How to Recognize Burnout On Your Team

Lois* was fried. Not only was she the the go-to accompanist for our church, but also for several community music organizations. After she began a grueling graduate program, her cast iron pan was searing.

She tried to honor her commitment to the worship team. But the skipped rehearsals, last-minute no-shows, constant tardiness and frequent emotional “moments” told me something needed to give.

And despite all that, I didn’t want to lose her. I was constantly in need of musicians, especially ones of her caliber. But of my many mistakes in ministry, thankfully this situation wasn’t one of them.

I initiated a conversation with her and asked if it would ease her burden to be released from her commitment to the worship team. She was beyond on trying to feign a desire to stay. Her “Yes, please!” came out with a mix of desperation and hope. We decided on an indefinite sabbatical. She would initiate coming back on the team when she was ready.

I even promised her that I would do everything I could to guard her time away. It didn’t take long for that commitment to be tested. Our musician-starved situation caused a few people (including the senior pastor) to suggest, “Hey, let’s call Lois. She’s had a month or two off.”

No way, José. (Actually my pastor’s name wasn’t José. Remember, names have been changed…)

She might’ve come back just to fill in and been OK with it. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to give her space to get healthy.

As you’re leading your worship ministry, here are some signs that burn-out is either on its way, or already hollowing out a team member:

1. Frequent moodiness.

This could be a lot of things. But it’s a sign of something. Pay attention and ask questions.

2. Diminished preparation for rehearsals and services.

Lack of practice is always cause for concern. But be very mindful of the person who used to prepare well then suddenly stops.

3. Disconnected from others.

If your once-friendly drummer comes in and doesn’t engage with the team, there might be something going on.

4. Disconnection from God.

This might be tough to gauge, but you’ll likely pick up hints.

5. Me-focused.

Often we think someone’s just a jerk. But really, they’re just so emotionally spent that have no capacity for empathy with others.

6. Talks about all the stress in his/her life.

Lois’s burnout wasn’t a surprise to anyone. We had been hearing about her workload for months.

7. No shows/shows up late, etc.

On the surface this behavior seems due to the excessive activities and stress. I’m no psychologist, but I have to wonder if it isn’t also a subtle cry for help. Or even a subconscious attempt to get removed from the team.

8. Complaining.

When we run on empty, the only thing that seems to flow out naturally are gripes.

9. Apathy

It’s easy to stop caring when you’re fried. Ministry loses it’s meaning, so why bother doing it, or at least doing it well.

10. Tired/Lethargic

Our bodies aren’t wired for constant stress. Rest and margin were prescribed by God both in creation and in the Law.

And Jesus gave us a perfect example of that “advance and retreat” model. But our culture finds it as foreign as these delicacies.

Again, so many of these signs could also be point to something else. But if you see a few of them, be concerned. And don’t wait to long to intervene. Looking back on the situation with Lois, I probably should have stepped in sooner. But we able to get her some respite before there was a total meltdown.

And by the way, I since moved on from that church, but I recently heard that she’s returned to the team. And her once-lost passion for worship ministry has been renewed. 

Comment below: How have you dealt with burnout on your team?

*Names & certain detail have been changed.

Photo by DanDrew Photography on Unsplash

Jon Nicol