Extra events. Additional small groups. Logo requests. Late night band rehearsals. Last minute digital media changes. More screen time. Longer hours. Increased social media engagement. Technology upgrades. Plans for a second campus.
At first glance, most of these seem like positives for a church of any size. Others may just seem a little annoying. But, in the small church world, they can be — and often are — the driving force behind overwhelming burnout among tech and communications staff and volunteers.
WHAT THE HECK IS BURNOUT?
No, guys, we're not talking about what you and your college buddies used to do with your Mustangs and Camaros in the abandoned supermarket parking lots late at night when you should've been studying.
Merriam-Webster defines "burnout" as: "[noun] exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation as a result of prolonged stress or frustration; [verb] to cause to fail, wear out, or become exhausted especially from overwork or overuse."
As a lifelong P.K. (that's pastor's kid for the uninitiated), I've seen ministry burnout happen in some very up-close-and-personal scenarios. I've battled it myself. Along with the adjectives in the aforementioned definition, I would also toss in spiritual exhaustion. But we'll get to that in a minute.
When it comes to the proper execution of the average Sunday morning service experience at any church (small ones in particular), there may be no other role — excluding that of the senior pastor — which faces the probability of burnout more than the communications director. Every week this unsung hero gets out of bed to not only accept Mission: Impossible, but also to ensure absolute perfection and the least amount of casualties and glitches along the way. This is hard enough on its own without adding the stresses of unattainable expectations, dwindling tech team volunteers (or none at all), leadership misconceptions about their role, underfunded resource budgets, undervalued abilities, unrecognized talents, and the fact that we probably won't even be recognized at all unless something explodes. Frankly, Ethan Hunt and his IMF team of super spies ain't got nothin' on the average small church techie.
Of course, these pressures may not be a reality for every church comms director. But for many, they are more than just reality. They are the very pulse of what we shoulder day in and day out. And it all culminates in those few Sunday morning hours when all of your work and effort comes down to the wire and everything is on the line. It's enough to tempt even the best of us to throw a MacBook out the window and board a one-way flight to Fiji.
Now, let's go back to that spiritual aspect I mentioned a second ago. We throw around the phrase "spiritual warfare" all the time. Consider this: What if Satan — Public Enemy #1 for believers — isn't trying to destroy your ministry by hurtling temptation grenades into your life? That would be pointless, right? What if he's not firing the rocket launchers of financial anxiety, pride, idolatry, bitterness, addiction, or pornography? Kid's play. What if he has pulled out the big guns? What if his ultimate endgame is to actually see you doing so much church ministry — in so many venues, juggling so many things simultaneously, more than any one human being was meant to accomplish — that you eventually become so overworked, so utterly and overwhelmingly exhausted, despising everything about ministry life itself, and just quit altogether? This is the weapon of burnout, my friends. And it is one of the most deadly and inconspicuous weapons in our Enemy's arsenal. It will sneak up on you like a United States sniper and before you can blink, you're down for the count. It happens all the time.
HOW DO I FIGHT IT?
I'm so glad you asked. Here's some of what I strongly recommend for church comms burnout — whether you're full-time, part-time, or volunteer:
#1. Talk to your Leadership.
In the small church world, this is most likely going to be your senior pastor. If you're the Comms Director, I'm betting you're a one-man or one-woman show. Some of you might have a team of steady, committed volunteers. Others may have the "I'll be there when I can" team members. Still, others may be in the Twilight Zone of recruitment and training, floating aimlessly while trying to figure out how to make it all work. But if you're the communications leader, then the ranking leader above you is going to be the senior pastor. If you already have a good relationship with your pastor, this won't be difficult. Schedule a time to meet with him — preferably in a low-stress, casual environment. Grab coffee or lunch together and tell him what you're up against physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Be honest, authentic, and transparent about your exhaustion. Let him know that you need some time to rest, regroup, recuperate, and refresh. It will benefit you and it will benefit the church. You are never able to minister to your fullest and most optimal potential when you are in burnout. And if the church has to do without your talents, abilities, and skills for the length of time that you are gone, then so be it. Your physical, mental, and spiritual health is far more important.
#2. Decrease your screen time dramatically.
