This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, globally-renowned keynote speaker and author, Juliet Funt, speaks with Carey Nieuwhof about what pastors need to do to maximize productivity. Together, Funt and Nieuwhof unpack some of the root causes of burnout, the role of rest in fostering creative work and how to set boundaries with your congregation.
On Avoiding Burnout
Many pastors struggle with tending to their own needs, with only one in five pastors (19%) strongly agreeing that they prioritize their self-care. Unfortunately, this lack of care in the short term can often lead to feelings of exhaustion and burnout down the road.
Commenting on the past few years, Funt notes, “When you’re in what feels like a sprint, one where resources and mission and vision is threatened, good people dig in hard. Then […] the sprint becomes a marathon with the intensity of a sprint but the duration of a marathon. We’ve never really come off the initial doubling-down of this crisis.”
One of the new challenges that adds to burnout is the blurred lines between work and home as more people work remotely. Funt comments, “The pandemic have shuffled our work life and home life like a deck of cards.”
“We don’t know when to stop working, and the free floating anxiety is getting us to choose work out of anxiousness,” she continues. “When it’s 7:30 or 8pm, the kids are playing video games, work calls you—not only because your boss is pressing you, but you just don’t know what else to do—and that’s a different balance challenge than what used to be present.”
On Rest as a Pathway to Creativity
About half of pastors (52%) report practicing solitude / intentional time alone at least once a week, but that number is significantly lower for young pastors. While 58 percent of pastors over the age of 50 reported practicing solitude at least once a week, only 44 percent of those under the age of 50 said they do this at least once a week.
Funt talks about the importance of rest for leaders looking to do the deep creative work of ministry and preaching. She compares creativity to the metaphor of building a fire, saying, “The ingredients do matter […] but if you miss one critical ingredient, it will never ignite. That ingredient is the space between combustibles that takes a little spark, oxygenates it and draws it into a fire.”
She shares, “We can look at each of us, the spark we have for contribution, creativity [and] making a difference […] If they are not oxygenated with proper space, they can never become the beautiful blaze that they could be.”
It’s also in this empty space that some of the best mulling and deepest processing can take place. She shares the concept of “beneficial forgetting,” noting, “When you’re willing to step away from a primary task, you return to it with different objectivity.”
This is also confirmed from a brain science perspective. Funt adds, “If you take an MRI scan of your brain when you’re doing what some people might think of as nothing […] your brain is alight with insight, memory, creativity and reflection.”
On Setting Healthy Boundaries
As leaders work to promote a more balanced lifestyle, one of the best practices they can learn is the art of setting good boundaries.
Funt offers practical advice on this, sharing, “My very favorite is the simple technique that we can begin with called trapping yourself in a promise. When you make a decision that you’re going to clock out, […] you say out loud in front of whoever it is that you live with, ‘Well, done for the day.’”
She continues, “From that moment forward it becomes almost impossible to go back for another sip of the laptop because you’ve set a boundary that has accountability to it.”
Funt also advises setting a single emergency channel that people can reach you on in case of a real emergency, but also setting clear expectations around your availability and responsiveness at other times.
“A request from a congregant is not the same thing as an order,” she says, “It’s an idea. It a suggestion […] We have to be able to note an idea down and say, ‘Okay, I heard that idea and I’m not going to move any closer to action on that idea than I was before.”
About the Research
Pastor’s Poll: The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted July 2021 with 433 U.S. Protestant pastors. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.7 percent at a 95 – percent confidence level.
Resilient Pastor Study: The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted September 16-October 8, 2020 with 408 U.S. Protestant pastors. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.8 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022