This year, I’m starting off with two heart-issue blog posts. Last week, I covered participating in worship outside of the sound booth. You can’t give your heart, mind, and spirit over 100% when you are in the sound booth. Today, I’m talking about audio ministry burnout. Burnout either has affected you or will affect you.
Last month, you were putting in extra time at your church for the Christmas program. If you weren’t helping with the stage setup, you were there for the practices. And let’s not forget the Christmas Eve service. You might have even been behind the mixer for two or three Christmas Eve services. This year, you’ll plan to do it all again. But don’t forget about the Easter service and all the other extra work that comes up like the sermon series stage changes.
“The stress is just part of the job,” I hear you say. True, but let’s look at the definition of burnout;
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress.
You might be the only sound tech at your church. You might be the lead tech. You might be a technical director. No matter what role you play in the production ministry, you have to realize ministry burnout can affect you.
The difference between stress and burnout
Stress and burnout are both factors of working in ministry. It’s like that in life as well. Stress management is one thing but when you’re dealing with burnout, you’ve got a whole new set of problems. Let’s start by identifying the differences between stress and burnout.
The below are from “Stress and Burnout in Ministry”
- Characterized by over-engagement
- Emotions are over-reactive
- Produces urgency and hyperactivity
- Loss of energy
- Leads to anxiety disorders
- Primary damage is physical
- May kill you prematurely
- Characterized by disengagement
- Emotions are blunted
- Produces helplessness and hopelessness
- Loss of motivation, ideals, and hope
- Leads to detachment and depression
- Primary damage is emotional
- May make life seem not worth living
Some of these signs are downright scary. Honestly, I’ve been on the edge of burnout and it took a bit of work to get myself into a healthier way of working in the production ministry. But how do you know you have reached those stages? Better yet, how do you know you are getting close to burnout?
Signs of ministry burnout
Perry Noble wrote a list of 11 signs you might be experiencing burnout;
#1 - “You begin to despise the people you are called to love and minister to.” In the case of audio production, this might be the worship leader and the musicians. Or, if you feel the congregation never appreciates your effort, then even the congregation would be included.
#2 - “You often allow your mind to drift towards what else you could do OTHER than ministry.” If you think your work behind the mixer doesn’t make a difference and you want to walk out, this one is for you.
#3 - “You feel like a ‘ministry machine’ that does what you do out of guilty obligation rather than out of an overflow out of your own intimate walk with God.” In production terms, you are showing up for audio production not because you want to be there but because someone has to do it and your name was on the list.
#4 - “You begin to make decisions based on what is the easiest rather than what you KNOW God wants you to do.” This can show up in a lot of ways regarding audio production. You patch things so they are just good enough to work; you no longer bother with EQ’ing any of the sounds. You take on the idea that your work doesn’t really matter as long as everyone can hear the band or the pastor.
#5 – “You become increasingly critical of churches, people and ministries that you feel God is blessing more than you.” I don’t have anything to add here.
#6 – “You can’t remember the last time you actually opened your Bible to commune with God rather than trying to find a sermon/Bible study.” Audio production in church is a form of ministry and when you experience burnout, even in the tech ministry, you will find your relationship with Christ suffering.
#7 – “You begin to view the staff you serve with as your servants rather than God’s servants.” To put it in tech terms, you view your teammates or the tech’s under you, in the case of being the tech director, not as people but as people you can order around.
#8 – “You use delegation as an excuse to be lazy.” My daughter calls me on this one more than I care to mention but when it comes to burnout, you are delegating out as much as possible so you don’t have to do anything.
#9 – “You can’t remember the last time you and your spouse had a conversation that was not church related.” When ministry work gets hard and you’re burning out, it’s all you want to complain about.
#10 - “You can’t remember the last time you spent time with your children…and enjoyed it.” Perry is talking about some hard burnout here. I’d like to think that as tech volunteers, your burnout would never get to that level. But as for the full or part-time tech directors, you could be so burned out you don’t have the energy for anything else.
