How Pastors Can Beat Burnout with Michael Mackenzie

Modern Church Leader feat. Michael MacKenzie
How Pastors Can Beat Burnout feat. Michael MacKenzie on Modern Church Leader

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How Pastors Can Beat Burnout

It's no secret that ministry is a demanding task with a lot of pressure on the shoulders. The hours are long, the expectations are high, and the emotional toll can be incredibly draining.

Burnout can creep up on pastors subtly. In fact, it's often a gradual process that starts with a growing sense of weariness and progresses to feelings of cynicism and emptiness.

Like any other emotional challenge, burnout is not something that is easily overcome. It takes time and patience. The first step is admitting that you're struggling and seeking help. And most of all, allowing God to lead you in the process.

If you are a pastor or a church leader, it is very important to recognize the signs of burnout and get help if needed. It is important to remember that you're human too and not immune to burnout.

With the right support and encouragement, you can overcome these feelings and achieve a balance that can lead to a more fulfilling ministry.

The Bible tells us that we must seek the face of God so we can truly love and serve him. This doesn't mean you'll never feel low or blue — it means that God's grace is a constant source of strength, and we shouldn't underestimate the importance of taking a spiritual breather.

In this episode, our guest, Michael MacKenzie, a licensed professional counselor, and ordained pastor, will speak on the topic of burnout, as well as how to recognize and overcome it. He'll also share practical tips for getting back on track and finding balance.

“I love getting to work with people in ministry. They're just great folks who are willing to sacrifice for the kingdom and serve and yet, at the same time, take on things that they don't need to take on.”
-Michael Mackenzie

Michael MacKenzie is a licensed professional counselor, ordained pastor, and hospital chaplain. He has served for ten years as the clinical director of Marble Retreat, a Colorado retreat center that specializes in ministering to pastors and ministry leaders in crisis.

If you're a pastor or a leader, you will find this powerful and inspirational episode to be a vital tool in helping you overcome the challenges of burnout.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • The ways pastors can take care of their mental health
  • How to spot mental health red flags
  • How to deal with burnout
  • What Michael realized through serving pastors and ministry leaders
  • Marble Retreat programs that can help pastors recover and thrive again in ministry

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[7:18] Our most common issue is burnout, and it definitely bleeds into depression. It bleeds into anxiety. We see that burnout is a gateway to other problems, whether it's physical or medicating with something you shouldn't be medicating with.

[14:14] There is a growing awareness of the need to take care of your mental health and a growing acceptance even within the church body.

[16:26] The last 24 months have been difficult for pastors. They've been pretty maxed out running at full, and then you throw in COVID and political polarization. So pastors are just very stressed.

[21:21] It's helpful for a pastor to have a clear job description. If the pastor has a clear job description, it makes it less likely they'll burn out because it's more specific about what they're supposed to be doing. 

[22:24] There are some pastors who are wired for that, for doing the counseling, and that's fine. Most don't want to be doing it yet, not that they don't want to, but it's draining on top of preaching, leading, and all the other things expected to do. 

[31:38] The pastors are burned out because they're not doing self-care.

[35:00] I love getting to work with people in ministry. They're just great folks who are willing to sacrifice for the kingdom and serve and yet, at the same time, take on things that they don't need to take on.

[36:06] If you don't take care of your brokenness, Satan will beat it like a drum, and it will bite you. So I need to be aware of what is my own personal brokenness? And how can I make sure that I am, in a sense, getting the gospel into there for myself?

podcast transcript

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Michael Mackenzie (00:00):

There's some pastors who are wired for that, for doing the counseling. And that's fine. Most don't want to be doing it yet the... Not that they don't want to, but it's draining on top of preaching, leading, all the other things they're expected to do. So taking the counseling load off the pastor and having them not expect to be that person, because they're the one everybody wants to talk to, so to speak.

Narrator (00:30):

Welcome to the Modern Church Leader where you'll hear executive pastors share practical tactics and strategies that churches are using right now to thrive in our digital world and advance the kingdom of God. Here's your host, Frank Barry.

Frank Barry (00:44):

Hey, guys. Frank here with Tithe.ly coming to you live with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Well, we may be live. You also might be checking out the recording, but excited to talk about really just like pastoral health today with an expert who's been at it for a very, very long time. And I think just because of the last 24 months and coronavirus and all the things that pastors and church leaders are going through, it's a pretty relevant topic. So I am joined by Michael McKenzie. Hey Michael, how's it going?

Michael Mackenzie (01:12):

It's going great. Hey, thanks for having me on.

Frank Barry (01:15):

Yes. Hey, and I heard a little bit of the Canadian come out right there.

Michael Mackenzie (01:18):

Yes.

Frank Barry (01:19):

So tell folks where you're originally you from.

Michael Mackenzie (01:22):

Yeah. I grew up in Prince Edward Island, Canada. It's out on the East Coast. So if you go to the very tip of Maine and just go east, you'll pretty much run into Prince Edward Island.

Frank Barry (01:33):

And now you live where?

Michael Mackenzie (01:35):

I live in Florida, but I am the executive director of Marble Retreat, which is in Colorado. I've lived in Colorado the past 20 years. I just to Florida actually this past summer.

