In recent weeks, tornadoes ripped through the southeastern United States. Having spent five years in Hattiesburg, Mississippi—one of the areas hit hardest by the tornadoes—I know many of the people who will be called on for help. They are good people, but they are not superhuman.
When disasters like these strike a community, people turn to the church for help. The church is exactly where we want people to go in a time of crisis, but pastors and church leaders don’t have unlimited capacity to help meet every immediate need. In the days and weeks after the event, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual demands that will hit them will be even higher than the already-high impact of daily ministry. If they aren’t careful to care for themselves while caring for others, they may soon be unable to care for anyone at all.
Many church leaders have difficulty knowing when it’s time to take a break from their helping efforts—and they must take a break. When the needs of disaster survivors take precedence over all other responsibilities and activities—including self-care—church leaders burn out and lose their ability to effectively care for those whose needs will continue to be great for some time. For pastors and other church leaders, an essential aspect of disaster ministry response is learning to recognize burnout and practice strategies for healthy coping.
What is burnout?
Burnout is the state of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion caused by a depletion of the ability to cope with your environment. It is the result of your responses to the ongoing demands and stressors of daily life, and it occurs when your perceived demands outweigh your perceived resources. Burnout involves the depletion of physical and intellectual energy that happens when you are overworked, stressed, and involved in demanding situations over a long period of time. It leaves you feeling tired, rundown, overwhelmed, and irritable.