Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast and thanks so much for joining with us today. We have Pastor Shawn Hennessy with us from Life Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Today Shawn is sharing with us about his experience with burnout, and how that helped shape the way he sets priorities in his life—especially important when one leads a fast-growing church with constant demands.
Seek your priorities. Burnout is a real issue pastors need to be ready to face in today’s world, regardless of the church size. But when you add fast growth to the already demanding needs of a ministry, it can shut you down if you’re not orienting your life around the right things. As Shawn shares, it’s natural to get tired. For a while Shawn was seen as “the fixer” before he began to pastor Life Church in Green Bay. He was a young guy and sent places around the country to “fix” ministries. Shawn also had a rigorous speaking schedule and traveled continuously for about five years. Meanwhile, his wife was a youth pastor, and so they often found themselves in different places. Those early years were tough—being on the road meant Shawn barely got to know his kids when they were infants; he was away from home for their milestones, and eventually things imploded. All the accumulated pressure and stress led to a huge burnout in which Shawn’s credentials were taken away. He spent a year at home, taking a break from ministry, but that time was crucial for helping him reevaluate his life. Shawn shares, “What I learned in that year off was how to love my wife, how to love my kids and I learned how to love Jesus. I tried to leave ministry, but ministry wouldn’t leave me, so when I got the opportunity to get back in, I determined this time I’m just going to have priorities.” He spent six months praying and seeking God’s voice on what should be his top five priorities.
Jesus is number one. Shawn’s hitting rock bottom and taking a break from ministry provided the time Shawn needed to really cultivate a deep relationship with God. At this point, Shawn can honestly say Jesus is his top priority. We’re all supposed to say that, but ask yourself honestly, is He really your top priority? This doesn’t mean making church your top priority, but making Jesus Himself your top priority. Truly seeking His face and listening for what God was saying to him helped Shawn put Jesus as his top priority above everything else.
Prioritize yourself above others. As Christians, we think it may sound selfish and shocking to say it, but Shawn has learned that if he doesn’t prioritize himself, then everything else in his life will suffer. You might think you sound self-centered if you say this, but if you get into the mix of life and aren’t taking care of your body, mind and spirit, there will be consequences. We have to pay attention to our health in all these areas and what we are feeding our bodies, minds and spirits.
Love your spouse above your kids. We are blessed with our kids, but we choose our spouse. One of the problems in our society is that we can often ignore the person we chose in order to give our full attention to our kids. Shawn teaches that there should be no one else on earth that you choose over your family, but that when it comes to your spouse and your kids, your spouse is your priority over your kids. This both keeps your marriage strong, and adds a measure of security and confidence to your children when they see how you and your spouse prioritize and love each other.
Say no. For Shawn, his top five priorities are all relationships with either God or his family. When you realize that church is not one of those five priorities, you can say no without apology to things that are not vital or an emergency. You don’t have to attend everyone’s graduation or birthday party. Saying no guards our lives and helps prevent burnout for pastors and church staff. As Shawn says, “From a burnout perspective, sometimes as leaders we’re spinning our wheels trying to keep everybody happy while making the people who make us happy miserable.” As ministry leaders, you are not here to impress others; you are here to serve Jesus.
This article originally appeared here.