Frank Barry (01:45):

Okay. Wow. I mean, we're going to dig into what you do at Marble Retreat and your years of experience helping pastors, doing counseling and all the things going on there. But interesting. You went from that part of Canada, Colorado. Now, you're like, I need to go to Florida. I need to go to the warm.

Michael Mackenzie (02:03):

Sure.

Frank Barry (02:03):

So do you head up to the retreat often? Like you travel a bit or how is that?

Michael Mackenzie (02:09):

From time to time. We're still working it out. It was just this summer, but the goal is, yes, I will return periodically and I'll actually do the counseling at times. I'm supervising the counselors that are currently there that we hired because my wife and I did the counseling him for the last 10 years. So we transitioned out of that role and we hired two new counselors who are there now and I'm supervising them.

Frank Barry (02:31):

Right. Well, tell us a little bit about the Marble Retreat. When did it start and what's the real focus and how are you guys helping church leaders?

Michael Mackenzie (02:38):

Sure. Marble Retreats started in 1974. Louis McBurney and his wife, Melissa, they were actually at the Mayo Clinic and he was a psychiatrist there at the Mayo Clinic. He was doing the therapy in the Mayo Clinic and was seeing a lot of pastors showing up there with what you would call psychosomatic issues. That means they would show up at Mayo with a physical symptom. They would do the complete Mayo workup, find nothing wrong with them. Then they would bump them to psych.

Michael Mackenzie (03:04):

Now, it wasn't that their symptoms weren't real. They were real. They're GI issues, migraines, you name it. It's just they didn't have a physical origin. They had an emotional origin. It was stress to say it bluntly that these folks in ministry were carrying too much for too long. And finally, their bodies were saying. Can't do it anymore.

Michael Mackenzie (03:25):

So Louis was in the counseling department at the Mayo Clinic as a psychiatrist and was seeing pastor after pastor coming through the door. He's a good Christian Guy from Texas. And he's like, "Got to do something about this." They need to go somewhere else. They don't have to end up at Mayo. So he and his wife called my God to start Marble Retreat. It was the '70s. There wasn't much out there to help pastors. They found this property. They built a lodge in the mountains of Colorado, opened the doors in '74 and we've been running year round ever since doing intensive counseling.

Michael Mackenzie (03:59):

Meaning folks in ministry come up there for eight days. We do a lot of hours of counseling over those eight days to come work on whatever issue. It's really just a safe place for people in ministry to come to know they'll be safe and they can talk about whatever and there'll be no repercussions, so to speak.

Frank Barry (04:16):

Right. I mean, that's fascinating. Not that I'm the expert in this, but you hear about like stress to just use that word to sum up a whole lot of stuff. But stress, impacting you physically and stuff just going wrong with your body. Now, you're in the hospital because you think whatever, you got these issues. But actually, it all goes back to stress and what you're carrying. And obviously church leaders, people doing pastoring and counseling in the church and all this kind of stuff or dealing with some crazy stuff at times. I guess it totally makes sense, and it's also kind of a bummer all at the same time.

Michael Mackenzie (04:59):

Yeah. When our business is doing good, I have very mixed feelings about it because that means there's a lot of pastors that are hurting, but I'm glad to be able to be here to serve them though.

Frank Barry (05:10):

Yeah. Absolutely. And you were mentioning, as we were catching up at the beginning, you guys have served, what, 5,000 plus church leaders have come through since you guys opened back in the day?

Michael Mackenzie (05:21):

Yes. We run year round. It's never stopped since '74. It's amazing.

Frank Barry (05:25):

Yeah, amazing. So they just book an eight-day thing. So you guys have pre-built, you can join the one that's starting on this date and they can basically come to the website, say, "I want to come to this one. It's in March. I'm going for these eight days. Schedule it, get out there." And they hang for eight days and then head back home.

Michael Mackenzie (05:44):

Exactly, yeah. They typically pick it by the date. We do the same eight day model. We don't have a cookie cutter program in the sense that we walk everybody through this step on day one, this step on day two. It's much more organic, natural, like what are you coming to work on? We get to know you. Where are the areas you need to work on? But it is cookie cutter in the sense that it's always eight days.

Michael Mackenzie (06:05):

We've just have found that to be effective, and that's a chunk of time that people can take out of their schedule. It used to be 12 days back in the '70s and that was just so difficult. Because really, that was 14 days if you-

Frank Barry (06:17):

Two weeks, yeah.

Michael Mackenzie (06:19):

Yeah. And that was just too difficult. So we went to eight days and we tested it and it proved to be just as effective as the 12-day model.

Frank Barry (06:27):

So many questions. I think this sort of topic of mental health and taking care of yourself and those kind of things have become much more common and much more talked about and accepted in recent years, yet you guys have been at it for a long time, obviously helping pastors and church leaders in this area.

Frank Barry (06:48):

I don't know. What do people come see you for? What are some of the things that pastors, I don't know, if it's the right question. They come see you for a lot of things, but what should pastors be looking out for in the sense of like, "Oh, that's a red flag. If I'm feeling that or going through that, or reacting this way, I should be seeking some sort of professional help in my life."

Michael Mackenzie (07:13):

Yeah. Let's land on a topic because that'll help me clarify my answer. Our most common issue is burnout, and that's become a very talked about, written about topic. It definitely bleeds into depression, it bleeds into anxiety, but basically pastoral burnout that I've been working so hard for so long, I'm just kind of fried.

