70 - The Weary Leader's Guide to Burnout (Part 2) - Sean Nemecek
PIR Executive Director, Roy Yanke, joins Tom and Sean to talk in more detail about the first part of The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout. This section of Sean’s new book asks “What is burnout and what causes it?”
The Weary Leader's Guide to Burnout: A Journey from Exhaustion to Wholeness
Visit wearyleadersguide.com to preorder the book and get some bonus content!
About Sean Nemecek:
Sean Nemecek is the West Michigan Regional Director for Pastor-in-Residence Ministries, where his primary focus is on coaching pastors through burnout and recovery. He also serves as a co-host for the Hope Renewed podcast. Before joining PIR, Sean served as a pastor in a local church for almost 18 years.
Transcript of the Interview with Sean Nemecek:
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Sean Nemecek 00:00
Those expectations and the demands on ministry often caused pastors to take their relationship with God— their time of prayer, their reading of the word for the nourishment of their own soul— and put those on the back burner.
Joe Chambers 00:16
Welcome to Hope Renewed helping you find new hope when ministry leaves you hopeless. The hope renewed podcast is brought to you by PIR ministries. Here are your hosts, Tom Jameson and Sean Nemecek.
Tom Jameson 00:34
So Sean, we are at the cusp of a very important event in your life. And I’d like to say in the life of PIR Ministries, what’s happening at the end of March for you?
Sean Nemecek 00:45
Yeah, my book is finally gonna see the light of day and make its way out into the holiday.
Tom Jameson 00:51
Yep, praise the Lord,
Sean Nemecek 00:52
after almost two and a half years of work. So I’m really excited about that.
Tom Jameson 00:58
My daughter introduced me to a term that I’d never heard before. She’s a book editor, and she talks about book babies. Does this feel like a birthing to you?
Sean Nemecek 01:07
Well, I don’t know what a birthing, I guess, probably as close as I can get. Yeah, it is. It’s super exciting. I’m very proud of the book. The process of getting the weary Leaders Guide to burnout from rough drafts to the finished product has been great. And yeah, I’m really, really happy about it.
Tom Jameson 01:31
We are grateful to God for this gift to leaders in the church and very thankful and proud of you too, as a compadre in ministry. And so we are dedicating the next three podcasts to a deep dive into the weary Leaders Guide to burnout, a journey from exhaustion to wholeness. And to help us to do that we are welcoming our executive director Roy Yanke. As as interim co-hosts and Sean is our guest, Roy. Welcome.
Thanks, Tom. Thanks, Sean. Good to see you guys hear you and be a part of this. So yeah.
Tom Jameson 02:09
Right, how excited you are about this book.
I am really excited when Sean sent me the prerelease copy. I dove in and, you know, we’ve we’ve all read a lot of books on burnout, because there are a lot of books out there. But I tell you what, based on his experience, and and just the depth at which he goes into this book, I think it’s going to be a blockbuster for those who need it. I was really, really encouraged. And I’m excited to see this come to light.
Tom Jameson 02:40
Well, I’m really looking forward to these conversations. This this is building on a previous conversation, Sean that you and I had just giving. I’m calling it the 10,000 foot flyover of of this work. And these next three podcasts, we’ll be diving deeper into the different sections of the book. So Sean, if you would just kind of give us an overview of how the book is put together in these three sections. And tell us a little bit about section one that we’ll be talking about today.
Sean Nemecek 03:11
Sure, the introduction to the book tells a little bit about my story. And then after that the book is broken out into three sections. The first section is all about understanding burnout, what it is, what it is not, and the things that contribute to burnout in the life of Christian leaders. The second part is about recovering from burnout. This is where we get into the nuts and bolts of what do I do to get out of this. And we explore various practical things that that part of the book flies. There’s lots of stuff packed in there, though. And it’s it’s the type of thing that you really want to go through slowly, because there’s so much of their of the third part of the book kind of changes tack a little bit in moves into more of a story of transformation. What does it look like to have a resilience that allows us to be burnout proof? And what are the spiritual disciplines that we need to have in place. And I end that section with a picture of what what does a healthy leader look like? Because that’s an important thing to keep in mind at the end there. And then we tie it all up in the end of that section with just developing a Rule of Life that brings everything in the book together into one way of understanding how to apply everything into your life. So it’s really a comprehensive look at burnout, what it is, how to recover and how to avoid burning out again.
Tom Jameson 04:46
So I love that you start out with that deeply pertinent question that anyone picking up this book would have I would imagine Am I in burnout. So as you as you begin the whole Expo ERATION into this, you start with this question. What is burnout? I mean, what do the experts say about burnout?
