#11 – When You’re Running on Empty: Burnout in Ministry ft. Bob & Penny Armstrong

 In

When you have too much stress going on in your life, it looks like a lot of over-engagement. Burnout, on the other hand, is a disengagement. So if you were the person holding up the plates, the plates are now on the ground. You may have laid them down yourself or they’ve crashed to the ground. – Penny Armstrong

Do you know the signs?

We all have days when we feel tired, low on energy, or discouraged, but how do we know when those things point to a deeper problem? If you are working alongside or in relationship with a pastor or other leader in Ministry, how can you recognize the signs of a struggle? What can you do about it?

This episode hits home for many of us who work in a ministry setting (and maybe even those who don’t). Burnout, stress, fatigue, depression, are terms we are hearing more and more these days.

According to the The Fuller Institute, George Barna, Lifeway, Schaeffer Institute of Leadership Development, and Pastoral Care Inc.(Pastoral Care Inc website):

57% of pastors feel fulfilled but yet discouraged, stressed, and fatigued.

78% of pastors report having their vacation and personal time interrupted with ministry duties or expectations.

1 out of every 10 pastors will actually retire as a pastor.

 

Listen in to Rob Thiessen’s discussion with Bob & Penny Armstrong from Oasis Ministries, as they dive in to the nitty gritty of burnout. Find out how “Friends don’t let friends burnout”.

Topics Covered Include:

  • What is the definition of ‘burnout’?
  • Some signs that you or someone you know may be experiencing or approaching burnout
  • Things we can do to avoid burnout
  • Resources for those who need help in this area

 

Show Notes

#11 – When You’re Running on Empty: Burnout in Ministry ft. Bob & Penny Armstrong
BCMB Pastor to Pastor Podcast

 
 
00:00 / 43:17
 
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Bob Armstrong:
Burnout is a state of emotion, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands and as the stress continues, you begin to lose interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Penny Armstrong:
When you have too much stress going on in your life, it looks like a lot of over-engagement. Burnout, on the other hand, is a disengagement. So if you were the person holding up the plates, the plates are now on the ground. You may have laid them down yourself or they've crashed to the ground.

BCMB Intro:
Welcome to the BCMB podcast, Pastor to Pastor. This is a podcast by the British Columbia Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. We want to help equip and encourage pastors, churches and anyone else who wants to listen in and be more effective in their ministry. This is Episode Eleven "Burnout" with Bob and Penny Armstrong.

Rob Thiessen:
Hey everyone! Want to welcome you to the BCMB podcast. A podcast by Pastors for Pastors. My name is Rob Thiessen, the conference pastor for the BC Mennonite Brethren Churches. And we are glad that you're with us today. We're excited about our guests today, Bob and Penny Armstrong, who have a long ministry history in our own local community here. And I got to know them years ago as I was pastoring in Langley and they were also pastoring the Salvation Army Church in Langley, a church that they had planted, or in Willowby area specifically. So tell us a little bit about your ministry history and then bring us up to date with the current ministry you're in, The Oasis, that we'll talk about.

Bob Armstrong:
So, we've been in ministry for 28 years as pastors. And it was interesting that after 10 years of ministry, we felt that we really didn't have the tools to deal with the issues people were coming to us with. They really didn't care too much about a Greek word for something or a Hebrew word for something. They wanted to know, how do I deal with this marriage issue, this anxiety issue, this depression issue, this relational issue? And so, after 10 years of pastoral ministry, Penny and I both went back to school and did our master's in counseling and have, since then, been integrating our theology and psychology. So, we pastored for 28 years and then after that time, Oasis Ministries was what we went to ourselves - just to do some working through of things - and thought this was a really great fit for who we were. And that process began a two year period of us being prepared to take on that ministry. So Oasis, for the past 20 years, has been working with pastors, missionaries, leaders and spouses, working through personal and ministry challenges. A variety of challenges: challenges - depression, anxiety, marriage and ministry issues, all kinds of relational issues, conflict, boundary issues and of course, burnout issues.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, great. And that's what we want to talk about today. Our topic is pastoral burnout, and we want to look today at, you know, what are the signs? Give some information to help us and also look at the prevention side and say, you know, what could we do to prevent? And maybe for those that are in the middle of it, or experiencing some signs, what are some practical steps that we can take for self-care?