Michael Mackenzie (07:36):

So what we see is burnout is a gateway to other problems, whether it's physical or whether it's medicating, whether something you shouldn't be medicating with. So unfortunately, we do see a lot of pastors because they've gotten themselves into some type of a mess, meaning they've fallen morally. They're abusing alcohol. They've picked up pornography on the side.

Michael Mackenzie (07:57):

So when we getting their story, most of the time burnout came first. Because no pastor gets into ministry and says, "I'm going to blow it up by doing this or this. Knowing that if I'm caught doing this, I'll probably lose my job. Or at least there'll be a stepping back and working through a process of redemption. So all I have to say burnout is kind of our big topic, but it bleeds into other issues.

Frank Barry (08:25):

Right.

Michael Mackenzie (08:25):

So what pastors need to watch for, of course, there's those far into burnout crisis cases that we've had where the pastor's about to walk up on stage to preach and just has a full blown panic attack. They have nothing left to give and they literally... We've had them collapse on the stage, so to speak, because they push themselves that far.

Michael Mackenzie (08:45):

Now, a lot of pastors either don't get to that point or they really should catch it earlier. It would be the goal and the hope. And so some of the things you can watch for as a pastor is one, of course, am I losing my joy? Am I losing my passion? Not just here and there, that's normal, but across the board. I mean, it's really, really a struggle to ever get excited, passionate, joyful about doing what I'm doing.

Michael Mackenzie (09:15):

Then it also begins to bleed in, "I begin to resent what I'm doing, meaning I don't want the phone to ring. I don't want to go to this meeting. I don't want to have to preach this Sunday or whatever the role may be." And they begin to pick up on even a little resentment within themselves. I just wish I didn't have to do this, but I have to because that's my ministry, that's my job, and all that stuff.

Michael Mackenzie (09:42):

So I think that's another thing. We mentioned the physical, definitely, can play into it. Our bodies will often be telling us things that we're tired. We're irritable, agitated. And that comes out emotionally and relationally, but also physically. We're jittery. Just can't really be at peace, comfortable, relaxed. I just read somebody once said you can tell a lot by a person if they can sleep well at night. Can I sleep well at night? Or am I just chewing on stuff all the time?

Frank Barry (10:15):

Like describing my wife when she has something going on, there's like we have some moving happening soon. So she's been like, that's in her head, like getting ready for furniture moving and this kind of stuff, and it keeps her from sleeping. And that's a small thing relative to what we're talking about here. But when you can't sleep, it does say a lot, right? Something's on your mind.

Michael Mackenzie (10:38):

Oh, for sure. I saw a neuropsychologist do a presentation on advanced burnout. And they showed where the communication between the emotional part of our brain and the logical part of our brain begins to break down. And what happens is then the pastor struggles to make assertive, clear decisions which furthers their burnout because they get further behind and they're less confident in making decisions. They feel more overwhelmed. But as you get further into burnout, you struggle to perform more, which adds to your stress, so to speak.

Michael Mackenzie (11:12):

You're not feeling on top of your game and you know it and it's piling up. You just don't feel clearheaded because a lot of us don't realize how much we use the emotional part in making decisions. "What do I feel like for dinner? Oh, I feel like chicken. I feel like a steak." Whatever it may be. There's also a logical part, but we use the emotional lot in making decisions. And when you get into burnout, you get numb and flat and a certain part of you is not informing another part of you anymore like, "Oh, that doesn't feel right."

Frank Barry (11:44):

I mean, I feel like all the books that I've read around like decision-making. They're always like make your biggest decisions in the morning, like early in the day when you have enough emotional energy and brain power, whatever you call it. Right? Do that stuff early, because later in the day, the more that goes on, you lose that capability over time.

Frank Barry (12:05):

I guess if you extend that to just life, you're going through burnout and there's crazy stuff going on or you're helping your pastoring and helping other people through their crazy stuff, and you're feeling burnout, your ability to make decisions just gets harder and harder.

Michael Mackenzie (12:19):

Yeah. And a couple other things I'd mentioned is warning signs that you're hitting into deep burnout. One, I mentioned it earlier in a different context, but if you're beginning to medicate to be able to get through the day or the week or the job, there's a problem. "I'm having to medicate because I can't handle this anymore. And the flip side of that is I'm not doing the healthy things that I used to do, whatever that may be, whether it's hobby, exercise, community. I'm beginning to cut those out because I don't have the energy to go and go to the gym. But I do have energy to go get a bottle of wine for tonight."

Michael Mackenzie (12:56):

And it's like, okay, there's a change. It's a slippery slope. Of course, they don't see it coming. I have lots of pastors who come in saying, "I've gotten to the point where it is a bottle of wine at night. How did I get there? That was not what it used to be." So it's very kind of a slippery slope typically. But then there's all of a sudden, now, I got a problem on top of my burnout because I have been medicating.

Frank Barry (13:23):

Right, yeah. When do people come to you or come... Right? Is it they're well into this and like, "Man, it's like the end, it's almost over"? And then they go to you or do you find that people are seeing stuff earlier going, "Man, I'm feeling this. I got to get ahead of it."