Sean Nemecek 05:08
Yeah, there’s different ways of understanding burnout. The problem is there’s really no one standard definition for it. And so everybody has their own ideas of what burnout is. And if you were to go on social media and just search the word burnout. I mean, people talk about burnout in very light and flippant ways, you know, my cat has been whining for food all day, I’m so burned out. That’s that’s not really burnout. What we want to get down to the nuts and bolts of what burnout is, is we’re looking at the the things that psychologists and counselors use to diagnose burnout. So I, based on the mass lack burnout inventory, I took the three categories of burnout symptoms, and developed them into four questions, I find that those three categories are really important. But the four questions that I asked are more helpful for the pastors that I coach. So the three categories of burnout symptoms are first, just emotional exhaustion, deep fatigue. The second is, has to do with your efficacy in your workplace, are you being effective, and then the third has to do with what they call depersonalization, or cynicism. Now, that one doesn’t translate very easily, because to be honest, there are a lot of cynical pastors out there, and they’re not burned out. So I took that third category and broke it into two questions. One is dealing with your sense of self? Do you really know yourself? And can you understand who you are? Do you remember what brings you joy, those types of things? And the second question has to do with hopelessness or a loss of optimism. And so we know somebody’s in burnout, when they’re deeply emotionally fatigued, when their sense of efficacy at work is gone. They’re just not as effective as they used to be, even though they’re working harder than ever before. When they’ve lost their sense of sense of self. And when they’re feeling hopeless, or they’ve lost optimism. When those four things are in place, then we know we’re dealing with somebody who’s really in burnout.
And I think that this section leading off in the book was super helpful, Sean, because there are so many definitions floating around out there, even in some of the books that we’ve read. And this is really gotten to, I think, certainly what I have felt, in my own life, and your experience that you share, of going through burnout. I think these are the really the key indicators that people need to pay attention to. I know that I do. Because that’s, that’s where I tend to fall off the rails is you know, I’m just tired, you know, well, okay. But there’s a whole lot more to burn out than just being tired.
Sean Nemecek 08:20
Yeah, there’s different flavors of being tired aren’t there. I mean, there’s, there’s tired after a good day of work. That’s a good kind of tired. That’s, that’s a tire that you feel proud about. And then there’s a tire that goes deep into your bones and says, I don’t think I can do this anymore. That’s a really dangerous, kind of tired. So when we talk about burnout, I’d like to say that burnout is what happens when our inner life with God is no longer sufficient to sustain our outer work forgotten. Or another way of saying that is we’ve just experienced a total depletion of self, that we have nothing left to give, and to give more in that condition would actually be destructive. This is where we find pastors, ending up doing some horrible things, whether it’s falling into addictions of porn or alcohol, or blowing up their ministry through, you know, having an affair, or committing suicide. There’s some pretty dark stuff that happens when we get to that totally depleted state. And we try to keep going.
Tom Jameson 09:31
I feel it’s just so helpful to have this kind of diagnostic perspective. Because burnout isn’t just an on off kind of thing. Like today, I’m not burned out and tomorrow I am, that there’s a progression to it. And because there’s a progression, there’s hope in in kind of short circuiting the depth, you know, getting to those very, very dark places. I just think that’s so hopeful. You’re not alone. We talked about what burnout is you talk about what burnout isn’t. And that’s, that’s so instructive as well.
Sean Nemecek 10:08
Yeah, I wanted to make it very clear that a lot of the trauma language we hear going around in our culture today is very important language, but burnout, and trauma, a while they can be related, they aren’t the same thing. And I just wanted to make that really clear. So in that section, I talk a little bit about the different types of trauma that may contribute to burnout, or maybe separate from burnout. But we need to be aware of them. So that would be post traumatic stress, which is a single major traumatic event that leads to recurrence and you know, various symptoms, then there’s Chronic Traumatic Stress, which is recurring trauma, like being verbally or physically abused. Again, and again, and again, the two may present very similar to one another, but actually have very different long term effects. The third is what’s called secondary trauma, or vicarious trauma. This is where you experience trauma from hearing about the traumatic events that others have been through. And so this is pretty common for pastors. Yeah. When we sit with people who are talking about trauma in their lives in processing, how God can love them in the middle of all that, we can experience that type of trauma. And then the fourth category is compassion, fatigue. And again, this is very common for pastors and anybody in any sort of caregiving profession. This is what happens when we don’t have the soul care and self care, to sustain caring for others. But one of the points that I want to make in this book is that it’s our care of self that enables us to care for others. And if we’re not doing that, then we’re gonna burn out and compassion fatigue is kind of like burnout for caregivers, you just run out of your ability to have empathy for others. And normally, very caring people will say, I, I just don’t care anymore, and it’s scary to them. And then there’s a fifth category of just feeling exhausted, just tired, but not having the other symptoms that go along with burnout. So you may have somebody who’s really tired in their work, but it’s still effective in what they do. They may have enough of a support system to help them overcome that fatigue in that difficulty. And so they never fall into burnout. And and that’s it’s important to distinguish between these different trauma responses in fatigue. And what burnout really is.
