I regularly run across statistics that say that thousands of pastors each year leave the ministry and cite burn out as a chief reason. While some have challenged the accuracy of these statistics, it doesn’t change the fact that burn out is a real problem for many pastors. They graduate seminary, hit the ground running, and then soon find themselves in the hospital, on medication, or perhaps “self-medicating” with various and sundry grievous sins in the effort to cope with the stress and challenges of ministry. One useful resource that pastors (and others) should consult with great profit is David Murray’s book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. This is a wonderful little book that provides sound biblical counsel on how to prevent, avoid, and handle ministry burnout.
Murray presents his case in ten relatively brief chapters where he begins with giving the physical, mental, relational, emotional, vocational, moral, spiritual, and pastoral warning lights that might indicate that you’re headed for a collision course with burnout. Are you suffering from health problems? Chest pain? Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Are you depressed? Is there stress in your marriage? Are you procrastinating at work? Are you viewing pornography on the internet? Have you decreased the amount of time you spend in the Scriptures for personal devotions? Are you bored with ministry? These are just some of the questions Murray poses to would-be sufferers from burnout. He does not say that these are automatic tell-tale signs of breakdown, but they are important questions to ask.
In the subsequent chapters he provides useful remedies for the various causes of burnout. He notes, for example, that God created us body and soul, thus we must care for our bodies as much as we nurture our souls. Some of the world’s top athletes get 11-12 hours of sleep a night in order to produce maximum physical performance. While this amount of sleep may be out of reach for mere non-athletic mortals, the information is important to consider. Cutting corners on rest and scraping by with less than six hours of sleep per night can be pouring gasoline on a breakdown fire. In the book Murray also talks about diverting your attention to other things. Watching movies, hobbies, exercise, or reading outside your field can be excellent ways to improve your productivity. As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Johnny a boring boy,” applies to more than life in general. It could be that a cause of your burnout is that you’ve focused too intensely on your labors and haven’t come up for air.
What I particularly like about Murray’s book is that he provides biblical rationale for the advice that he gives. At a certain point, the biblical principles he states eventually must give way to wisdom. That is, Murray’s book isn’t a step-by-step checklist to perform. In other words, one must prayerfully consider Murray’s counsel. There is some advice, for example, that is debatable. Murray points to his own habit of not using his phone as an alarm clock so that he doesn't start engaging the digital world when he first wakes up. He wants the first thing he does to be diving into God’s word for his devotions. This is certainly admirable, but it isn’t biblically mandated and thus up for discussion. We should most assuredly be in the word on a daily basis, but the specific time or order in which we do things is a matter of Christian liberty.
Such minor issues aside, I can say that I will be recommending this book to all of my students. I think that anyone considering ministry should pick up this book and read it. It’s not only a good prophylactic against burnout, but it’s also a good tonic if you find yourself in the midst of a breakdown. What makes this book must-reading, however, is that Murray doesn’t rest on methods and data but ultimately encourages pastors to find their contentment in Christ. He exhorts pastors to rest their ministries in the grace of God rather than in the tyranny of the urgent and the freneticism that continually inundates us. I think Murray’s book is definitely useful for those outside the ministry, though he and his wife have written a book specifically for women entitled, Refresh. If this book is anything like Reset, then it too deserves careful consideration. In the end, tolle et lege! Take up and read!