Michael Mackenzie (13:48):

It's both. Predominantly, this has changed over time. It used to be, nobody came to us. I don't think unless they were in crisis because you just didn't choose counseling because it was a job risk, so to speak to say, "I'm hurting. I need to go get help."

Frank Barry (14:06):

Even frowned upon, especially for guys, right?

Michael Mackenzie (14:08):

Yes.

Frank Barry (14:09):

I'm sure that's still a bit of a thing.

Michael Mackenzie (14:11):

For sure, for sure. As time has gone on, there is growing awareness of the need to take care of your mental health and a growing acceptance even within the church body. So there are more folks who do call us saying, "Hey, I'm having a sabbatical coming up this summer or Hey, I'm kind of burned out. I'm not in crisis, but I can see this is not going a good direction."

Michael Mackenzie (14:32):

But I would say still probably 75% of those who come see us are in crisis. And that's part of the reason I wrote this book recently about Don't Blow Up Your Ministry is because sitting in the room with a pastor who's just blown up their ministry and their marriage perhaps, and they're just grieving. They're in lament and they're like, "I wish I would've five, 10 years ago dealt with some underlying issues that kept the ball rolling in the wrong direction. And now I'm dealing with all this."

Michael Mackenzie (15:05):

It just rips your heart out because they never intended to get to that point. Their big question when they walk in our door is always, "Why? Why did I do this? Why did I..." and fill in the blank, whatever it may be. And so we still do have a lot of folks who come to us because of crisis. That's not only pastors. That's human nature. I mean, we keep doing what we're doing until we have to do something different.

Frank Barry (15:31):

Right. It's crazy. I mean, how was the last... Because I think about this topic of burnout or just mental health, emotional health. I mean, God wants us to take care of all parts of our life, right? Spiritually, physically, mentally. It's all very important to be our best for God in all areas. I feel like the last 24 months has been particularly hard for pastors and church leaders dealing with all the things COVID and politics and just everything, right?

Frank Barry (16:06):

Pastors are front lines workers, nurses, and the police and all that kind of stuff. I don't know. That's just a lot of context to like, what have you seen from the pastoral care pastoral health perspective in your line of work?

Michael Mackenzie (16:24):

Yeah. Definitely the last 24 months have been difficult for pastors. Historically pastors have not had at a lot of margin, if you want to call it that in their life, meaning a lot of a buffer around their life with downtime, hobbies, or whatever, you name it, they've been pretty maxed out, running at full. And then you throw in COVID and you throw in the political polarization that we've been experiencing and pastors are just very stressed. Even more so.

Michael Mackenzie (16:54):

There's a couple of reasons why. One is a lot of pastors are people, people. I've picked up the phone in the office some point in the last year and the pastor on the phone when I answer said, "If you don't help me, I won't be a here a year from now." And what he meant was, "I'll take my own life. I can't handle this anymore." When he came to Marble Retreat and what was going on with him is he happened to be in one of these churches that was split 50-50 down the middle politically.

Michael Mackenzie (17:25):

For years, he'd been able to navigate that when he was making changes in worship, when he was making other staff changes, he learned how to navigate that. All of a sudden he couldn't navigate it. And every decision half of the church was mad at him. It was just tearing him up because he liked being liked. And that's not a bad thing, but it was really tearing him up all the conflict, all the anger, all the distraction from real ministry. All that was just eating this guy up. So one thing that's happened in the last 24 months is a lot of pastors have found themselves in conflictual roles.

Michael Mackenzie (18:00):

They had learned to navigate, changing the color of the carpet, so to speak. Now, there's these other decisions. Another part of it is they're making decisions in areas that they traditionally didn't. They used to make doctrinal decisions, theological decisions. "Here we are as a church. Here's our stance on this. Here's our stance on that." Something they've studied, something they've been prepared for.

Michael Mackenzie (18:23):

Now, they're making healthcare decisions for, "Do we wear mask or no mask? What is really the best there?" And they're being pushed out of their comfort zone in some ways. So that is exhausting for us as humans to be making these important decisions, but it's not in an area that's our specialty, yet, we're looked at to make that decision.

Frank Barry (18:46):

Right. I mean, I can't even imagine. Have you seen an uptick in people seeking help in the last 24 months? Not that, that's good. It's good for business, but not that you want to see pastors struggling. But have pastors been seeking more help through this time?

Michael Mackenzie (19:07):

Yes. Yeah. We definitely have seen an increase overall. It ebbs and flows at times with flare ups in COVID and stuff, and people getting concerned with travel. But overall we have definitely seen an uptick in phone calls, emails, folks in ministry, just looking for help saying, "I can't continue on. I just can't keep doing this." So it definitely has increased. I think the rate of risk of burning out or getting out of ministry right now.

Frank Barry (19:39):

Yeah. I mean, and it's one of those things where, gosh, you'd want people to be... If there's like ever a time where there's a need for great church leaders, it's now, right? And seeing them get burnt out or just feel kind of overwhelmed by all this is terrible. I mean, it's real stuff, but it's terrible. Right? We want more of them feeling like they're ready to charge the hill. But it's a tough time.

Michael Mackenzie (20:08):

It is.

Frank Barry (20:10):

How do you help pastors? They've come to you. Obviously, you've done some great work, but I assume you want to help them have the tools when they're back in their environment to go avoid burnout, right? Stay healthy. What are the things that you really encourage pastors to do to not get back there or for those that haven't been to see, not to get to that point. How do they stay healthy and avoid burnout?

