Reading the Waters of Fatigue and Burnout

Almost five years ago I pulled into a retreat center in Colorado one month into my first sabbatical.  At that point, I had been in ministry for almost 20 years without ever having a break other than family vacations, which often entailed going to see family.  After completing two graduate degrees over a ten-year period, while pastoring full-time at a large, high-producing church in Chicago, and also desiring to be a devoted dad and coaching high level travel baseball…I knew my tank was running low and I needed to refresh. 

That was an understatement.

As I put my car in park in front of the retreat cabin in which I would stay, I prayed, “Lord, thank you for this time away.  You have one week to work your magic.  I do not want to end up being one of those pastors who burnout in ministry.”  Needless to say, God did do his work which opened my eyes that week and began a new trajectory of life that continues to this day.  The starting point was a humble confession of the one phrase that pastors fear uttering, I am burned out.  Burnout was impacting far more than I even realized at the time.

No one likes to use the word burnout.  It feels too defeating or final.  Instead, we use words like fatigued, depleted, or worn out.  When pressed to our limits for long periods of time we say we feel numb, detached, and find all kinds of symptoms showing up in our lives (anxiety, effects of stress, short fuses, anger, depression, isolation, looking for escape and more).

While Altar has a particular heart for pastors, we are finding men, women, leaders and yes, pastors, coming on our retreats confessing that they are experiencing signs and symptoms of burnout.  On Altar retreats we talk about reading the waters of life and assess how we are coming to retreats and how things are going on several important fronts of life.  Through reading the waters and having time to slow down and take a few days of deep breaths, clarity often rises to the surface where we can name things that often are missed in our hurried, day-to-day lives.

Because burnout (or living in a state of fatigue and depletion) is not only real, but is often sneaky in how it creeps into our lives, we wanted to provide a few questions that can help identify when we are on the pathway of burnout, whether in our relationships, vocations, homes, or other fronts in life.

The goal of this devotion is to read the waters and be honest with where we are.  Our next devotion will discuss things we can do to change the narrative, regain hope, and travel up the stream of joy, renewed energy, and resiliency.

Dr. Wes Beavis (Psy.D.) in his recent book, Let’s Talk About Ministry Burnout, unpacks many of the reasons that contribute to fatigue, emotional numbness, and burnout, offering a short quiz to help people recognize the warning signs of burning out.  The application goes far beyond ministry as you process these questions, think about one or more aspects of your life in this current season. 

Take a moment and rank each of these questions from 1 to 5: 1 (Never) to 5 (Always).

  • Do I feel overextended and emotionally depleted?
  • Are my thoughts regularly trending toward the negative about myself, others or my job?
  • Is there a growing sense of depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, loss of personal discipline, or having a short fuse?
  • Am I avoiding people, preferring to be alone, and feeling shame?
  • Is my avoidance increasing and my productivity diminishing?
  • Is my identity shaken and am I thinking about doing something other than what I am doing now?

Total your score to the six questions above.  Dr. Beavis would say when you reach 19 points or higher you are beginning to exhibit signs of burnout.  If you score 25 points or higher, you ARE experiencing ministry burnout!  Perhaps you need to sit with that for a minute.

Before you say, “Nice, depressing blogpost, Eric!” let me offer you some GOOD NEWS.

The narrative can change!  Flourishing and thriving IS possible. I’ve seen it happen many times, including in my own life, but it does not happen without intentionality. 

Watch our Altar Updates coming later this month and December as explore who change the course and warning signs of burnout.  For now, let me provide with a few questions for reflection.


  • As you read the waters of your life, how do you find yourself responding to the Burnout Quiz?
  • Do you feel this season of COVID has cause more burnout or did it reveal what was already in process in people’s lives?  In your life?
  • When we get depleted, the signs of burnout actually accelerate.  Where would you say you are on the burnout slope?
  • Adele Calhoun says, “Transformation begins with desire.  What you most want will form your life.”  Do you desire to change the narrative of your life?  Do you desire to find new levels of joy and resiliency for the next season of life?
  • Consider taking time to pray and journal some thoughts as you reflect on your answers to these questions.

Eric Camfield | November 2021

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