Preventing Leadership Burnout


Burnout is defined as a point in time or in a missile trajectory when combustion of fuels in the rocket engines is terminated by other than programmed cut off.

The key word in the definition is that there is a “termination.” The burnout victims can no longer deal with people or handle daily problems. There is a total cessation of function. During burnout, the person’s relationship with God usually suffers. The fact is that when we constantly deal with people, we are prone to burnout.


The five common symptoms of burnout are:

1. A Sense of Restlessness

The person finds it harder to concentrate on his work. He seems to be working harder but accomplishes less. There is a loss of inner peace.

2. A Sense of Compulsion

The person is caught in a cycle of wanting to do more and driven by a force within to work harder and achieve more, not realizing that he is operating on a reserve tank. There seems to be a loss of moderation.

3. A Sense of Irritation

Things and people begin to irritate the person when in the past they did not bother him. He seems to be getting more short tempered and may even begin to blame God for his problems.

4. A Sense of Isolation

The burntout person dreads going to work every day and finds himself avoiding people more and more.

5. A Sense of Boredom

He has no more interest in other people and in life and feels that everything is staying the same or even getting worse.

Very often when the person is going through the process of burnout, he begins to lose confidence in his abilities. A lot of energy is expended with little results.


1. Dr A is a hardworking medical practitioner who runs a busy clinic. He is married with a family of three young children. He also is a Zone Leader of a successful cell church, overseeing seven cells under him. Being a high achiever, Dr A continues to push himself to achieve more, serve more and do more, at the same time, trying to balance work, family, and ministry. Result: he burnt out and was totally moribund in his home for over three years. He was unable to work, unable to care for his family, and was totally functionless for those three years. Only lately is he able to come out of his house to exercise.

2. Pastor B is a pastor of a mega church. In the early years of the church growth, he and his wife had to do almost everything from cleaning the toilets to fetching people for service besides delivering the weekly sermon. When the church increased in size, he still continued to exert himself believing that God is pleased with his efforts. He believed that taking a break or a sabbatical was not of God. Result: he burnt out after ten years of exhaustive ministry and was hospitalized for a total of six months. His whole immune system crashed. Today, he has somewhat recovered but mentally, he suffers from short term memory loss.

The two case studies illustrate to some extent the seven deadly siphons causing burnout which includes duty to man without devotion to God, busyness without purpose, calendars without Sabbath, and natural-giftedness without spiritual nourishment. The reality of life is that all of us without exception can be a candidate for burnout and we must not only be aware of this possibility but also take steps to prevent it from happening.


There are many ways to prevent burnout. But the most important prevention is to be aware of the reality of burnout and that it can happen to any of us. No one is exempt from burnout.

We must first and foremost learn to maintain a vibrant, fresh ongoing relationship with God. We need to find moments of solitude and make it a point never to compromise on our regular quiet time with God. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

We must set aside time to refill, refresh, and recharge.

We must learn to de-stress and carve out time from our busy schedule to take care of our physical health, including exercising regularly. Other ways to prevent burnout include having a company of close buddies who meet regularly for mutual encouragement in the things of God.

Life is a journey, not a destination. My prayer is that as we go through life’s journey, may we take care of ourselves, run well, and cross the finish line.

In 1968, at the Mexico City Olympic Games, John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania took 3½ hours to complete the marathon race, finishing last among the competitors who completed the race. When asked why he did not give up, Akhwari replied, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race, my country sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

May we all finish the race well, all the time, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).

This article “Preventing Leadership Burnout” by Dr Chew Weng Chee was first published in the May 2011 issue of Eagles VantagePoint magazine ( Used with permission.