A question that occurs to me to Sean is the you know, someone picking this book up, say, it’s not just a pastor, but maybe a ministry leader, or a person or church board, a lay leader. And they’re gonna ask, well, you know, I could be burned out. And we know that burnout can be experienced in a lot of different ways by a lot of different people. What, in your opinion, makes it different for those in ministry positions, ministry roles?
Sean Nemecek 13:36
Yeah, there’s something about leadership in general, that is isolating, and ministry in particular, that is both isolating, and highly stressful, because we don’t have cultures that are designed to encourage pastors swim in criticism is Jared Wilson once said that that context makes burnout, highly likely. There’s a burnout scale that’s used for measuring burnout specifically in pastors. It’s called the Francis burnout inventory. And it basically asks, how much good stuff do you have good encouragement, support, relational connection, those types of things? How much good stuff do you have? And does it outweigh the negative impact of your work? So the criticism, the discouragement, and all those different things that pastors experience and if you talk to most pastors, you’ll find that the criticism the negative, far outweighs the positive in their own experience, because so many people just don’t think about the work environment that a pastor is in. We expect them to be able to handle it on their own. And none of us can I think there’s one of the reasons Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs so that when one’s down and other could lift them up. So yeah, I think I think the culture that we have in churches, especially in the last few years, has deeply affected the likelihood of burnout among pastors.
Tom Jameson 15:21
And there’s the dynamic, also of the individual, the pastor, the ministry leader in their their style, or you call them profile. So in your chapter on many paths to burnout, you give 12 different profiles of those who are potentially at risk for burnout. Not that they definitely will. But it’s it’s the warning light on the dashboard, right? Walk through those with us?
Sean Nemecek 15:47
Well, yeah, we could have, you know, many more profiles for burnout there. There are so many different ways that coming at burnout, I could have put in 100, my publisher wouldn’t have liked that though. It would have made the book far too long. But yeah, when we, we talk about the different profiles of burnout, what we’re really trying to do is, is show that really, burnout can happen to anyone. It’s not just these few. But it can happen in many different ways. There’s three sections within that chapter that, that talk about the types of leaders that are going to burn out, and we won’t go through every single one of them. But just let me highlight the three big pictures, there’s, there’s those who have work dysfunction. That means that their relationship to their work is just not healthy. These might be people who are overworked or underutilized or people who are just workaholics or they’re in a in a difficult work environment. The second is relational challenges. These might include people who are in conflict, it may look back to our family of origin and some of the things that happened there. It deals with isolation. So there’s different things that can happen relationally that lead to burnout. And then the third is self sabotage. These are leaders who have certain characteristics that in their personality or in their background, lead them to burnout. So like idealism, or perfectionism will lead us to be discouraged all the time, and will eventually lead to burnout. Sometimes it’s disorganization, or laziness, in our background, that really make it difficult for us to functioning and increase the stress, the anxiety and the shame that we experience and, and lead to burnout. And so there’s, there’s a bunch of different ways of coming to burnout. But those three categories really describe what’s happening. But I do want to highlight that burnout starts in the workplace, it starts with a dysfunctional work culture, if you have a healthy work culture, you won’t burn out. So that’s where it starts. But it’s also our response to that unhealthy culture that determines whether or not will burn out. So you have people in unhealthy work cultures all over the place, but not all of them burnout, it’s those who don’t have a healthy response to that unhealthy culture to differentiate in be healthy, that allows burnout to happen in their lives.
So I know you’re going to get to the recovery from burnout, you know, later in the book, but this, this whole chapter was really, really good. And these snapshots were very insightful. I won’t tell you where I found myself. We tell you where, yeah, you probably could.
Sean Nemecek 19:12
I think I’d say in the book that I find myself in a bunch of them. Yeah,
yeah, that’s really true. And so the question I have for you is, a lot of people think that, you know, if I just solved the external pieces of my experience of burnout that I’ve I’ve resolved it. But wouldn’t you say that burnout is a result of but also is a expression of that underneath stuff that doesn’t often get addressed?