Rob Thiessen:
So, Penny, you know you're involved. How would you describe your partnership with Bob? What sort of things were you involved with? Was he the church planter? Were you co-planting together? Talk to us a little bit about your journey.

Penny Armstrong:
Yes. We have been in partnership in ministry for the whole time. So, we pastored together, we planted together. And, although Bob is the executive director of Oasis Ministries, I am fully involved in the ministry as well.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah and I know that you also did, in the counseling background, you did a fair bit of premarital counseling as well and developed a booklet that many pastors have used. What was that called again?

Bob Armstrong:
It's the 'Couple Care: Marriage Preparation Manual'. It's actually been very exciting; that little book now has influenced over 8000 individuals in their marriage preparation.

Rob Thiessen:
So it gets widely used. Yeah, a little workbook that couples can fill in and answer questions and have a guide.

Bob Armstrong:
It was designed specifically for pastors as a user-friendly tool for them in their marriage preparation.

Rob Thiessen:
Great. Well, let's get into our topic here. You know, I think I'm ready to hear; sometimes I wonder about myself. So, probably a lot of pastors are like, "Oh, a topic on burnout: Where am I actually at?" And I just say I had a conversation this week with a pastor who called and said, "You know, I've been struggling and these are some signs. What steps do I take? I'm wondering about myself." So, let's talk a little bit about burnout. It seems like, you know, a thing; it's a phenomenon now and... But you know, years ago, when I started in ministry (and that's been a long time too) I don't remember pastors talking a lot about burnout. It didn't seem like an issue. So, is this just a current trending thing? When do you think this happened? And how big of an issue is it today for pastors?

Penny Armstrong:
So, I think burnout has probably been around for a long time. I think sometimes the confusion around burnout is there's kind of three different things we talk about: there's tiredness, and there's definitely a lot of tiredness in ministry, I think that's a norm. There's also the experience of being overstressed. And in a moment, I'll talk about the difference between having too much stress in your life and burnout, because they're quite different. And then we have the experience of burnout, which still today (even though, I would say, the last 10 years or so we have more language around, we're having more conversations about, so that is helpful), but there are still many people who, it's just a term, they don't fully understand the experience. So, what they perceive as 'tiredness' is actually working towards the camp of burnout. And we want to catch them upfront, before they really get into trouble and they're not doing well.

Penny Armstrong:
So if I may, I'd just like to talk about the differences between stress and burnout, because that can be a really helpful thing. So, when you have too much stress going on in your life, it looks like a lot of over-engagement. If you like a visual picture, it's the person who's holding all the plates up in their hands and trying to juggle everything. That's what stress looks like. Burnout, on the other hand, is a disengagement. So, if you were the person holding up the plates, the plates are now on the ground. You may have laid them down yourself or they've crashed to the ground. With stress, emotions are very over-reactive. And so we hear people talking about, "I lost it. I freaked out. I had a meltdown. I blew my top, lost my cool." All those expressions mean that your stress level is too high. With burnout, emotions are very blunted. So you really don't have the energy anymore to freak out or blow up or perhaps whatever is your typical pattern. With stress, there's a sense of urgency and hyper-activity, whereas once you get into the burnout camp, your experience is marked by helplessness and hopelessness. There's a lot of spiritual angst. We'll talk about that a little bit later. Again, with stress, there's a loss of energy - that makes sense, we get drained. However, with burnout, it's more a loss of motivation, a loss of ideals and even beliefs. The primary damage with stress is physical. You've heard the expression that too much stress can kill you - it actually can, it can certainly shorten your life! So, we all have to pay attention to too much stress in our lives. On the other side, burnout will not kill you or shorten your life, but it certainly makes life feel like it's not worth living.