Michael Mackenzie (20:36):

Yeah. I mean, there's definitely some burnout prevention things that we have learned in this field over the years. The more important thing that I'll get to in a minute probably is how come I'm not doing those things. Because typically when I say these things, it's like, "Oh, yeah. I know that. Are you doing it?" "No."

Frank Barry (20:57):

Right.

Michael Mackenzie (20:58):

And I even know in my own life, it's easy to set these things aside at times because you get busy, you're doing important things. Things are on the front burner. So I'm not saying, "Oh, it's easy. Just do these." I know it's a struggle. I've had to look at myself various times and say, "I'm getting out of rhythm here." So some of the things from a big perspective it's helpful for a pastor to have a clear job description and that takes more than just the pastor. That takes the church. But clarity, it's one thing that's been proven. If the pastor has a clearer job description, it makes it less likely they'll burn out because it's more specific what they're supposed to be doing.

Michael Mackenzie (21:41):

You can set better boundaries. You can set expectations that are realistic, all that stuff. But that takes the leadership in the church. And agreeing with that. Another thing is sabbaticals. Sabbaticals are huge and have been proven to be very helpful. So whatever that may look like and more churches are doing those for a long time. There was a lot of churches really negated the whole topic of sabbaticals, didn't think that was a necessary thing, but it's been proven to show it's really helpful to have that few months off every six, seven years kind of thing, as well as of course the yearly vacation. It's not in place or anything like that.

Frank Barry (22:16):

Actually take one. Turn it off and get away.

Michael Mackenzie (22:18):

Yeah. And another thing is taking the counseling load off the pastor. Now there's some pastors who are wired for that, for doing the counseling. And that's fine. Most don't want to be doing it. Not that they don't want to, but it's draining on top of preaching, leading, all the other things they're expected to do. So taking the counseling load off the pastor and having them not expect to be that person, because they're the one everybody wants to talk to, so to speak. And that varies in churches and the size of the church and the culture of the church, of course.

Michael Mackenzie (22:54):

But for some pastors, they do a lot of counseling and are very drained by it. And then they have to dig deep to try to get the sermon done because I've been spending a lot of hours working with people in their brokenness, one on one or one on two. So those are some kind of big picture things. But then more specifically for the pastor, things like having a hobby.

Michael Mackenzie (23:16):

I often will ask pastor, "What's your hobby?" And they'll say, "Oh, it's fly fishing." I'm like, "When did you last go?" "Two years ago?" And I'm like, "That's not a hobby. That's history. It's not a hobby."

Frank Barry (23:26):

That was a retreat you went on once.

Michael Mackenzie (23:28):

Exactly. And I understand how it happens. So having a hobby, having a close friend, at least one, if not several close friendships who are not ministry friends. I mean, they can be in ministry even within the church or church staff, but we don't just get together about ministry. We can go and we can just have fun and just be friends.

Frank Barry (23:51):

Yeah, right.

Michael Mackenzie (23:53):

Three is physical exercise. There's going to be stress. There's no getting around stress. There's no setting perfect boundaries around your ministry life. So you'll have no stress. No, there's always going to be stress. How do I deal with it? Well, exercise of course is very proven to help burn off stress and all the negative impacts it has on your body.

Michael Mackenzie (24:12):

And sometimes you can join two of these things together, your hobby and exercise. For years, growing up in Canada, of course, as you would expect, you can stereotype, I play hockey. I play ice hockey.

Frank Barry (24:27):

Wayne Gretzky, let's go.

Michael Mackenzie (24:28):

Oh, not even close. But great player though. But yeah, not me. That's for sure. I'm more the goon type really. So for years, my hobby and my exercise was hockey. Now, I've gotten out of that the last two years and I really need to get back into it. So I know myself as I'm saying this, I need to pick that back up again, because it was a great stress reliever. After a tough week going playing a game of hockey and I'm hanging with the guys and we're having fun. Man, it was social. It would burned off stress. It was fun. I was totally in the zone. I wasn't thinking ministry.

Frank Barry (25:10):

I don't even know if there's something to a healthy level of competition in the context of physical activity in sports. I know not everybody loves that. But I know for me, I need to go... I play basketball and it's a great way. I don't think about anything else. I'm with some buddies and some of them are church buddies and some of them are just other buddies that I know. Some of them are buddies from school with the kids. It's just great. We have such a great time and I'm out there competing, sweating, staying healthy and it's fantastic.

Michael Mackenzie (25:44):

Yeah. I have heard it said. I think what you're my mentioning, some people have said you shouldn't do team sports because it'll stress you out. But I disagree. I mean some people, yes, if they realize that, "Hey, become a runner or do something you want to do alone." For me, I love the competition. I love the team sport. I like everything about it. It's really helpful to me to play that game and get into the competition and just kind of lose myself in it.

Michael Mackenzie (26:14):

The other thing is of course having your own devotional life. The age old, not always pouring into others, not always going to the word and preparation for a sermon or a Bible study or whatever, but spending my own time. And that can look a lot of different ways from your own time of worship to your own time of praising God and the great outdoors or whatever it may be that really refuels you, keeps you connected to God.