Sean Nemecek 19:44
Yeah, we’re hold people, we can’t just deal with the external and expect change to last. In fact, real lasting change starts with internal change. And then that flows to the external and one of the things I’m trying to do in the book is show that we have to start with our inner life before we start working on the externals, or the same stuff will pop up again. And again, it’s like if you have a virus and you just treat the symptoms without actually trying to treat the virus itself, those symptoms will keep coming back again and again. So just trying to deal with the externals doesn’t work, we have to address the inner life and the things that are wrong on the inside. I had somebody say to me, that is, aren’t you just blaming the victim? Yeah, and I can see why they would say that. I mean, we feel like burnout is something that happens to us. But really, burnout is something that happens in us. And we are internally our unhealthy internal systems are part of the problem. And so we’re is much the perpetrator is the victim, in this case. And so it’s important to recognize that, that this isn’t victim blaming, it’s actually helping people break free and find new health and freedom, and joy. And it’s so much fun when we’ve taken the leader from I don’t know how much longer I can do this to, I can’t wait to get back into ministry or work again.
Tom Jameson 21:24
And before we jump into that inner life, because that’s your third chapter in the book, it, it just seems to me, that part of what you’ve just said, is going back to the whole, you know, control what you can, don’t try to control what you can’t, in terms of where the issues lie. So instead of seeing it as victim blaming, it’s it’s more of a No, I’m just trying to, to address the things that I can and should be addressing. And, you know, allowing that to be a better, healthier person in the midst of the things that I can’t control.
Sean Nemecek 22:06
Yeah, absolutely. It’s really about seeing where I am right now. And who I am right now, a lot of burned out leaders, as I’ve said earlier, have lost their sense of self. And so the work of addressing our inner life actually reintroduces us to ourselves, we get to know ourselves again. And it’s that that sense of healthy self, not in a selfish, self centered way, but in a self caring, loving way that enables us to care for others. It’s doing that work, that allows us to then think about how we are impacting the people around us.
Tom Jameson 22:52
You know, in my experience, just me in looking at my life and where these things have have played out, it was so crucial for me to learn to see myself objectively, in my work dysfunction, or my relational challenges are in self sabotage to, to gain that level of self awareness. To not simply say, you know, why is this happening to me, but, oh, I see what might be happening to me, you know, there’s an ownership of, of, okay. Again, this is something I can control. And I need to address because I am not going to be able to change how, you know, John Smith is and his negative attitude that just comes in every week. And it’s like, oh, here we go, again. Wow, how can I be different in that, so, so that external objectivity of seeing that and then delving into the internal to discover what’s going on there.
Sean Nemecek 23:56
So burnout is really a lack of resilience. It’s, it’s what happens when we just don’t have the resilience we need. In the foreword for the book. LINPACK even points out that resilience isn’t just the ability to to not get sick, it’s it’s more the ability to bounce back when we are sick, or when we are wounded. And we had Tod bolsinger on the podcast last year, I think it was and, and he talked about how resilience is formed in times of reflection. How when, when we are in the moment, it’s really hard to develop resilience when we’re wounded. But when we go back and we do the internal work and the self reflection and understand our what we contributed to the problem and see ourselves from that more objective view, get some insight from other people. That’s where resilience is built in made. And yeah, so that’s, that’s really I think the important part of this book is you is that it provides ample opportunity for self reflection.
Tom Jameson 25:04
So chapter three, you you delve into the inner life and you talk about loss of integrity and internal cracks and deep wounds. What what is it you’re you’re getting at as you make that exploration?