Rob Thiessen:
So, you're describing when it moves towards burnout, people are dipping down into not responding a whole lot or being dulled and losing motivation. You know, and so sometimes you hear about a pastor saying, "well I just collapsed. I found myself crying," you know, is that a sign? Would that be typical of burnout? Just emotional tears rather than, say, the stress response of maybe anger or frustration.

Penny Armstrong:
It can be. Some people describe it as hitting a wall. Others describe it as a break down and yes, it can involve crying or just some kind of emotional outlet. For others, they describe it by saying "it feels like something broke within me." And from that point, everything is flat. There's no more tears. I actually had an experience with burnout about 13 years ago and somebody asked me if I could, kind of, sum up my experience in one word or one phrase, what would it be? And the word that I spoke, even before I thought about it, was the word beige. And for me, it was just the blunting of any of the colour or vitality of life. Everything is just flat and I really don't have the energy to respond to the things that normally would bring me joy.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. OK so, Bob, let me just ask you, is there a... What's a typical continuum between the stress to the burnout? Like when you describe hitting a wall, that's like sudden impact. That's like, I'm going along and - bang! This happens. Like, is there lead time? Like, can a person know? Because a lot of life is stressful for us, especially getting, you know, we're with our phones and with all of the demands on our lives, I mean in leadership and pastorally it gets more complicated and it feels stressful. Like how do you know? What are the signs that you're moving into a dangerous area?

Bob Armstrong:
Yeah. So, there's a number of symptoms: Fatigue, dragging yourself around, loud sighs. Sometimes people come to us and all we hear is -

Rob Thiessen:
Wait a minute. I was doing that the other day. (laughing)

Bob Armstrong:
All we hear is, they just groan. And they don't even know it. They're not even aware of it. Frequent yawning, frequent illness, colds, flu, resulting in absenteeism from work. Sleep problems, difficulty sleeping, not restful sleep, wake up tired. Cynicism towards people, "Everybody's out for me." Feelings of powerlessness, anger toward the system (that's outward anger), anger inward, which can result in depression.

Rob Thiessen:
Right. What about, in terms of a person's walk with the Lord? Like, what have you noticed happens to a person's personal engagement with scripture, with Christ, with prayer, with worship?

Bob Armstrong:
The joy is gone. It's affecting your joy, your vitality, your... what you once had and there's a longing to that renewed experience that you once had. It feels like it's lost.

Rob Thiessen:
So a lostness. And you said, what was that? beige was the...

Penny Armstrong:
Yes. Yes, and I would add to that that, you know, burnout in any other field is usually marked by this emotional, physical, mental exhaustion. When it happens in ministry, there is a spiritual element and it's a spiritual angst that makes people feel 'off'. And they will say things like, "I didn't think it was gonna be like this" or, if they'd been through a very challenging experience, "I thought God would..." And then they fill in the blank, or "I've always believed that the scripture says God won't let the righteous fall. And here I am and I don't feel God's presence." So, it's this angst, it's this discomfort. And if left alone too long, what's dangerous, we will begin to make meaning out of those very powerful emotions, and we've heard many pastors say this to us, things such as "I guess God never called me in the first place" or "I'm not cut out for ministry" or "God must be leading me out somewhere else." And these things are not true, but they're felt very strongly at that time.

Rob Thiessen:
So, I think you said something I just want to highlight there. We begin to make meaning or we add meaning to these feelings.

Penny Armstrong:
Yes.

Rob Thiessen:
I think it is common for people to have doubts or, you know, "where is God in this?" I mean, we see that throughout the Psalms, you know, it's biblical. But, you know, then when you read a psalm, most of them anyway, you kind of pick up to the recovery at the end, you know, the writer of the psalm will somehow ground themselves back in faith, "But God, you are faithful." But, what you're describing is just, no, you've actually sort of settled in, this cloud has settled in and now is completely blocking your vision of God. So we mentioned the songs, but when you think about burnout from scripture, are there any, sort of, examples that you go to? Or is burnout a thing in the scriptures that you see?