#11 – “You begin to doubt the power of God in your life and the life of others.” Perry really nails it with this one. Being burned out in ministry, not only do you think your work doesn’t matter, you doubt God is looking after you.
What leads to burnout?
Now you know the differences between stress and burnout and the signs you might be experiencing burnout. But what in the world is causing this burnout?
Consider the impact of these points;
- Feeling like you have little control over your work. You might feel micro-managed or told exactly what knob to turn and how much to turn it. While your work shouldn’t be like that, I’ve heard from tech’s who have experienced this level of management.
- Lack of recognition for good work. As a musician once said to me, “thanks for working in a thankless job.” Your source of recognition usually doesn’t come from people saying “thanks” but instead from seeing the congregation involved in worship. However, when you don’t hear “thanks” for a long time, it can wear on you.
- Unclear or overly demanding job expectations. In Audio Essentials for Church Sound, I cover all of the needs and expectations of everyone from the pastor to the worship leader to the musicians to the congregation. And most of these are unspoken expectations that you’re just supposed to know.
- Working in a chaotic / stressful environment. Each church is different. Some have set worship band practice times while others feel like everything is thrown together at the last minute. Living in the world of the latter, it will take a toll on your emotions.
- Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing. I heard a presentation on “I’m too busy working on the Sabbath to have a Sabbath.” Most of us work a regular full-time job and then add volunteering onto our life. Without a balance, your life becomes work-focused.
- Being expected to be too many things to too many people. I used to joke that the moment I drove onto the church property that a light in the church office started flashing so people knew they could pepper me with questions and request solutions to every problem imaginable – from fixing the DVD playing in the youth room to giving them access to a locked closet so they could get a vacuum cleaner.
- Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others. This can happen because the responsibilities are heaped on your or because you are taking them on yourself.
- Lack of close, supportive relationships. How often do you meet with a prayer partner or even with another tech to talk about the work and yourself and your feelings?
Even our own personality traits can lead to burnout. If you feel the need to be in control, have a pessimistic view of yourself and the world, and have perfectionist tendencies then you also have to keep those traits in check. Otherwise, you miss out on the good you are doing and focus on what you could have done better.
Consider these ways of preventing production ministry burnout;
- Determine the expectations of your job. Meet with the worship leader and/or the pastor to find out exactly what they expect from you. You can’t meet expectations when you don’t know what they are.
- Set boundaries. The two biggest things you can do here are learning to say “no” and setting time boundaries. You don’t have to volunteer for everything. When you over commit yourself then you are headed for burnout. Also, set time boundaries by looking at the time the ministry is requiring of you. Maybe it’s time to add one more person to the sound team. And every church should have at least two people trained and rotating on the schedule.
- Learn to manage stress. When you are burned out, you’ve passed the “stressed out” phase and entered the “I don’t care” phase. There are hundreds of books and on-line resources for managing stress. Find something that works for you.
- Be in a relationship with someone who can hold you accountable.
- Take time off. Preventing burnout by taking time off is more than just getting away from the responsibility. It’s about getting away so you can prioritize your life and determine how the audio ministry fits into those priorities. Then you can make changes like setting time boundaries and determining the sources of stress and what you can do about it.
The Take Away
It’s the beginning of a new year. It’s the perfect time for determining how you want to spend your time in 2013. You are involved in a ministry that impacts your worship time. It’s a stressful ministry, at times, but it’s also a very rewarding one. It’s a ministry, like all ministries, that can lead to complete burnout. Consider the differences between stress and burnout. Consider the signs of burnout and if you have started down the road to burnout. And whatever you do, make a conscious effort to prevent burnout because not only does audio ministry burnout affect you but it affects the people on stage, the person behind the pulpit, and in short, everyone in the sanctuary.
Note: “impact points” based, in part, on a list from Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A.