Sean Nemecek 25:19
Well, we all are broken people, because of sinfulness in our own lives and in the world around us. We have wounds that we aren’t aware of, we have things that we formed, internally defense mechanisms that really don’t help us. There’s really this sense of a false self that we tend to project to the world that we want people to see us as better than we really are either bigger or smaller, depending on our situation. But not we don’t want people to see the true us because we’re, we’re hiding in, in shame. And so, in this section, we deal with some of the things that contribute to that. So we’ll talk about a little bit of how our family of origin can contribute to the things that lead to burnout. For example, if you grew up in a family that did not handle conflict, well, that just avoided conflict, that’s going to be one of the things that that will lead to burnout. As every leader faces conflict. We talked about childhood wounds, and how some of the things the stories that we told herself as children in response to what happened to us may have formed these defense mechanisms that really are not helpful anymore. So I tell the story about Kim rivers in this section. But there’s an older kid on the playground who stole a sticker from me, when I was younger, and I, I really internalize that as you can’t trust anybody, especially when it seems like they’re trying to manipulate you. And that became one of my defense mechanisms that later in life, I was on such high alert for people who might be trying to manipulate me that it made it hard to trust anybody, which is part of the thing that contributes to burnout. If you you don’t trust anybody, and you’re isolated, how are you gonna find the help that you need? Just can’t. And so that’s, that’s one of the reasons it took me so long to ask for help is because I had difficulty trusting. So childhood wounds are one of the things and then we talk about things like trauma and abuse, that really, a lot of us have experienced, I think all of us have experienced some level of trauma. If we’ve lived long enough, we’ve had some of that some have experienced a lot of trauma. And, you know, abuse in our lives, makes it hard for us to have these relational connections that we need to be healthy. So we talked about that. And then also the effects of religion and spirituality and unbalanced approaches to even Christianity, how that can affect our ability to be strong and healthy. So for example, if you grew up in a community that was really heavy on our sinfulness, and I’ll, you know, our hearts are our sinful and wicked, and we can’t do anything good, but never talked about the love of God in the original goodness of his creation, and the new heart that were given. As we come to Christ in our being formed by the Spirit, you’re likely to have some very negative mental health outcomes. And that would contribute to burnout, especially shame, deep levels of shame. And then related to that we talk about, or I talk about some of the, the unwanted emotions that we have and our unhealthy ways of addressing those.
So this work of growing and self awareness, I would guess you would say this is probably the heart of this book is not only the recovery piece, which is really important, but the hard work of becoming more aware of what those root causes are. And I really love the questions you asked at the end of this chapter, which all of the chapters I find really helpful in terms of very practical questions, steps that people can work through. But do you find that that those in ministry find it difficult or not something that they’re trained in to do this kind of work, and that this book might be helpful?
Sean Nemecek 29:58
Yeah, some people are more naturally so have reflective than others. But in ministry, it’s hard to do that. Because there’s so much demand on your time. And really, to be honest, so much emotional demand. Preaching is an emotional act. Yeah. I don’t know how you guys felt preaching. But when I got done, I was just drained Emotionally, I was tired. Working with people, there’s gonna be conflict, that’s emotional. I mean, there’s gonna be people who misunderstand who are frustrated, who are taking their anger out on you, because of things that are happening in other areas of their life, the pastor becomes kind of the lightning rod for people’s disappointment with God. And so all of this this emotional environment, in addition to the overwhelming expectations that are placed on pastors today, oh, we expect them to do far more than any one person is capable of doing. And trying to manage those expectations can lead to people pleasing, it can lead to all sorts of things. In all of that, where’s the time for stillness for quiet for self reflection, in fact, those expectations and the demands on ministry often caused pastors to take their relationship with God, their time of prayer, their reading of the word for the nourishment of their own soul, and put those on the backburner. Set them aside. And pretty soon that becomes a habit. And before long, they just don’t have anything in as far as internal resources to, to combat what’s going on, and they burn out pretty dramatically.
Tom Jameson 31:47
And it goes to the need that I believe that that every person has, but those in pastoral ministry certainly can easily ignore to, to continually examine our inner world that you mentioned expectations, and I put with that also motivations, you know, why? Why are we in ministry? Why are we even doing this? And, and how easily those can get off center and out of whack, highlighting the need to be continually reflecting and tending to our inner self. I show my age here, you know, this chapter made me think of Gordon McDonald’s book, ordering your private world, and, and just that whole, continual watchfulness, that takes time. And then I wonder if sometimes, you know, those we serve, think, Well, you’re in the ministry. So you’ve got that all taken care of you don’t need the time to do that. Yeah,
Sean Nemecek 32:53
yeah, I think one of the problems is that we’ve had some unhealthy things. Talk to us about how we relate to our work as pastors, we’re taught that you’re supposed to be laying down your life for others. Well, yeah, that’s true. But what does that really mean? We’re not often told that. And so we think that to care for ourselves is something that we shouldn’t be doing. And we’re supposed to be giving of ourselves not caring for ourselves. And so we feel guilty when we take the time to care for our own souls. But the reality is that caring for our own souls is what enables us to care for other souls. And if we don’t know how to care for our own, we don’t know how to care for others. And so really, self leadership and self care form the basis for good healthy leadership of others. And there’s so much stuff in our church culture that works against that. In the United States, we have the idea that the harder you work the whole year you are. We don’t say it that way. But that’s the implication that we have in so many of our churches. You know, we have pastors who will say I can I can sleep when I’m dead? Well, that’s not healthy Jesus took naps. We can follow Jesus’s example and take naps ourselves. Or another pastor says that the devil never takes a day off Why should I and you know, then we probably need to say you’re looking at the wrong person is your role model
Well, I remember common statement among pastors when I was coming up, it’s better to burn out the rust out I mean, okay, so why why do we have to choose one of those extremes? Right, that’s not healthy.
