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5 ways to avoid camp ministry burnout

“I feel tired, sort of thin inside, like butter spread over too much toast,” Bilbo confesses to Gandalf. Kind of feels familiar for far too many of us. Burnout is one of the top, if not the top reason people leave camp ministry.

Early on, burnout may feel like over-anxiousness, irritability (anger or other extreme emotions) far in excess of the immediate cause, constant weariness, spiritual dryness, or detachment. You may feel trapped, like the Bono song describes, “On an island in the middle of a busy intersection, I can’t go forward and I can’t turn back…” Later on, the symptoms may manifest themselves in physical ways, such as sleeplessness, mysterious pain, or extreme weight gain or loss.

Our burnout doesn’t just affect us. Our relationships suffer. Often those closest to us suffer the most as we are often physically absent trying to get one more thing done or pouring ourselves into one more demanding “people situation.”

Working in camp ministry is exhilarating and dangerous to the soul. Here, you are helping others, sharing Christ, doing good, meeting needs, fixing, maintaining, and answering a blizzard of emails, texts, and voice mails every day. Pressures to perform with inadequate budgets and staff can drive us unreasonably. The dangers of burnout are all around. Here are five ways to avoid burnout I’ve learned over my 34 years of experience in camp ministry:

  1. Know yourself: Know what brings energy and what takes energy. Learn how to recognize signs of being over-extended before they reach a critical point. Don’t be the proverbial frog in the kettle who boils to death in the slow increase of heat.
  2. Learn to say “no” as the surest route to your truest “yes.” Learn to recognize the difference between distractions and opportunities. Choose your priorities carefully and keep them before you and your team.
  3. Schedule down time for spiritual, personal, and relationship renewal. Spend time in prayer and God’s Word daily. Have meaningful conversation or touch-points with your immediate family and/or close friends. Take walks and just soak in the beauty of your natural surroundings.
  4. Schedule days off and vacations where you actually leave the property and disengage for a period of time. Have coworkers who can cover for you when needed. Discipline yourself to not answer emails, voice mails, or calls while on vacation.
  5. Get a life! Literally. Don’t forget other avenues of life outside of camp ministry. Find a hobby, sport, circle of friends, or avenue of community service where you engage in something not directly tied to the camp. This is harder for those living in remote locations. Keep expanding your world.

There are no easy answers. Many good books, seminars, PhD studies, and more have contributed to a wide range of resources available on this topic.

Choose to be where you are and what you want to engage in. If you get in over your head, stop and reassess. If someone who knows you intervenes, listen. Choose wisely the ways in which you respond to situations, expectations and demands. Build in disciplines, accountability markers, and boundaries that keep you refreshed and engaged in sustainability to your calling.

-Patrick Patterson, General Manager/C.O.O.
Warm Beach Camp & Conference Center

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