Bob Armstrong:
I think, if it wasn't for Jethro, Moses' his father in law, speaking into his life when he saw the load that he was carrying, when he said, you know, "you need help, you can't keep doing all this by yourself. And otherwise, it's going to wear you out and it's going to wear those out who you're working with." And I think it affects both: you as an individual and those working around you. So, there's that... the apostles in Acts 6, where the the Jewish women were, the Hellenistic Jews were, not being fed and it was brought to the apostles. And they said, "well, we we want to make sure that we commit ourselves to the word of God and to prayer, so we need to get somebody else." But if they had taken that on, they could have had additional stuff that they had to do, which was going to wear on them and take them away from what they had to really do. And then, of course, there's Elijah. You know, he had that great battle on his own with the prophets of Baal and Asherah, and had God come down and take the sacrifice, and it was a great event. And then, all of sudden, the next day after this great victory, Jezebel says she's coming out after him and he runs! And he's scared. He's afraid. And he was exhausted. He was burned out, exhausted, depressed. And fortunately, God understands that and very practically came alongside him and got him to rest and got him to eat and got him to drink and then spoke in that still small voice so that he could hear and understand. And then after that, he brought Elisha along to help him out, to help give him some confidence to keep going, carry on.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. So, you see people in the scripture, but there is a process that they go through then, to recover. And yeah, Moses did seem at the end of his rope quite a few times, in fact, you know, and sometimes God seems like he's at the end of his rope to with Israel saying, you know, "I'm done with these people." And then Moses is interceding. But there's something, you know, I guess you'd describe the word as 'robust' about their faith, right? Like the Psalms, too. They don't mind sort of going toe-to-toe with God about their emotions. They get it out and they express their feelings of, "I'm alone. Where are you? I'm deserted." But they process it, but it doesn't start to define or they don't end up with it defining, kind of what you were describing, they they make decisions about their lives based on the feelings that they have. And yeah, that gets us into the danger place. And really the only conclusion is, you know, yeah, like you said, "I'm not called of God", and that's a, you know, a brutal spot to be in.

Penny Armstrong:
Yes.

Rob Thiessen:
And so, Oasis is a ministry that, obviously, is around helping people. You mentioned, you know, food, rest. How important are these practical things in helping a person through recovery?

Penny Armstrong:
So, initially the most helpful thing when somebody is in the throes of burnout, is to have an expanded time away from all work responsibilities. So if that begins, for example, like an eight week period: the first two to three weeks, the primary focus is simply on the physical body. So, just like Elijah, the focus is on getting rest, on eating well, and when I mean eating well, like nutritious food, just resting, that whole physical revival thing; that's what needs to take place. As the weeks pass, there is a time to start dealing with some of the issues that will rise up. There are causes for burnout or things within ourselves that give us a greater propensity towards burnout, than perhaps others. And there will be time to process that. But initially, it's about physical recovery and it must be done away from any work responsibility.

Rob Thiessen:
So, like a doctor's leave or...?

Penny Armstrong:
Yes.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. What would you advise? Like, it seems like that's already, you know, extreme, that I have to go for a note for the doctor. Like is there a more of a preventative approach that pastors, and maybe church leaders who are listening, could pay better attention and take care of their shepherds?

Penny Armstrong:
Sure. I'll let Bob answer that. But I just want to jump on one comment you said about the doctor's note: when people are in burnout, they often have to be accompanied to a doctor. And I can tell you, I've experienced myself, I -

Rob Thiessen:
Is that because they won't go on their own?

Penny Armstrong:
They won't go on their own. There can be an element of shame, "I'm a pastor. This should not be happening to me." But I have seen people actually break down and weep because they will start with "I think there's something wrong with me. I think I might need some time off. Do you think I could have a few days?" And when the doctor says, "We'll start with eight weeks." There are tears of relief. At that point, you need someone else to give you permission to take that time off and begin the process of healing. Yeah.

