In When I Relax I Feel Guilty, Tim Hansel writes of his years working for a Christian organization: "I would work … six or seven days a week. And I would come home feeling that I hadn't worked enough. So I tried to cram even more into my schedule. I spent more time promoting living than I did living."
Many active church people know what Hansel's talking about. One committee meeting leads to another. One event is hardly done when the next one looms ahead. Add responsibilities at work and at home, and soon a weekly schedule can feel like, as one person put it, "an overstuffed glove compartment."
Stress vs. Distress
That kind of pace can lead to burnout. Lutheran psychiatrist Paul Qualben raises an intriguing question, however: "Why do some [church workers] … seem to thrive in stressful situations, find satisfaction in their work, and weather the ups and downs … with equanimity, while ones in the next church burn out?"
Qualben concludes: "Most work—in the church and elsewhere—is done by people under stress. Stress is not the issue. The problem is rather distress. Distress is the product of frustration and repeated disappointment …. There must be other factors within each individual that account for the difference."
Church leaders prone to distress are often, he says, Type-A personalities, "hard workers who set high goals for themselves but suffer from 'hurry disease,'" or people who base self-worth on the attendance, budget, and other outward results of their ministry. When only three kids come to a youth-group function, they feel bad not merely about the kids they could be reaching, but also about themselves.