And yes, this includes your tablet and smartphone too. Those of us in church comms ministry spend an exorbitant amount of time on our gadgets every single day. EVERY. SINGLE. FREAKING. DAY. I know what you're thinking: "Well, duh, Josh." But stick with me. From iMacs, MacBooks, and iPads to iPhones, PCs, and Androids, we're on some sort of device almost every hour of the day. Unless we're sleeping, we are eating, living, and breathing church comms. As the saying goes: "Social media never sleeps." This is a 24/7 ministry. (Especially when we have to delete spam comments at three o'clock in the morning.) And it's worth noting that we're not just managing digital and social media content, designing graphics, handling e-mails, and sending newsletters from our home or office. Most of us are mobile as well. We're also doing it on-the-go from our tablets and smartphones in the middle of catching lunch with a friend, picking our kids up from soccer practice, or even while we're waiting on the doctor to come back into the room with our prescription (True story, bro.)
This abundance of prolonged screen time is obviously bad for our mental, emotional, and physical health. There's plenty of settled science out there on that. But, to make matters worse, many church comms directors allow screen time to take precedence over personal Word and prayer time, which can be detrimental to spiritual health. Even worse, we're experts at making excuses about it. We'll convince ourselves that we're doing it all for Jesus so everything is all good. If you're in this boat, I would encourage you to step away from the screens and move closer toward Christ. Spend more time in prayer and in the Word. Don't go meet a friend for a Bible study and coffee and tell yourself that's enough. Find time for just you and Jesus. No one else. And when Mr. Apple and Mr. Android buzz with notifications, tell them that they can wait.
#3. Take a mental health day (or week or month.)
Take advantage of the off-time that your pastor agrees to give you when you ask (see #1). That might be one weekend. It might be a full week. Maybe you're in a stable staff environment where you can take a month off, grab your family for a roadtrip, and never be missed. But periodically throughout the year, you should be able to take random and sporadic mental health days when needed. These should be days when you can spend time with your family, engage in a personal hobby, go see a movie, read a book, try that new restaurant in town, or just take that ever elusive nap. Nothing complicated. And certainly nothing ministry or church comms-related. In short: Give your brain a break. I personally recommend a "day of rest" somewhere during your week. Monday is a good day for this, since Sunday is our triathlon of responsibilities.
#4. Remind yourself of your calling.
For those times when breaks and mental health days are not possible — and burnout looms overheard like a menacing thunderstorm — recall to your heart and mind the original vision and purpose to which you were called by Jesus into this ministry. You are in church comms for a reason. You are designing, creating, sharing, posting, and distributing content with the sole purpose of sharing the Gospel and the hope of salvation in a digital realm that is overflowing with lost, broken, lonely, and hurting people. You're editing video, audio, and creating sermon graphic templates for eternal Kingdom work. Your visual content that shows up on the screens every week connects people to the message in a deeper and more emotional way, something that previous generations never had. And your church has an opportunity to be one of the small, flickering lights in the vast darkness of social media and the Internet. Embracing your vision and purpose with passion, clarity, and focus will help to carry you through those hectic seasons of chaos and stress. Remember: Just by posting that Bible verse graphic or uploading that sermon audio file or designing that last minute sermon template, you could play a small role in someone's salvation. And that makes every minute of your job — even the excruciating and frustrating ones — worth it.
#5. Call in the calvary...er, I mean, train the calvary.
You can't be the Lone Ranger of small church comms. God never intended for you to be the Superman or Wonder Woman poster child for this ministry niche. Get rid of your cape. Ditch the spandex. Knock it off. A healthy and strong leader is always wise enough and humble enough to know when it's time to bring in back-up. More than that, a good leader should be training back-up and volunteers along the way.
Things don't have to fall apart when you leave to go on break. Your church comms disciples should be more than able to man the fort in your absence. In the small church space, this will mean replicating yourself. Yes, duplicating yourself. Training other people to do what you do. Not necessarily with the same level of perfection or obsessive attention to detail that you might possess. But, at least training them to get the basics done. I live and work in the small church comms space every day and believe me when I tell you that this can be done. It may take a little time to find and build your team. But even if it's just a couple sound techs, a couple IT guys who double as livestream operators, and a volunteer willing to tackle a few social media tasks, you're golden. Let God handle the rest.
Everyone serving in ministry — especially those serving in a full-time position — will endure seasons of hectic chaos, stress, pressure, and busyness. It comes with the territory. Ironically, we should be expectant of these times because it means our church is healthy, active, and alive in the local community. It means we are being the hands and feet of Jesus. Busyness and work are not always bad things in and of themselves. And just because we get busy doesn't mean we have to succumb to exhaustion. And just because there are high standards, long hours, and intense deadlines, it doesn't mean we have to be paralyzed by them.
Call in your calvary. Train your calvary. Have coffee and lunch with people from your calvary. Stay focused on your divine calling, stay close to your leadership, stay physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Watch God work wonders as you play a small part in this amazing thing called ministry.