Rob Thiessen:
OK.

Bob Armstrong:
So, yeah, there are a number of things that are helpful to prevent ministry burnout. Of course, there's the exercise, regular exercise. I know from personal experience, and I'm sure many do, that I can be in a certain state emotionally and go out for a 45 minute brisk walk or run or something, and I can come back in a whole different state of mind. And so it's extremely important - the exercise thing. Relaxation, spiritual renewal, regular quiet time with God, is important. We run so hard and so fast that sometimes we do ministry and we forget about God. I remember the time where I sensed God speaking to me and saying to me, "Bob, I want to talk to you." So, I literally went to my bed and I knelt down at my bed and I said, "So what would you like God?" And he never said anything. So I got up and I went back to work again and then I felt him, I sensed him telling me again. So I went back again to my bedside and I knelt down and I said, "So what would you like?" And he didn't say anything. I'm getting mad now. So, I went back to work again and I sensed him calling me again. So I went back again and I said, "What do you want?!" And, it's just as clear as day, it came, "I just want to spend time with you."

Bob Armstrong:
But I was busy. I was busy doing the work. And he is saying to me, "I want to spend time with you. So, slow down." You know, another big thing is taking care of our family of origin work. We bring with us, packages from our family of origin. Some of the things we bring to us are very healthy and some are very unhealthy. And so, there might be some work that we have to do from our family of origin. Play is another thing. Our work is so serious: people need to be saved.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah.

Bob Armstrong:
And a lot of us don't have permission to play, to relax and have fun. So sometimes I tell people that part of taking care of yourself is having a granddaughter. Because what I do, sometimes, is I just call up and see if Haley's available to play. And I go and I enter into her world and forget about all the other stuff that I'm carrying, and I just play with her. And sometimes I'll go out and I still play hockey. So I play hockey with my sons sometimes, the three of them. And they play hard and fast and I play smart. So, what I've learned out there is, is I just forget about everything. I'm just enjoying myself. I'm not carrying the world on my shoulders anymore, but I'm just having fun and I'm having freedom to do that. Some people just feel that it's a waste of time. They need to be serious about their job.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah.

Bob Armstrong:
People need to be saved, and so you have to be always at it, without taking care of yourself and enjoying some of life yourself.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. And you know, one of the things that we do for time away is that we watch stuff, because there's movies - and and movies are okay, it's great to sometimes go to to a movie - or we watch television. But, my wife and I were noticing, like we were watching - somebody give us an old video set of 'The Parenthood' - so we were watching The Parenthood thing, and after a while (we watched a couple of seasons, there's like six seasons or whatever) we were so stressed out because of the stress of the family, it was it felt like ministry! You know what I mean? Like, I was just like, look, it's like, "how could they be doing such stupid things?" like, "Oh, no," you know, disaster, disaster. And then we were gonna sleep with that stress. And you know, my wife and I said, "We got to stop that." Like, it's distracting, sure enough. But we're entertaining ourselves, distracting ourselves with more stressful things rather than things that feed our soul. Right? And years ago, when you mentioned, like, time with the Lord, I remember sitting with John Caplin, who does counselling and coaching and stuff like that, and he asked me about this. He said "Where do you find that you meet God? Like your best place to meet God," because you mentioned kneeling by your bed, which is a bad spot for me personally, because there's one thing I associate with bed - and that's sleep. And I would assume if God is calling me to my bed, it would be to have a nap (*laughing). But I would say, I love being by the sea. And if I can't be by the sea, I would take a walk in the forest. So, these are places or things where I feel that my soul is likely to commune with God better than, you know, in my office or kneeling somewhere by a bed - not that that's not great, too, I mean, there's times for everything - but I think, you know, that could be a helpful way to find it refreshing. So what you're talking about is: build regular refreshment for your life, you know, where you're doing something else that's good.

