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Building resilience and avoiding burnout


(This is part 1 of an 8 part series)


What do teaching and pastoral ministry have in common?


Neither teaching or pastoral ministry are just a job. Both are a vocation or calling for the Christian. Both embrace a big picture that requires the person to have vision and expertise that can put that vision into practice, whether in the context of the church or the school. Both involve carefully planned teaching from an expert base, together with pastorally caring for the people in the school or church community. Both aim to equip the participants for life, to teach them the truth and to walk with them on part of their journey. Both can be taxing and challenging, as well as fast-paced and unrelenting, and both are often characterised by doing more than one task at once, working long hours and always feeling there is more that could be done, whether in preparing for a lesson or sermon or in caring for people. This results in many teachers and pastors becoming workaholics and some burnout!


There are many teachers and pastors who love these challenges of their job but at times find them more difficult than they had imagined. Some even wonder what they have got themselves into (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.12).


In the book Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving, the authors Bob Burns, Tash Chapman, and Donald Guthrie unpack seven years of research that addresses surviving and thriving in vocational ministry. This is a book about building resilience and avoiding burnout. While this research investigated the challenges of thriving specifically in pastoral ministry the authors claim that it is relevant to all those in vocational ministry (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.7-10). Their research identifies and addresses five themes that build resilience:

    1. spiritual formation,
    2. self-care,
    3. emotional and cultural intelligence,
    4. marriage and family, and
    5. leadership and management.

Spiritual formation can be compared to physical growth via nutrition and exercise. It is the ongoing process of maturing as a Christian, both personally and interpersonally, whether we are beginning our career or near the end of it (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.19).

The idea of self-care involves the pursuit of physical, mental and emotional health and responsible self-care is described as 'a way to deny one self, dying to the old life of self-centeredness and rising to a new life of holiness and love' (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.21).

Emotional and cultural intelligence concern the ability to recognise and proactively manage one's own emotions, accurately discern and respond appropriately to the emotions of others, and the ability to recognise and adapt to different cultural contexts, whether our own culture, a local school culture, a generational culture or an ethnic culture (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p23-24).

Understanding our family genogram, or generationally learnt expectations and ways of leaving work stress at the door of the home are explored in the family chapters.


Finally, the need for and challenges of both leadership and management are explored. Leadership is described as promoting adaptive and constructive change while management provides order and consistency in the organisation. Where expectations and demands for service are high, resources are limited and time constraints are compelling, the challenges of leadership could be described as 'disappointing people at a rate they can absorb' (Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.27).


There are no one-size-fits-all answers in this book but a great deal of insight and wisdom, and many challenges to think deeply about our own practices. 


Donald Guthrie will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Christians in Teaching conference. For more information click here.


References: Burns, B, Chapman, T.D., & Guthrie, D. C. (2013). Resilient Ministry: What Pastors told us about surviving and thriving. (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press).

Available for purchase from The Wandering Bookseller


Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent  is to promote thinking and discussion.

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