Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week Ryan Frank, CEO of KidzMatter, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to talk burnout and staying healthy as a children’s ministry leader.
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk about the big ideas of kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, Ryan Frank, CEO of KidzMatter, joins hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen to talk burnout, brain shrinkage, and staying healthy as a children’s ministry leader.
People, we are at Orange Conference 2019, live from the Infinite Energy Center! Your intrepid hosts are bunkered down in a private suite, complete with kitchen and (empty) wet bar. (We’re not bitter.) We’ve invited some of the amazing breakout speakers and guests at conference to share their wisdom with us, too.
On the menu for today: how to stay healthy in ministry. Burnout and depression are at an all-time high in kids’ ministry right now, leading to loss of calling, lost marriages, even a loss of life. If you’re not healthy [as a children’s ministry leader], you’re not going to be able to live out and do what God has called you to do for the long haul.
Ryan Frank is here to drop some serious wisdom on discerning and walking out of burn out.
Mike and Ryan spoke in a breakout session based on Carey Nieuwhof’s book: Didn’t See It Coming. And they’re about to share some of the warning signals of burnout and some ways to work through it.
Every kidmin leader deals with two issues: The pace of ministry and the weight of ministry.
The pace is your Sunday to Sunday schedule and coming events. Some of this you can control through time off, canceling a meeting, turning off your phone.
The weight, the and responsibility of kids and leaders and volunteers in your ministry never really goes away. You manage it, but you can’t help but think about it.
The two enemies you face: Pride and fear.
Pride would convince you that your unhealthy pace of ministry and weight are fine. You’ve got it. But every kidmin leader comes to a point in their ministry career where they have to acknowledge, “I can’t do this on my own.” Then fear kicks in and says, “You can’t tell anyone that. Because then you’re gone.”
SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT
Let’s talk about Symptom #1 – Your passion begins to fade.
Ryan: I don’t think there is any other area of ministry that is so important, yet so neglected, as our personal health. We get bogged down in metrics, scheduling and numbers. We neglect looking inside of our own lives and how am I doing.
The turn over in kids’ ministry is high, often due to burnout. “I don’t feel like I’ve got what it takes.”
A key sign burnout is on the horizon: your passion fades. Everyone struggles with this from time to time, but when it’s consistent, pay attention.
Mike: We all go through seasons where passion is up and down. It can be a roller coaster.
Gina: It can look like numbness.
Kellen: It’s beyond like or don’t like. I don’t want to go in. I don’t care if Sunday happens.
Ryan: It’s that lack of motivation. I just don’t have the drive to do it like I used to.
Symptom #2 – You no longer have the highs and the lows.
Mike: When you’re healthy, you feel things. You feel the good and the bad. We were created to celebrate with people when they celebrate and to mourn with people when they mourn. When you begin to feel nothing, that’s a sign.
Kellen: What’s the last thing you can celebrate? I don’t know. What are you disappointed about? I don’t know. It’s that numbness.
Gina: When you start to recognize that, it’s eye opening. You don’t notice it. It’s a slow fade toward that numbness. Something happens to someone else that would normally really bring out an emotional response, and you find yourself emotionally numb.
Mike: Someone asks you, “Why do you do what you do?” If things are healthy, you respond that you’re passionate because God has called me. But when you don’t have an answer, where you’re in maintenance mode, that’s when the passion slowly fades.
At a time Gina was close to burn out, she ran into a volunteer at Starbucks who asked how she was doing, and in the moment, she didn’t want to put a face on it and give her the standard, “I’m great!” So she started sharing that things weren’t great. The volunteer looked at her and said, “But do you love what you do?” Gina had to stop and think about it. She realized she wasn’t sure and that something had to change.
Symptom #3 – Little things make you disproportionately emotional.
DISPROPORTIONATELY. Say that three times fast. Bonus points: record it and send it to us. You don’t get a prize, but we’ll probably laugh.
