I grew up in the church, literally. I was abandoned as a child and raised by a family of church mice. By day we would hide amongst the pews. By night we would scavenge for things people had thrown away. We were like the borrowers, minus the thievery.
Some of that was made up, but I did grow up with a dad who is a senior pastor. In those 30+ years I witnessed how hard it is to work at a church.
I saw burnout after burnout as staff members fell away from the church, and in some cases the faith, after bad experiences.
I thought it might be good to write a blog post about that. At first I was going to address it to senior pastors but then I realized two things:
1. Senior pastors are the most underappreciated people on the planet.
2. As a church member, I am as much if not more of the problem than the senior pastor.
So this post is about us. You and me, the church attendees and anyone on staff. We’re in this together. We are the church. And it’s also not about any one church in particular. I’ve worked with dozens of churches. This is a collection of the type of behavior I think leads to staff burnout. So without further adieu,
11 signs you’re burning out your church staff.
1. You’ve never written an encouraging note.
For every critical comment you make about a sermon, you should have to make ten positive. The problem is that we members only notice when things go poorly. We never notice when they go well. Next Sunday, thank the sound guy or girl for doing such a good job. I swear their heads will explode.
2. You underpay your staff.
Let’s not wait to get into the hard stuff! A lot of churches grossly underpay their staff. The reality though is that there’s not a lot of money in the budget. Some churches would love to pay more but simply can’t. The problem is compounded though when churches underpay and under vacation their staff. As a church, you might never have the ability to pay more money to staff, but you have the ability to give them more vacation days. Don’t steal nights and weekends from your staff and then give them the same amount of vacation days an office worker at a regular job gets. If the special production of a musical costs your staff four Saturdays, which are usually a day off, give them four extra vacation days.
3. You think mission trips or youth camps are vacations.
Dear youth ministers, I apologize for every idiot at church who has ever said, “You took the teens to beach camp? Must be nice to get paid to go on vacations.”
4. You shame them into doing extra work.
Sometimes people email me and say, “Since you love Jesus, would you like to support my mission trip financially?” What are my options there? I either give you money, stranger from the Internets, or I must not love Jesus. Never ask a church staff member to do something and then try to shame them into doing it in the name of Jesus.
5. More than 6 people have quit in the last 12 months.
How many people will it take before you admit, “You know what? Maybe it’s not all of them that have the problem? Maybe it’s our culture.” Will you have some people who leave for their own reasons? Definitely. But often people who quit your church are sending out messages in a bottle that if opened and read can be incredibly helpful in fixing things that might be broken.
6.The church steals the staff members’ family traditions.
If your staff is not looking forward to Christmas, there might be a problem. If the only family traditions your church staff gets to enjoy during the holidays is “working at church events,” you are headed to a dangerous place. Church staff have families too. Don’t send them home empty. When friends who work at churches say, “I just need to get through Christmas,” I know they’re headed toward burnout. If you work at a church and find yourself dreading Christmas or Easter, be careful. Is the reality that you’re going to work more during Christmas and Easter? Of course. It would be unrealistic to think working at a church won’t get more intense during those two seasons. That’s a tension of working at a church, but again, let’s be careful and in community. We need to have the space to have a discussion like this. I swear Jesus didn’t say, “One day, I hope someday Easter is a moment church employees look forward to with exhaustion, burnout and regret.”
7. You have a yes culture.
The quality of a person’s leadership is based in part on the number of people who can tell them no. If you’ve got leaders in your church who you can’t say no to, beware my friend, there is trouble ahead. You are working with an Emperor no one will admit is naked.
8. You have unused vacation days.
I challenge every senior pastor to know the number of vacation days their staff didn’t use last year. If the number averages out to more than one day per staff member you might have a culture that values busyness over rest.
9. You don’t allow staff members to dream.
My friend was a youth minister. One day his senior pastor asked him what his dream was. He told him an idea he had about helping the parents of teenagers. The senior pastor listened and then said, “Clean out your desk. You’re fired.” I wish I was making this up, but sometimes when you work at a church it’s dangerous to admit God gave you a new dream. Your staff will leave if you create a culture where creativity is punished not rewarded.
10. You demand programs without serving programs.
Want the church to do a musical? Think there should be a softball team? Want the kids department to be better? Volunteer. If you’re attending a church and want a new program, stop complaining about the problem and go be the solution.
11. You think this list is dumb.
I took a lot of heat when I mentioned this post on Twitter. If this list fills you with rage, you might be this list.
I love the church and for the part I’ve played in these problems, I apologize.
If you work at a church thanks for doing what you do. My kids, my marriage and my town need you.
What might be another sign you’re burning out your church staff?