Michael Mackenzie (26:45):

Then the last one... I may already said the last one. I'm sounding a preacher now, but the last one would be if married, investing in your marriage. Right behind burnout the next most common thing we see is marital issues. And if you're burned out, your marriage is going to start to suffer.

Frank Barry (27:02):

It's feeling it, yeah. And those last two might be in reverse order. Right? Like your own personal walk with God and that being close. And then if you're married, taking care of your marriage. And if you have kids taking care of your kids, in that order, the most important things. And mixing in the hobbies and the other of things that you enjoy doing, even with them. Right? Like trying to find ways to mix that stuff together-

Michael Mackenzie (27:28):

For sure.

Frank Barry (27:30):

... is all important. I'm just thinking for myself like, "I have to do those kind of things and be intentional about it." Because it is hard. We're busy and work is busy, and then other things can suffer. So you were saying that maybe more importantly isn't the list of things to do, but it's why aren't you doing them? So why don't we spend a couple minutes on why don't people do these things?

Michael Mackenzie (27:52):

Yeah, of course.

Frank Barry (27:54):

How do you encourage them to do... How do you get to start doing them?

Michael Mackenzie (27:59):

Yeah. Again, you're going to get a counselor perspective on this because that's who I am, that's what I do kind of thing. So when folks come to Marble Retreat, the things I just mentioned aren't new revelations. I mean, we know these things. We know we need our own walk with God. We know we need to exercise. We know that we need to have a hobby. We know that we need to have focus on our marriage, if we're married and all that stuff.

Michael Mackenzie (28:26):

So we begin to dig into how come? So sometimes we'll have to do even an imaginary exercise of, "Okay, tell me about your week." So let's say the pastor says, "Okay, I got four evenings a week that are in meetings. I totally crash on this night because that's Sunday night or whatever I preach. And then I get these two nights left or whatever. So I'll have a pastor imagine."

Michael Mackenzie (28:52):

So let's say you say no to one of those meetings. Let's just pick one. And let's say, you say yes to something else, a hobby. You're going to go that night and play basketball. You're going to go out on a date with your wife. You're doing that thing. Now imagine yourself, what's going to come up in your head that's going to make that difficult to enjoy it, to be totally free? And that begins to reveal some of the sometimes fear that comes up like, "Oh, man. What if they make this choice while I'm not there at the meeting? What if they mess this thing up? What if they realize they don't need me at this meeting?"

Michael Mackenzie (29:29):

Well, they do need me at this meeting. They won't figure this out without me. And it's interesting to see the underlying fears, beliefs, lies, even that begin to come out when a pastor imagines setting boundaries and then delving into one of these areas. And that's where the resistance comes from in doing it, that there's some resistance. Because we know we should be doing these things. We know we'll be healthier people.

Michael Mackenzie (29:57):

We'll know we'll even probably be better pastors if we're kind of full of living water, so to speak that we're full of abundances. Not dragging ourselves into church on Sunday morning, totally exhausted. I mean, I go to pastor conferences and it's the most tired looking bunch of people I've ever seen. I'm looking around, I'm like, "These people are exhausted." Without coffee, I don't know where the church would be. We're just exhausted.

Frank Barry (30:26):

Yeah. That's a book title right there [inaudible 00:30:28].

Michael Mackenzie (30:28):

Yeah, exactly. I admit, I get in the same trap because what we're doing is so important that there are souls to be saved. There's ministry to be done. There's the homeless to help. Whatever we're called into, it's important stuff. So it's so easy to get pulled into. So sometimes that said, it's like this doesn't seem important. Enjoying day night with my wife going to dinner in a movie when we could be working on whatever.

Frank Barry (31:02):

Is the process of identifying those things kind of the big aha for pastors to go through that exercise, identify why missing that meeting is scary or not doing this other thing is... "I'm afraid of that or that gives me anxiety." Helping them identify that, does that lead to them going, "Oh, okay. I get it."

Michael Mackenzie (31:24):

Yeah. That's part of the aha. It's a step and that is just one window that we open. The window is open in various ways, but that's one window that we open to say, "What's going on here?" Because, again, the pastor is burned out. They're burned out because they're not doing self-care. Why are they not doing self-care? What's going on? And it's easy to blame the stressors out there. And that is a part of it. I'm not negating the unrealistic expectations and whatever else. Yet, at the end of the day, the pastor is responsible for themselves.

Frank Barry (31:57):

Right. Yeah.

Michael Mackenzie (32:00):

And so that's a window. So then we begin to look at, well, where did that kind of thinking come from? Meaning I have to be there. It'll fail if I'm not there. What if they realize they don't need me? That kind of stuff. So we begin to look at where did you pick up on that? Sometimes it's family of origin stuff, because of course, as counselors, we love to talk [crosstalk 00:32:26]. Oh, yeah. It's always the mom or the dad is the problem.

Michael Mackenzie (32:32):

But we do look at that. Sometimes we have pastors come in and they were the hero in their family, that things were falling apart and they stepped up and they were the leader so to speak and they got lots of attaboys for that for looking after mom, looking after siblings, whatever the story may be.