Ryan: The little things become big and the big things become little.
The pastor looks at you the wrong way, and suddenly you’ve blown up.
You realize you’ve got some volunteer holes you need to fill, but instead of giving time to it, you run to Costco.
You become emotional.
You are easily offended.
People closest to you are wondering, “What’s up?”
Mike: Pay attention. If you’re avoiding the big things that require mental energy—a hard conversation with a volunteer or a parents—to do something like organize a closet or go run errands, there may be a problem. You’re being “productive” but staying away from the elephant in the room.
Gina: What are practical steps to do if you find yourself responding like this?
Ryan: Ask the people who are closest to you. My wife will say, “What’s up?” She’s not attacking me, but genuinely cares. Listen.
Mike: Jeff Henderson says find the people closest to you ask them: “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” As a leader, what’s it like to follow me? As a spouse, as a friend?
Kellen: What if you’re on the other side and notice a co-worker or other volunteer doing this?
Ryan: It’s got to be a crucial conversation, built on the foundation of a relationship. Bring it up in a spirit of love. “I care about you. Tell me what’s going on in your life.” Wordsmith it in a way that doesn’t put them on the defensive.
Kellen: This is why it’s so important to build relational equity within a team.
Symptom #4 – Everybody drains you.
Ryan: We all have “those people” that drain us. But pay attention when it becomes everybody.
Mike refers to “drainy” people. Is drainy a word? Someone create an online poll and find out, please.
Kellen: “Everybody” includes your family—spouses and kids, too.
Gina: If someone is wondering if they are heading toward burnout, ask: “Who are the people who normally energize me, and do they now drain me?” That can be a sign of burn out.
Mike: This can be a hard balance for introverts since we need a lot of alone time as it is. But there are still specific individuals who can energize us.
Ryan: It’s hugely important to be pro-active in taking care of ourselves spiritually.
Symptom #5 – You’re becoming cynical.
Ryan: We all have a little cynicism in us. Just because you’re cynical doesn’t mean you’re burnt out. But if you are becoming more and more cynical, it’s a good sign that things aren’t going well.
So, we’ve hashed out five symptoms. (Carey Nieuwhof unpacks additional symptoms in Didn’t See It Coming.)
If one or two things hit home for you, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are burnt out. But be aware and address those issues.
If three of those things are you, you may be on the slow-fade road to burn out.
If it’s four or five, huge red flags. But you can walk out of burn out. Here we go…
WALKING OUT OF BURNOUT
Step #1 – Tell someone.
Ryan: When you start to burn out, you tend to isolate. You need to find someone to talk to. Don’t overthink it. Just start talking.
Mike: If you’re dealing with difficult things in your church, is it better to find someone outside your church? I might feel guarded with anyone inside the church.
Gina: You have to still be able to lead on the other side of that confession. My personal solution would be to look for someone outside the context in which I’m leading.
Kellen: You can get bogged down in looking for someone who can empathize instead of just sympathize. “I need someone equally yoked.” No: you need someone with two ears and a warm heart who can listen. Express it. Otherwise, it can build up until you explode.
Mike: When you admit it to others, you are also admitting it to yourself.
Kellen: If you don’t have community, find someone out there. There are tons of us doing this ministry together.
Gina: Burnout is isolating. We say to ourselves, “Nobody else feels this way. We’re the only one who deal with this.” It just feeds the narrative of isolation. We don’t make good decisions when we are in that space.
Gina talked to a leader who had made some poor decisions in burn out and had to walk about some really tough consequences. Gina asked: “What made you finally tell someone?” He replied, “Someone told me that when you leave something in the dark, you leave the enemy so much room to play. But when you bring it into the light, when you expose it, then the enemy no longer has the power and the strength over the situation that he did.” Just sharing it releases some of the power of it.
This one step alone will hold so much power to move you toward healing.
