My Church Burnout Story
How it started:
In the Fall of 2012, I publicly accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I’ll never forget that Sunday—the exact date is November 18, 2012. On a brisk Fall day, my girlfriend and I attended Sunday service. At the end of the sermon—the Pastor said, “is there anyone here who wants to start a real relationship with Jesus?” “If so, get out of your seat and meet me at this altar!” In my mind, I was saying, “Yes, I do!” But, I didn’t move. The walk seemed too personal to take in front of thousands of people. However, without my permission, my wife—who was my girlfriend at the time—grabbed my hand and took me to the altar. In front of thousands of people, we recited a prayer of salvation. On that day, I made it official to the public—I was a follower of Jesus!
At first, I was upset—I felt vulnerable and exposed. In my mind, that walk—put my sins on display. Immediately after reciting the prayer, we were escorted to a back room, in which our decision to follow Christ was further explained. That day, we entered into the church system. We filled-out forms, received prayer and started new members class a couple of weeks later.
After taking new members classes—we took pre-martial classes. Months later, I got baptized. Shortly after that, I started attending men’s ministry on Saturdays. Every week, we had free breakfast, fellowship and a sermon—with prayer at the end. It was exactly what I needed, because I was struggling in my personal life. Attending the breakfast— gave me something to look forward to and allowed me to be around Black men who were at different places in their lives. I was able to connect to peers my age and older men who gave sound advice.
The church easily became my favorite place to be. I immersed myself into the church culture and didn’t look back. My wife and I started serving at outreach events—then we started serving in ministries as leaders. We went from being at church once a week to 2-3 times a week.
Before I became staff, people thought I was staff. We served in the college ministry, prison ministry, men’s ministry, and at the food pantry. We went on a mission trip and attended every church event that caught our attention. It was amazing! It was life changing. After 2 years of fervently serving and attending every event. We both became part-time staff. My wife worked at the Food Pantry and I became the Community Liaison. Now, we were at church 5-7 days a week. Our lives were immersed in the church, and it was beautiful. We met wonderful friends that we are still very close to.
After a couple of years of being staff, my wife found another job and I remained working at the church. I became full-time and to top off my commitment—I became a Minister—which kept me longer on Sundays. In honesty, I felt safe in church. I saw my life change before my very eyes. I went from partying, drinking, and smoking to being sober, productive and useful.
I got married. I was doing purposeful work. Furthermore, I became a new creature. When my wife stopped working at the church, I was able to see how my life was centered around the church and I had no life outside my devotion to it.
Fast-forward to 2020– my fifth year as staff and seventh year involved in the church—the year everything came to a screeching halt. June, 30, 2020, on a hot summer day, I was driving on the freeway to accomplish 1 of 3 major tasks. We were 3 months into the pandemic and 1 month into civil unrest after George Floyd was murdered publicly by a police officer.
On that day- As I drove, it all hit me—the deaths from COVID, the death of black men and my tiredness from serving with zeal for 7 years straight. I felt like my head had a tumor in it, and like my chest was tightening up.
I pulled over the car—started to cry and panic, and eventually called an ambulance. The operator told me to unbutton my shirt, roll the windows down and take deep breaths. I did. The ambulance came to pick me up, and I was admitted into the Emergency hospital.
After being released—I couldn’t drive without having a panic attack—so I stopped driving. For months, I struggled with severe anxiety to the point I could not go to work. I had to resign from my job at the church and start short-term disability.
August 19, 2020, was my last day working for the church. I was at home, unable to drive and afraid. I had migraines that made me feel like I was going to die. Not only that, but I had no idea what to do and what my future would be. I felt guilty for leaving my job and ashamed I was struggling with my mental health. The church was the refuge of my redemption, and at this moment it became the source of my burnout. How could I walk away from the place that gave me a job—when no one else would? How could I forget the promotions I received. I started part-time and ended a senior leader.
Despite my ruminating thoughts of failure, I had to began radical self-care. With the support of my wife, community and family, I began my healing journey. I started therapy and medication to help with migraines and anxiety. After 3 months of intense cognitive behavioral therapy—I started to drive. It was and still is a hard recovery. I cry, pray, read scripture, and cry some more until I get enough strength to live again. To thrive. I stopped attending that church to help with my healing journey.
How it’s going:
Today, I serve on the board of a small local church and attend Sunday services. I have learned through my experience that God’s kingdom isn’t limited to working for a church. It’s much greater. It’s serving at home—by loving your family, having fun with friends, working a job in the marketplace, writing and so much more.
I have learned how to love myself, my family and those I encounter. I have a wonderful relationship with the church I worked for and don’t harbor any resentment. Furthermore, I understand that my zeal for God’s house wasn’t coupled with wisdom. Now, I am wise and able to love my wife, daughter, dog, friends and loved ones. I no longer live by works, but by grace.
For anyone out there working to earn God’s love—your work will never surmount the gift of grace already given to us. God rested on the 7th day and called it holy. If God can rest—so can we. I am sharing my story to help you understand that God’s love is established through the work of Christ, and we don’t have to earn it. I am grateful to be healed and recovering by His grace. His grace is sufficient.