rests on us, and we are powerful enough to carry it. It is us saying, “We can be our own god,” and that is a dangerous place to be. So rest. Ignore work related phone calls, texts and emails. Take up a hobby. Read a book that isn’t work related. Go to coffee with a friend (and don’t talk shop). Take a nap. Enjoy the beauty of Colorado and marvel at His creation. I promise the work will be there on Monday when you return to the office. And in the meantime, He is faithful to carry it all.
Are you feeling the burn?
Pastors and Ministry Leaders, you are not alone.
We have Regional Directors and Convention Staff who are here to help. They are seasoned ministry leaders who understand the unique challenges of ministry. They can help you develop a plan, find resources, and build teams to help you avoid or recover from burnout. Ministry is demanding at every level. Every minister needs someone.