Michael Mackenzie (32:49):

So sometimes it's really clear. Sometimes they were going along normal life so to speak. No major dysfunction in their home. And then they get into youth group or something like that. And all of a sudden they get noticed for their giftings and all of a sudden leadership stuff gets put on them and then they get more notice for their giftings and they start eating it up. It's not a bad thing, but it begins to maybe sometimes can cross a lot into, "Wow, people depend on me. Wow, people look to me. Wow, I need to meet their expectations."

Michael Mackenzie (33:29):

So it goes from being a good thing of being noticed for being willing to serve, and lead, and having some skills and leadership. Because I've had pastors like, "When did this first start that you felt like I have to perform? I have to be on?" They're like, "Oh, I can tell you exactly when I was in high school and I was going to my youth group." And they were like, "Hey, man, you got something here." God is going to use you in a big way."

Michael Mackenzie (33:52):

Now, well-meaning, but it can begin a process if the capacitor is not careful of carrying too much on their own shoulders. "I have to perform. That means I have to be at this meeting. That means I have to have the answers. That means I have to..." fill in the blank. So we help them to track it back to where did this come from? Whatever this fear may be. And it tends to land in some big categories. I need to be secure. I need to be adequate. I need to be loved, those kinds of things.

Michael Mackenzie (34:28):

Psychology and philosophy have studied those big heart questions, soul questions. And it tends to come back to some of those and then there's a lie wrapped up in it. If I don't do this, I won't be secure, adequate, loved or whatever.

Frank Barry (34:46):

Yeah. I'm sure we could talk for hours on this. You're pretty knowledgeable and passionate about it, which is awesome. So I appreciate the little bit of time we've got to explore the topic.

Michael Mackenzie (35:00):

Yeah. I love getting to work with people in ministry. They, by and large are just salt of the earth folks. They kind of can get painted as a dysfunctional mess and they are because they're humans like the rest of us. We're all-

Frank Barry (35:18):

We're all the same.

Michael Mackenzie (35:19):

Oh, yeah. We all are. But by and large, they're just great folks who are really willing to sacrifice for the kingdom and serve, and yet at the same time take on things that they don't really need to take on.

Frank Barry (35:34):

Yeah. Let's end here with just a couple of quick questions.

Michael Mackenzie (35:39):

Sure. Hopefully rapid fire, hopefully really easy. The first one is you mentioned a book you just wrote, or recently. I don't know how recently, but you mentioned a book. Give us the name of the book in just a quick little description of it real quick.

Michael Mackenzie (35:53):

Yeah. It's called Don't Blow Up Your Ministry: Defuse the Underlying Issues That Take Pastors Down. And it's about getting to your own personal brokenness. My argument, I say it in different ways, but if you don't take care of your own brokenness ministry and Satan will beat it like a drum and it will come to bite you. So you need to be aware. What is my own personal brokenness and how can I make sure that I am in a sense, getting the gospel into there for myself. I'm giving it to other people in their areas of brokenness.

Michael Mackenzie (36:26):

And it comes out of my grief of sitting with pastors who have just blown up their lives and ministry. And now they're like-

Frank Barry (36:35):

[crosstalk 00:36:35]

Michael Mackenzie (36:35):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (36:35):

Is there a website?

Michael Mackenzie (36:37):

Website is marbleretreat.org. I don't have my own website. I guess I should.

Frank Barry (36:46):

Marbleretreat.org. And you can find the book there too.

Michael Mackenzie (36:48):

Yeah. As I mentioned, and I shouldn't say this because I don't want people to not come to Marble if they need to, but internet is hard to come by up there. For years, it was dial up when I first moved up there. And now it's satellite, but it's still pretty slow, or it's getting better.

Frank Barry (37:07):

We all need to shut it off once in a while. So that's actually on the plus side of going to the-

Michael Mackenzie (37:12):

It is. Unless you live there, then you don't think about having a website.

Frank Barry (37:16):

Yeah.

Michael Mackenzie (37:17):

Now, I'm in high speed internet, so I should have a website. But it's marbleretreat.org. It's about the ministry, but also there's some stuff about me and my book and that kind of stuff.

Frank Barry (37:26):

Okay. Love it. I mean, it sounds like a great book. Give me another book that you think all pastors should read. Something that you've been really inspired and impacted by that they would benefit from?

Michael Mackenzie (37:38):

To go more recent because I tend to go historical, so I'm going to challenge myself to go more recent. I like Unhurried Life by Alan, is it Fadling or Fodling? I can't remember his last name exactly. But he does a book called the Unhurried Life. And I happened to come across it and listened to it sometime, I think it was last year. He really had some great insights about what the title says, about having an unhurried life, which is, it's a constant challenge. But I think it's a great book and I think he has some great wisdom in it.

Frank Barry (38:14):

Awesome. And last one, give me a podcast that you're currently listening to.

Michael Mackenzie (38:21):

Oh, man. I can't even answer that one.

Frank Barry (38:26):

Oh, no. Not a podcast listener.

Michael Mackenzie (38:28):

Well, remember, it's been... Let me see, what month is it? Well, I'm getting closer to six months now that I've had high speed internet for the first time in my life. Seriously.

Frank Barry (38:43):

That's so good.

Michael Mackenzie (38:44):

Anyway, I'm driving from Colorado, never listened to a podcast in my life because they limited our data up there. So we only did emails. That was all we did on the internet. I'm talking 10, 15 years behind the rest of the world.