Ryan: You can avoid burnout in the first place by having the right people in your life. Pastors are so popular, but they are so lonely. Am I inviting people into my life? Do I have people I can be real with? When we are lonely we find ourselves very vulnerable.
Gina: This is where my cynicism creeps in. I am guilty of thinking at times that people want to be known by me, but they don’t want to know me. If someone wants to get together for coffee, I tend to think they want me to hear my story – but they don’t want to know me. It’s a cynical narrative I use to convince myself. I’ve created this distance emotionally with the people around me.
Step #2 – Keep leaning into God.
Time out: Should #1 be lean into God?
Mike: Theologically, that’s correct. When you’re walking through depression, when you are numb to feelings, you begin to process reality based on how you feel. If you feel nothing, then you may feel like God is not here for me. He’s abandoned me since I don’t feel Him. So lean into Him, even if you don’t feel Him. Be obedient, and your feelings will catch up to your obedience to Him.
If you’re a super Christian, it’s easy to say, “I have my baggage, but God and me are going to work this out. It’s fine.” But sometimes the most powerful expression of God’s love in your life may be through the love of other people in your life who know God.
What does this look like practically?
Ryan: Yes, stay in God’s Word and prayer—but be good with who God has created you to be. Be confident in that. God has created you uniquely you. He has gifted you with a special community, church, people who need you. And he’s put in you His Holy Spirit.
I want to be good with who I am, and I want to plug my ears to the voices of negativity that come from outside and within. Lean in on the Lord to recognize who I am in Christ. If I fail—WHEN I fail—I’m going to be good with that, pick up, learn from it, and keep going.
Side note: God has created Kellen to be super awesome. But we all knew that already.
Kellen: You are capable, you are loved, your value is through the roof.
Mike: One way to build this in your life is your time with God. Use your personal time, yes, but also find a way to get yourself into service at your church (even though there are 100 reasons as a kidmin leader you can’t).
Leaning into God looks different for different people. It might be a worship song (like “I Am Who You Say I Am”). It might be journaling. It might be a walk in nature.
Gina: Life Church did a series on declarations of Truth. These are the things God says I am. Ministry has taught me what I’m NOT good at. Very rarely am I reminded of what I’m good at. It’s an active thing I have to do, reminding myself of who God says I am.
Step #3 – Rest.
Mikes: Sleep is like money, and deficits of sleep become debt, and that debt needs to be paid back. No matter what type of personality you are, everyone is designed to spend about a third of your life sleeping and another one seventh resting. Guarding that time is super important.
Yeah, we know. Go to bed! Say your prayers! Tell your mom you love her!
Ryan: Studies show that your brain shrinks through the day and moves back to its normal size at night. You need your sleep.
Sleep survey: Ryan needs 8. Gina needs at least 8. Kellen needs 7.5 to be functional, but 10, because he likes sleep. Mike: solid 8, functional on 7, jerk at 6.
Mike: Someone once said that 70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep. Guard your sleep. Embrace naps.
Step #4 – Find something to take your attention away from your pain.
Mike: When you are processing and resting, you don’t want to be thinking about your pain 24/7. You want to find something that distracts you. It could be a hobby. It could be movies or hiking.
What do you do to relax?
Kellen: Comedy podcasts and running
Gina: Smoking. [If you don’t listen to this moment, you are missing out.] –Big Green Egg knock off. They get lit every Saturday.
Ryan: Walks and no-radio drive-time
Mike: Building Star Wars Legos (he’s now way more into them than his son)
Mike: When you’ve been hurt, you can close your heart off. That’s a recipe for disaster. Opening up your heart again, it’s risky. You risk being hurt. But here’s the thing: there are trustworthy people out there. And our God is trustworthy. He works with us not in our perfection, but in our brokenness, when we declare bankruptcy and poverty on the inside.
Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of burnout, you are not alone. We are here for you, cheering for you and praying for you.
If you are experiencing any level of burnout, find someone this week and tell them what you are going through.
Didn’t See It Coming