Bob Armstrong:
And to change the mindset that, when you go to the beach... Somebody said "When you go to the beach, you're not doing anything," but you are doing something. Something that's going to help you, build you up and refresh you.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. Yeah. And or like, walk along White Rock, you know, and that's a place to pray and a place to look and contemplate God and his goodness. So that's good. And can church leaders, like, I don't know... Ultimately, the pastor's job is kind of, you know, it's very... there's a lot of independence to it, too. So what makes pastors at risk for burnout? Why? What? What makes this job susceptible to stress, burnout?

Penny Armstrong:
There are a number of things. I personally, kind of have my top four things that I try and listen for when pastors are telling me about their experience. On the church side, if you've been through a project, if you've been putting up a building, and so it's been a long period of hard work without any break, extended deadlines, problem solving, all that stuff. Typically, we don't pause at the end of that. Then we rush into programming or embracing all the new people who are coming. And so we go from one project to the next, without any rest. So for pastors and for church leaders, it is worth being proactive in their strategy, by saying "When this building opens," for example, "our pastor is going to have, you know, three or four weeks off" or something that looks like a rest, so that they can come down from that very, very busy season. So that's one thing on the side of the church. The other thing on the side of the church, is pastors, ministry people, do not do well with a very vague job description. And I kind of smile about this, because I think, at our very first church all those years ago, I think our job description was 'win the world for Christ' or at least 'win the community for Christ'. And when it's not nailed down, A - we have no way of measuring how we're doing, and then it's open to everybody's expectations. And pastors can start feeling very worn out, as all kinds of people are wanting different things from them. So up front, to have a very clear job description, which includes number of expected working hours. Does that include volunteer hours? There's gonna be a little bit of flexibility, of course, but it's pretty clear what the expectations are. That's a wonderful safeguard from burnout right there.

Penny Armstrong:
On the side of the pastor, there's two things that can kind of set up pastors for burnout. One is this idea of being a people-pleaser. Now, I just want to back that up for a moment, because most of the pastors I meet love people and want to serve people,so I'm not talking about that kind of people pleasing. But we all know ourselves, and if there's something in me that, instead of finding my value, my worth, my okay-ness, if you like, internally, regardless of what's going on around me in the church, then I'm probably going to be okay. If by chance - and this could be the way that I was raised, there could be a number of factors - if, in fact, I need external validation or I find my sense of worth outside of myself, I'm going to get into trouble fast. And you know you're that person, if on a Sunday ten people tell you they've really appreciated your sermon, but the one voice you're listening to is the one person that said nothing or they had a problem with it. And then you take that on and you can bend yourself into a pretzel trying to think, "How will I give better sermons? How will I reach that person?" Same idea when families leave the church. There are pastors who will feel that personally, "I'm screwing up. I'm not loving enough. I need to work harder." You will never survive in ministry if you're always looking outside for validation.

Rob Thiessen:
So, markers are how you handle criticism, how you handle rejection?

Penny Armstrong:
Yes.

Rob Thiessen:
And you're saying, if a pastor does not have some resiliency for that, that's an indication that they're going to burn out or...

Bob Armstrong:
It's really a knowing your identity. Know who you are and who's you are. That needs to be settled. Otherwise, you'll be bounced around all over the place because people are quite happy to say things to you that are not necessarily helpful.

Rob Thiessen:
Right. So that is like a work hazard of the pastoral ministry. You're in this kind of unique work where everybody is entitled to have an opinion about what you do and they feel free to share that. And those expectations may be in your job description or they may not.

Penny Armstrong:
Right.

Rob Thiessen:
And sometimes, even if you have a clear job description, the people still have subtle ways of exerting, you know, their opinions about what you should and shouldn't be doing. Yeah, that's good. And it's true that a lot of pastors feel torn. So, let's talk a little bit about the role of of doctors. We touched on this, that sometimes it's important to have someone help you, often, to get to that place and say, "I'm going to go see a doctor." What about the role of medication? What do you see as the importance of medication in helping people? What's the role there and at what stage does that typically become important?

