It had been a hectic few months. I’d spent my days (and often nights, too) answering questions, resolving issues and investigating possible errors all while trying to lead my team. I was exhausted, mentally drained and spiritually dry. Oh, and I was in ministry.

Sound familiar? Do you sometimes feel like you live at the church? Do you feel guilty leaving each day knowing there's still more work to be done? If so, you’re not alone.

I've worked in ministry and felt the struggle between the work I was dedicated to do for God and my own physical, emotional and spiritual health. We should expect to make sacrifices as Christians, yet I’m convinced we aren't called to continual exhaustion and neglected relationships.

I've learned the hard way that I have to be intentional about taking care of myself so I’m equipped to serve others. Based on that experience, here are five tips for preventing burnout so you can thrive in ministry:

1. Take a Sabbath

I realize that we’re no longer under the Law. However, even God took a day off, so I think He was trying to set the example. We need a day to relax and not think about work. While this may not be Sunday for you, take one of the "weekend" days you get off each week to truly rest (yes, that includes not checking email).

2. Enjoy time with family and friends

Go out on a date night with your spouse. Have a family day and let your kids choose the activities. Go out to a new movie with your friends.

3. Get a hobby and have fun

Whether you end up playing golf, getting a massage, trying out a new class at the gym or reading a good book, find something that sounds like fun and go for it. It's perfectly okay to have fun and do something just because you enjoy it.

4. Replicate yourself

Document some of your processes at work and then train someone else to be your backup. That should prevent urgent calls from the office the next time you take a vacation.

Also, talk with your leadership about the workload. They may not be able to hire someone to help right away, so provide a few options. Maybe you can get a volunteer or a college intern to come in for a few hours a week. Maybe there lower priority tasks you can stop doing for a period of time.

There are options that don’t include you driving yourself into the ground. You just have to search for them.

5. Invest in your health

  • Spiritual: Spend time alone with God. I've caught myself getting so busy working for God that I've neglected my relationship with God. That’s not what He wants for us. He wants a relationship with us so much that He sent His Son to die to restore our relationship. Please remember that the next time you feel the pressure to skip time with Him to get to the office earlier.
  • Physical: Eat healthy foods most of the time. Exercise 3-4 times a week. Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Your physical health impacts your emotions and energy. Take care of your body and you’ll have more strength to serve. I book appointments on my calendar with myself for exercise. Treat it like it’s important — it is.
  • Emotional/Mental: Discuss your struggles with your spouse or close friend. Don’t bottle up your emotions and think you have to be strong 24/7. Let others help you — I’m preaching to myself here, too, so I know how hard this can be. Also, if you’re battling depression, consider seeing a qualified counselor.

Before you start feeling guilty about focusing on yourself remember two things:

  1. Jesus went away from the crowds — even away from His own disciples to pray and spend time with His Father. He knew His time on earth was very limited yet He placed a high priority on getting away to recharge and connect.
  2. Before a plane takes off, a flight attendant admonishes us to put an oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others in an emergency. Why? Well, if we run out of oxygen trying to help someone else, we may fail to help either one of us.

Please don’t run out of oxygen. You’re not going to be very effective in ministry if you’re consistently working long hours, neglecting your relationships and sacrificing your health.

Get alone with your Father and reconnect. Rest, have fun and love your family well. Then, head back into work refreshed and ready to serve from a full tank.