Frank Barry (39:02):

Oh my gosh.

Michael Mackenzie (39:03):

So I'm driving to-

Frank Barry (39:03):

You're just like experiencing life right now.

Michael Mackenzie (39:06):

Oh, yeah. So I'm driving to Florida from Colorado and I text a buddy of mine and saying, "Hey, I got to figure out this podcast thing. One, I'm going to be doing a podcast soon. And so get me onto a podcast." So he got me onto this World War II podcast, and I can't remember the guy. I wish I could remember the guy who does it. It was awesome. It was so great. I'm like driving and I'm just listening hour after hour of this World War II podcast about kamikaze pilots, about different battles. And the guy really got into the psychology behind some of the war that was going on, and it was phenomenal. I'm like, "I can't believe this. I can just sit here."

Frank Barry (39:45):

People will have to self-discover some podcast about World War II. Go look it up.

Michael Mackenzie (39:51):

Go look it up. Yeah, I can't recall the guy's name off the top of my head. I could find my phone and it's on there.

Frank Barry (39:56):

No worries. Well, Michael, this has been great, man. Thanks for jumping on the show with us today.

Michael Mackenzie (40:00):

Oh, it's been great. Thank you for having me on. God bless.

Frank Barry (40:03):

Yeah, absolutely. And thanks everybody for listening or watching on the YouTube channel or on the podcast. Appreciate you guys. And we'll be back next week with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Bye-bye.

Narrator (40:13):

If you enjoyed this episode of the Modern Church Leader, consider sharing it with the pastor or minister you think would benefit the most from listening to this conversation. You can send them to modernchurchleader.com or share this episode directly from your podcast app. Be sure to subscribe for free on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, so you never miss an episode. And we'll see you again next week with another conversation here on the Modern Church Leader.

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How Pastors Can Beat Burnout with Michael Mackenzie

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How Pastors Can Beat Burnout with Michael Mackenzie

If you're a pastor or a leader, you will find this powerful and inspirational episode to be a vital tool in helping you overcome the challenges of burnout.

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How Pastors Can Beat Burnout

It's no secret that ministry is a demanding task with a lot of pressure on the shoulders. The hours are long, the expectations are high, and the emotional toll can be incredibly draining.

Burnout can creep up on pastors subtly. In fact, it's often a gradual process that starts with a growing sense of weariness and progresses to feelings of cynicism and emptiness.

Like any other emotional challenge, burnout is not something that is easily overcome. It takes time and patience. The first step is admitting that you're struggling and seeking help. And most of all, allowing God to lead you in the process.

If you are a pastor or a church leader, it is very important to recognize the signs of burnout and get help if needed. It is important to remember that you're human too and not immune to burnout.

With the right support and encouragement, you can overcome these feelings and achieve a balance that can lead to a more fulfilling ministry.

The Bible tells us that we must seek the face of God so we can truly love and serve him. This doesn't mean you'll never feel low or blue — it means that God's grace is a constant source of strength, and we shouldn't underestimate the importance of taking a spiritual breather.

In this episode, our guest, Michael MacKenzie, a licensed professional counselor, and ordained pastor, will speak on the topic of burnout, as well as how to recognize and overcome it. He'll also share practical tips for getting back on track and finding balance.

“I love getting to work with people in ministry. They're just great folks who are willing to sacrifice for the kingdom and serve and yet, at the same time, take on things that they don't need to take on.”
-Michael Mackenzie

Michael MacKenzie is a licensed professional counselor, ordained pastor, and hospital chaplain. He has served for ten years as the clinical director of Marble Retreat, a Colorado retreat center that specializes in ministering to pastors and ministry leaders in crisis.

If you're a pastor or a leader, you will find this powerful and inspirational episode to be a vital tool in helping you overcome the challenges of burnout.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • The ways pastors can take care of their mental health
  • How to spot mental health red flags
  • How to deal with burnout
  • What Michael realized through serving pastors and ministry leaders
  • Marble Retreat programs that can help pastors recover and thrive again in ministry

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[7:18] Our most common issue is burnout, and it definitely bleeds into depression. It bleeds into anxiety. We see that burnout is a gateway to other problems, whether it's physical or medicating with something you shouldn't be medicating with.

[14:14] There is a growing awareness of the need to take care of your mental health and a growing acceptance even within the church body.

[16:26] The last 24 months have been difficult for pastors. They've been pretty maxed out running at full, and then you throw in COVID and political polarization. So pastors are just very stressed.

[21:21] It's helpful for a pastor to have a clear job description. If the pastor has a clear job description, it makes it less likely they'll burn out because it's more specific about what they're supposed to be doing. 

[22:24] There are some pastors who are wired for that, for doing the counseling, and that's fine. Most don't want to be doing it yet, not that they don't want to, but it's draining on top of preaching, leading, and all the other things expected to do. 

[31:38] The pastors are burned out because they're not doing self-care.

[35:00] I love getting to work with people in ministry. They're just great folks who are willing to sacrifice for the kingdom and serve and yet, at the same time, take on things that they don't need to take on.

[36:06] If you don't take care of your brokenness, Satan will beat it like a drum, and it will bite you. So I need to be aware of what is my own personal brokenness? And how can I make sure that I am, in a sense, getting the gospel into there for myself?

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