Penny Armstrong:
Well, we say to people struggling with burnout, that they need a network of support. And one of the primary people who will care for you, will be your doctor. He's going to look after your physical needs. There's no medication for burnout, per say, but your doctor, probably your therapist or psychologist, another important member of the team - they are going to be able to discern whether you're experiencing burnout or if, in fact, you're burnt out, but you are also dipping into depression. If you have prolonged depression, medication may be helpful for you. Same with anxiety medication, if that's one of the things you're experiencing. That's why it's important to have a team around you. Not everybody going through burnout will need medication. It's very case specific and dependent on what symptoms you're struggling with.

Rob Thiessen:
So, that level of having, you know, professional help is important at that point.

Penny Armstrong:
Yes.

Rob Thiessen:
OK, let's just talk a little bit about prevention. I do want to take a little bit of time. You describe, and we have touched on prevention, but you describe Oasis. And I'd love for you to share just a little bit more about what an oasis journey looks like for a pastoral couple. But, for the pastors or leaders who may be listening today, who feel that this would never happen to them, either men or women maybe feel like, "Oh, well, that's, you know, I'm just overworked." And, you know, what would you say to to the pastor who's just, you know, determined? "I'll just push through. I'll just push through."

Bob Armstrong:
I think, and I want Penny to answer this because she has experience with this. But, I think it's important to get a definition of burnout here. Just let me say that (this is a definition that we like): "Burnout is a state of emotional, mental and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands and, as the stress continues, you begin to lose interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give."

Penny Armstrong:
So, I guess what I would like to say to pastors listening out there today: My experience took me completely by surprise. And I say that, in my first occupation I was a nurse, then I was a pastor, and for the last many years, I've been a therapist. So I kind of feel like - if anybody could have known what was happening, it might have been me - but I did not. The other thing that took me by surprise; my experience with burnout happened in, probably, the highlight of our ministry and I often thought it would be the reverse. You're in some dreadful place, slogging it out, you're tired out and you become burnt out. Happened to me at probably, as I said, the highlight of our ministry. The other thing was, it crept up fairly slowly. I'm a fairly low energy person, so I've had to pace myself, which I have done throughout my ministry. So again, I was thinking burnout was more for people who were running hard and fast and then all of a sudden ran out of gas. So these things surprised me. Looking back from this perspective, what I did not pay attention to was that idea that I was tired and that when I went away on holiday, there was no refreshment. And that is a real key qualifier, because if you're tired, if you're stressed out, typically a vacation will really boost you up and you'll feel refreshed. Not everybody with burnout even has the energy to go on vacation. But if you do, you realize very quickly that there is no enjoyment value at all. You feel flat, you become depressed, you're a little over-sensitized; like, the sun seems too bright or the birds are chirping too loud, things that should be lovely are just... It's like all your nerve endings are jangling. The other thing that happens is, a few days before you're to return, this terrible feeling of dread begins and you know that you're still in the same awful place and everything within you says, "I don't want to go back. I can't go back." And you know you're in trouble.

Bob Armstrong:
I think it's really important, here, to listen to your spouse.

Penny Armstrong:
Yes. Good point.

