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Top 5 Ways to Burn Out Your Staff

While working at a church, have you ever thought to yourself, “This wouldn’t fly in the corporate world”?  Oftentimes, churches have their own set of rules when it comes to organization, processes, administration, etc.  Seminaries do a great job of corn feeding the best theology and education to pastors and church leaders, but they tend to skip the part about the business of running a church.  Combine that with the ADD + OCD + Type A pastors that typically go along with a quickly-growing mega church setting, and you’ve got yourself the perfect storm for staff burn out.  So let’s explore together the top 5 ways to burn out church staff – guaranteed!

#5: Espouse “Family First” but Expect “Church First”

How many times have you heard, “We really encourage you to make your family first…” followed by, “Hey, I realize this is last minute (or maybe they don’t), and you’ve got to get home, but can you…”?  There is unnecessary pressure applied to staff because, in my opinion, church leaders continuously fail to plan, create unrealistic expectations, and ultimately are poor at time management.  At the end of the day, a “family-first” church feels more like a “family-later” when staff suddenly have a new task, the pressure of a deadline, and a fear in the back of their minds that they either get this done or they lose their job.

Or perhaps they don’t fear losing their job, but the leader requesting the task has grossly overestimated the critical nature of the task to the point where the staff member feels that if they don’t get it done then people won’t know Jesus…and that’s on them.  Try choosing to go home an hour early to play Legos with little Susie and Johnny with that kind of stress.

#4: Job Creep, Pay Fixed

Have you ever heard of “scope creep?”  It’s when you agree to a set of expectations only to have those expectations slowly grow outside the original scope.  Eventually, you look back and wonder where the project you signed up for went.  Because of the unique nature of a church, staff often wear several “hats” to the point of being comical.  Try asking someone that has worked for the church for more than a year what they do, and you’ll usually get a little chuckle followed by a list of roles that would never fit neatly on a business card.

There is nothing really wrong with wearing several “hats.”  Giving/tithing at churches is so pathetic that church leadership must constantly walk a tightrope between payroll and the responsibility that comes with managing a growing church.  As a result, staff feel the pressure of getting things done that are well outside the scope of what they signed up for.

Here are the steps to burn out in the above scenario:

  1. Hours/responsibilities increase
  2. Staff become mediocre at their job because they can’t do any one thing really well
  3. Sense of value decreases
  4. Stress level increases
  5. Spouse/children start noticing
  6. Pay stays the same
  7. Appreciation decreases (because everyone else is stressed and too busy)
  8. Hours/responsibilities increase again
  9. Burn out

#3: Poorly Cast Vision

This one is simple. Choose any or all of these:

  • Don’t remind staff why they are there
  • Completely avoid talking about where the church is headed
  • Never discuss the reason your staff is a critical part of moving forward
  • Offer no reasons for why you do things or make decisions.  In fact don’t filter any decision through any vision – that way your staff are kept guessing
  • BONUS: Start to openly compare your church to the bigger, shinier, rock star church down the street

That should do it.

#2: Don’t Empower Your Staff

There is nothing more rewarding for a staff member than to feel unable to make decisions.  Whoops!  Of course, that’s not right.  If the staff is engaged in the church’s vision, it is likely that they are there (giving up a higher salary) to continue moving forward in that vision.  They were hired because, ideally, they add tremendous value. They stay because they feel empowered to use their abilities and passions to continue to add value. They feel that they matter.

If you want staff to burn out, simply give them expectations to get things done with no empowerment to get them done.  And for giggles, add some red tape (more typical in older churches) they have to get through. Then start questioning and/or overriding every decision they make, and they’ll soon be on their way out the door – head hanging, knots in the stomach and neck, and completely frustrated.

#1: Lead Pastor: Micromanage

Boom!  Yeah, I said it.  Here’s the thing – large, fast-growing churches typically have a lead pastor personality-type that compliments that pace of growth – Type A, OCD.  This isn’t necessarily a negative until the lead pastor is up in everybody’s business about every detail.

You’ve got to give the lead pastor grace.  Here’s the deal; the church wasn’t always big.  You’ve probably got a story where the church started with 10 couples in a living room, clubhouse, or gymnasium – that’s the nature of church growth.  The lead pastor, like a small business owner, was the CEO AND the guy that cleaned the toilets.  He did everything, managed every detail, and made sure things got done.  If a ball was dropped, it was his fault.  Fast forward to today – he feels the same pressures and responsibilities. But now, everything is bigger; there are more people involved and much more to do.  It’s in your lead pastor’s nature to want to control and hold onto everything.  Back in the day, this is partly how the church moved forward.

So what was once necessary to move forward is now completely annoying, frustrating. and sometimes hurtful.  To a staff member, micromanagement equates to distrust.  Staff think, “Why did he hire me if he questions everything I do?”  For men, this is emasculating, and for women, it creates insecurities, frustrations, and resentment.  He/she feels less valued, less empowered, and even begins to question her core identity.


Pastors & leaders: let go and breathe.  Your church will continue to grow; your people will continue to grow.  Newcomers will get connected if they really want to (they aren’t cattle, but that’s another post).  Your staff are capable…trust them.  Continue to cast vision, continue to teach, continue to connect with your church – that’s what you love to do anyway.

If you must, hire an executive pastor to bridge the gap and run the day-to-day.  If you’ve already got an exec, ask yourself if you are burning them out – take them out to lunch, get a feel for where they are at, and then (if necessary) ask for forgiveness.  And while you’re at it, do the same with your staff.  Help them recharge their batteries, create a healthy, dynamic, creative, empowering work environment, and watch your staff take on new tasks with excitement!