Sean Nemecek 34:51
Yeah, another one is, if if I care for the church, God will care for my family, which is all horrible way of, of developing, just incredible dysfunction in your family that will put pressure on your ministry. And yeah, it’s just horrible.
I think to wonder whether you feel this way that in light of all of this that many pastors and ministry leaders don’t feel that this kind of work, and paying attention to this kind of stuff in their lives, is a part of their work. That this is like a foundational piece of their work. And they separate it out. It’s compartmentalized.
Sean Nemecek 35:37
Yeah, I think a lot of churches don’t see this as part of their pastors work. And this is one of the real problems is where do you find time to do this? I think it should be part of your your regular routine. In your work. One of the things I had to do in my recovery from burnout was include spaces in my day, in my work day, for connection with God, for disconnection, from meetings, and from stress and, and just that continual renewal in God, it’s not something I could do outside of my work. For my work, it had to be done throughout the day. And I started taking prayer retreats, and some of them were just one day a month. Others were a couple of weeks during the year. And I got a lot of pushback on that. Why aren’t you in the pulpit this stuff. So yeah, learning to to do those things that are necessary for self care for listening to God for knowing God’s will and discerning his will. They’re part of our work. But on top of that, when we take the time to do the stuff that I’m talking about in this book, it does take a lot of effort on the front end, there’s a lot of work that I’m calling people to do here. And it’s it’s intense work, it’s deep work, it’s going to take a long time. But when we do it, everything else becomes easier, our work becomes more productive, we can do more in less time. And we have a better sense of what work we should do and what work we should say no to, which also protects us from burnout. And so, yeah, I can see how a lot of pastors would say, I don’t have time to do all this. But I would say you don’t have time not to. Because it’s doing this work that makes you a better, deeper, more wise leader that can be equipped to help others in better ways.
And then, again, dating
Tom Jameson 37:39
myself, I’m thinking of Bill Hybels book too busy not to pray, you know, it, it’s, it’s that same kind of mindset that these things must be attended to, if we really want to see the things that we desire to see in ministry. So you get into this great chapter, I think this is my favorite chapter, actually, in the whole book, when you talk about stress and burnout actually bring up the big three stress, anxiety and shame. And how those are just so crucial to be aware of, but you use these engineering terms to describe stress. I love it. I love this is so great. So walk us through that, that understanding of of stress, anxiety, shame, the relationship and the dynamics with those.
Sean Nemecek 38:28
Yeah, so the term stress is what we associate with burnout, right? We just we know that if we have a certain amount of stress in our lives, were likely to burn out. But behind that is actually anxiety, in shame, and even anger, although I didn’t include anger here, because anger is a secondary emotion that’s often just hiding our shame, and our anxiety. So anxiety and shame are really the two foundational things that that we have to work on. And those two things often spiral around one another, they feed one another. The more anxiety I experienced, the more shame I feel, which leads to more anxiety. And pretty soon you’re caught in this anxiety, shame spiral that just sucks you down. So yeah, those are really important areas to deal with. But early in the chapter, I wanted to just address stress how it affects us what we need to think about what types of stress we’re experiencing, because not all stress is the same. There’s good stress and there’s bad stress. For example, this morning, I took some time and I did a workout and lifted some heavy weights. That was stressful, but it’s good stress because it’s allowing my body to get healthier to get stronger. If I push it too far, however, I lift too much weight. I might have a barbell come crashing down on my head. That’s not good. That’s the best Add stress when you when you take it too far. And so I was just curious, where did we get the term stress. And it actually comes from engineering. Stress relates to the different forces that are at work in engineering. And so I talked about several different engineering terms that are metaphors for stress. So just give you a few of them. For example, compression is when things are being pushed together a force pressing down or in. And I talk about how that sometimes his way ministry feels we feel squeezed into somebody else’s idea of what we should be or trapped by our job description or ministry, we feel smaller, and eventually, we’re going to crush or buckle under the pressure. And so understanding how that kind of stress leads to people pleasing and other negative behaviors is important. Now, the one I talked about is, is tension. Pastors can relate to this when to tension is a pulling type stress. And pastures often feel pulled in two, or three or four, or maybe 100 different directions. And there’s not enough of them to go around, in so that that idea of tension relates to our stress. So compression is being pressed down, tension is being pulled apart, two very different ways of experiencing stress. So we also talked about shear and bending. And my favorite one is torsion, where your stress that twists us around and around and causes us to, to have a crisis of understanding it might be something changes, and we realize my understanding of the world was wrong. And now I’m all twisted around. And what do I do with that. And then the last one I talk about is fatigue, where, you know, if I were to ask you to hold the weight, out to your side, even a small one, say two pounds, hold it out to your side and hold it up there continually, you might be able to do that for a few minutes. But for a few hours, probably not. This is what we call allostatic load carrying a weight no matter what it is, for too long without any periods of rest. And this is the type of thing that leads to burnout and pastures all the time. Just a lack of rhythms of rest and renewal.