Bob Armstrong:
When your spouse notices, or a staff member notices, that you're just not yourself, that you're off, that you're a little short, that you're a little chippy, it's just not you - it's time to have a look at yourself. Because sometimes we don't see it, but those who are close to us do see it and, so, it's worth looking into that. So we encourage people to see their doctor, to find a trusted friend - that's not going to judge them - to talk to, to share their journey with, to come to Oasis (And we assess lots of people at Oasis), and do something about it. I tell people that it takes far more courage to address the issues that are going on, than it does to deny them and pretend they're not there. People think it's weakness. It's NOT weakness. It takes far more courage to do this kind of thing. And so, there IS help, and so we encourage people who are listening today to reach out. There IS help. You're not on your own. There are other people who have been down this journey and there are people who would like to come alongside and help you through it. And if you don't do that, if you don't reach out, your body is going to tell you. It's going to speak up on your behalf, and all kinds of things are going to happen to you physically, emotionally, spiritually, that are going to indicate there's something wrong and something off. So we don't want people to get to the place where they're so burned out that it's going to take a long, long period of time to bounce back. As soon as you get to these places and you're starting to see some of these symptoms, respond to them.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. So you've described, often, the role of spouse or friends. And I think, just, you know, "friends don't let friends burnout" would be a good thing to remind each other of. We put a high value on community life, as a Mennonite Brethren family, but you know, what I hear is encouragement to say, "Create the kind of relationships with your leadership team, where you're being honest with each other and you care enough." You know, I remember a season in my life in ministry where it was our moderator, who was Gord Fleming at the time, you know, he met me for coffee once. He goes "What's going on in your life?" And I said, "Well, why?" And he said, "Well, you're not functioning normally. You're holing up in your office, you're withdrawing from people. Why are you doing that?" And, so, as he sort of named issues, behaviors in my life, I said, "Oh, I know what's going on." So my, you know, my wife and I sometimes joke about this: I'm the hedgehog, she's the rhino. You know, a problem means, for her - charge. For me, if I can't resolve a problem, I withdraw. You know, I'm fine if I can see a solution, but if I can't, I pull back and I'm frustrated by it. So, I was doing that more and more and I'm thankful that someone on leadership called me on it quite early, or maybe I was in too far, but he warned me, he said, "If you keep on that pathway, you won't be able to function as the pastor of this church." So, I still didn't know how to resolve the problem that was ahead of me, but I recognized that it was causing me to withdraw. So, I just, I reached out to people, that's when I went to see John Caplin and others as well, "OK, I have to get some perspective here because I have a problem I can't fix, and it's causing me to pull pull back, which is, you know, not great." So, reaching out to community, providing and having relationships, that's huge preventative medicine. Make sure you're honest with the people that you work with and give them permission to be honest with you.

Bob Armstrong:
Yeah, and I think it's critical - especially for those who are just starting in ministry, the younger generation just starting in ministry. New job and then just starting a family and the stressors, and often in small communities where the adjustments are huge, the challenges are huge - for those who are a little more seasoned in ministry, the district leaders, to be checking in on them because there is potential for burnout in those early years. And we want to make sure that these young people have the support that they need.

Rob Thiessen:
So, Oasis is an option for people? What is it? If a person was going to come to Oasis, what is that? What does that look like?

Bob Armstrong:
It's very simple. They can just go to our website at: www.oasisretreatscanada.com, that's 'retreats' plural. And just get our information to give us a shout, and we will suggest they give us a couple of dates that would work for them and often we can meet one of those dates. And we'll bring them in and we'll spend three days with them, probably up to 20 hours of one on one with a couple, or if it's a single, and kind of work through whatever issues need to be worked through. We don't have a set plan; we go where the people need to go and we journey with them where they need to go.

Rob Thiessen:
And is it in a particular location?

Bob Armstrong:
We set up in Langley. So what we're doing right now is, we set people up in a really nice hotel and then they come to our home office in Langley as well.

Rob Thiessen:
OK.

Bob Armstrong:
So just seven minutes away from the hotel.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, that's good. Another resource, maybe you can let our listeners know about, that I know a number of pastors have used to good benefit, is the Fairhaven Retreat Center up in Vernon. So maybe those up in the Okanagan. They have a team, Tony is up there and his wife and they're also willing to meet with pastors on retreat. So that's a great place too, the Fairhaven Retreat Center. Good. Well, we're so grateful. And I know that many of our pastors actually have benefited greatly from spending a week or a season with Oasis and found renewal, found hope again. And thank you so much, Bob and Penny, for your investment in the lives of our shepherds and pastors in our community. Thanks for being with us today and God bless you.

Bob Armstrong:
Thank you.

Penny Armstrong:
Pleasure. Thank you.

Rob Thiessen:
All right. Thanks for being with us for another episode of the BCMB podcast. And look forward to being with you again in the near future. Byebye.

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