Tom Jameson 42:40
It really connects to that other engineering term that you’ve been using, which is resiliency. Yeah, and and the importance of that.
So I like like, Tom, I found this extremely exciting to think about it in these terms. But I, they aren’t spiritual terms, Sean. What’s up with that?
Sean Nemecek 43:07
Well, God’s given us general revelation to that we can. You know, honestly, that’s one of the things that we find in the church that that we resist the most is we over spiritualize everything and say, if if it’s not in the Bible, we can’t find wisdom at it. But God has taught us even in Scripture to look to other things, and learn from them. So look to the ant. We read in the book of Proverbs. So here I’m saying look to the engineer, look to the bridge builder, look to the construction worker, and learn from them. Because, yeah, there’s there’s a lot of lessons we can learn.
Tom Jameson 43:47
So you end this section talking about energy and burnout, good equation there and just managing things like rhythms. And even looking at the life of Jesus just, again, walk us through kind of that wrap up of an examination of burnout.
Sean Nemecek 44:08
Yeah, I think this, this chapter is the one I’ve been getting the most feedback from early readers saying, I never realized that I needed to have rhythms of work and rest in my life. I talk about how most leaders are living, as I call them, tsunami leaders, and started off the chapter with a story of what a tsunami is and how one crashed into Japan. And the devastation it left behind a tsunami is, is when we have a whole bunch of waves, they get stacked up on one another. And so many leaders are approaching their calendar as just slots to fill in. Everything gets stacked up one thing on top of another and there’s no space in between for rest. And so when there’s no margin, when there’s no space to take a breath, and to rest, that stacking effect means that we’re going, going, going, going going all the time, until we can’t, till we can’t go anymore. And then everything comes crashing down. And that leads to a wake of destruction in leaders lives. This is again, where pastors end up in moral failure and addiction, and all sorts of things that, that just blow up their ministry. And so, the point of this chapter is to say that life is all about rhythms. We have rhythms that naturally occur around us, there’s the day and night rhythms, there’s rhythms of the tide, there’s rhythms of the seasons, we also have rhythms that occur within us, you know, we breathe in certain rhythms, our heart beats and certain rhythms, we have a sleep rhythms. So their sleep cycles are, you know, every 90 minutes or so as we’re sleeping, our, our brain goes through this cycle of sleep. So it’s recognizing that God has built these rhythms into our lives and noticing those rhythms and living within them. So we have periods of work, and periods of rest or recovery, the more intense the work, the more intense the recovery needs to be, or the deeper the recovery needs to be. And so as we look at our lives, we should look and see, where do we need our best energy for our most intense work? And where can we apply space for recovery from that intense work. And the principle I just really wanted to drive home was the period of recovery needs to match the period of intensity of work, or we won’t recover fully what a lot of pastors are doing or putting out high intensity work. And then just a little bit of recovery, and then more intense work, and then a little bit of recovery. And again, these things stack on one another. And pretty soon, everything is just too much, because they haven’t been taking enough time to rest.
In music. In you’re probably familiar with this. Rhythm is the ordered alteration alternation sorry, of contrasting elements, right? So it’s that back and forth, of of work and rest, sound inside intensity, sound and silence all the rest of that. And that’s so organic and so important. It’s built into us, we don’t pay attention to it at all.
Sean Nemecek 47:38
Yeah, yeah. And we, in American culture, we’ve been taught to ignore that, especially since the Industrial Age came about, we got away from rhythms in our work. When we were primarily an agricultural country, we couldn’t avoid rhythm. Because growing crops requires that you follow certain rhythms, healthy things need rhythms to grow, right. But when we got to the industrial age, we, we started to work in factories where things just go continually, nonstop, 24 hours a day, factories are running seven days a week, and you’re just a piece in this machine, and you’ve got to go, go, go go. And that has spilled his way into every area of culture, especially into the church, where we look at, you know, what we’re, we’re called to do the mission that we’re called to do in the urgency of that mission. And then we say, we can’t take time to rest. Because the mission is too important. You know, there’s people going to hell out there, and we need to save them. Well, Jesus took time to rest. And that’s what I wanted to do at the end of this chapter is, is begin to show how really, the antidote to burnout is just seeing Jesus, seeing the way he lives, learning the way he lives, watching Him, LISTENING to His way of being with the Father, and learning to do that ourselves. And so I close the chapter with Jesus, rhythms of work and rest. There are times where we see Jesus working insanely skipping meals, but it’s not continual. There are times where we see Jesus withdrawing from the crowds, going off by himself to pray, in fact, is described as accustom of his or regular practice of us. Sometimes he prays early in the morning, sometimes he prays through the night. Sometimes he sends the crowds away so he can pray. Sometimes he withdraws from them so he can pray. And all of this are things that we can learn from how many pastors have ever sent the people away so that they can pray. That’s what Jesus did. No, but we think we can’t. I love
Peterson’s translation of the the Take my yoke upon the passage retox come and learn of me the unforced rhythms of grace. I love that. And that speaks right to that. So yeah, thanks, Sean. I liked so sidenote on that. I’m working on the energy capacity piece that the time management versus energy capacity that was really important to see there. So
Sean Nemecek 50:30
yeah, most leaders look at their, their time management is just filling a schedule. But really, time management is about energy management. It’s about energy, noticing your workflow, your your the energy you have available to you at different times during the day, most of us only have three to five hours a day where we’re really productive, then we have maybe three to five hours where we’re kind of moderately productive. And then the rest of the day, we aren’t productive at all. And based on your your sleep rhythms, your circadian rhythms, it’s going to be different for different people. Some people are going to be high energy people in the morning, other people will not there’ll be high energy at night, and noticing where your energy is, at its best is important. So you can do your most important work with your best energy. And then when your energy is low, those are times for renewal and refreshment, and taking some rest and reinvesting in that high energy time, if you do that, then your high energy productive times will be far more productive than if you were trying to push through the low energy times and just try to get things done. And so learning to recognize those rhythms, which can take several weeks to charge and even charting them through our year. Because the seasons you can affect those things too. And in learning where we’re at our best, and doing our best work, when we have our best energies is one of the keys to, to really having a productive leadership style.
Tom Jameson 52:11
Sounds like a great opportunity to engage a coach to help you to notice those things. Absolutely. Noticing and awareness. This first section, I think, is all about that. And, and to me, that’s very hope giving. Because I know it can seem hopeless, when a leader is experiencing those signs of burnout and getting deeper deeper into that getting sucked into that anxiety, shame vortex that just draws you down. And God grant us the grace to to notice. And that takes time that takes space to do that. Sean, this has been great, wonderful to work through this first section of the book with you. We appreciate again, all your your hard work on that. Thanks for Thanks for leading us today. And we typically end our time with words of hope. And Roy, I’m going to ask you what what words of hope would you like to offer to our listeners today? Well,
what this this whole experience with Sean’s book and really engaging with it has reminded me of and hope that people will grab a hold of this hope is that Jesus did not die for your ministry, He died for you. And you can only give away what you have. And that’s the hope we have in Christ is that he is the one that we need to pay attention to and pattern our lives, our rhythms, everything about what we do around him because then we bet we battled back against the hopelessness that we can so often feel so just remember the hope is that Jesus died for you. He loves you. He sees you and He cares about you and you can care for yourself. Because he does.
Tom Jameson 53:57
Amen. Amen. Well, thank you to our listeners for joining us today. We hope you’ll go to hope, renew podcast.com or webpage. We’d love to hear your feedback on this conversation. And you’ll find other podcasts that we’ve done there. Our prayer is that your hope is continually renewed as you rest in the one who brings hope Jesus Christ our Lord.
Joe Chambers 54:21
Thank you for joining us on hope renew. Please help us reach more pastors by sharing this episode with your friends. If you enjoy this podcast rate and review us on Apple podcasts, Google or Spotify or your favorite platform for receiving podcasts. Thank you. This means the world to us. The hope renewed podcast is brought to you by PIR ministries. at PIR, we partner with God and the church in the work of pastoral renewal and restoration. Pastors. Our goal is to help you cultivate new hope for healthy life and Ministry. We do this by building relationships. We trained both pastors and churches to promote a culture of ministry health. If you’ve experienced a forced exit from ministry, we provide a process of restoration for you and your family. We also have proven resources and tools to assist you in the challenges of ministry life to contact us, or to learn more about the IR visit PIR ministries.org