Burnout: The Anatomy of a Dead Worship Leader

I spoke with yet another pastor who is looking for a worship leader. This one was lost to burnout.

Of course, there were valid reasons for the resignation - it could’ve been a busy life, a growing business or family, a change in calling, incompatibility with church culture, or hey, a global pandemic!

It doesn’t matter. Burnout was the likely actual reason.

Since it’s such a familiar story, there are probably several of you that wonder if it was your pastor I’m talking about.

It started me thinking about burnout and why it’s so common. Eradicating burnout is at the core of our mission as Ad Lib Music, and for almost 20 years, we’ve had our scopes pointed in its direction.

So as I stand over the proverbial body of this dead worship leader, I wonder how burnout caused it.

First Love
I believe the core DNA of a great worship leader is one that loves to sing with Jesus. There’s joy, there’s intimacy, there’s authority, there’s power…all tied to music shared with Jesus. When the world is crashing all around, we run to the piano or guitar and find rescue, hope, healing. We can’t always pray…until it’s in song. Worship in song is our true home, our language, our joy.

Sadly, there are worship leaders that haven’t developed this. But you can start today.

Vision Got Buried
“I lost sight of what was truly important.” That’s less about being distracted and more about not having vision. At some point, building a team, choosing great songs, dealing with drama, and faithfully showing up gets tiring. Your vision behind those goals has to stay prominent in your focus.

Your real vision is giving Him the worship He’s worthy of. It’s creating a space where people can meet with God. It’s in being and reproducing worshipers.

If your church’s goals conflict with this, you might be experiencing the next cause.

Church Model
Is your church wired for producing weekend services or making disciples? Is everything else a servant to the weekend service? Is that the most important thing? Maybe you can tell the answer by how your church responded to the pandemic shutdowns.

It may not be as black and white as this, but the weekend service often gets “done” at all costs. At all costs, including leaders. Much more energy is spent producing the service than in developing people. You can thrive in this kind of church, but it takes real intentionality.

The Soul Went First
You’re carrying your struggles alone, keeping them inside your head and heart. Thinking that leaders must appear confident and capable at all times keeps you from experiencing the life that being vulnerable and real produces.

Above all, the proverb says, guard your looks, your schedule, your coolness. No, guard your heart because that’s where your life flows from.

You can’t sustain ministry if you ignore what your soul needs. Sabbath rhythms, outside perspective, constructive feedback, genuine encouragement, deep friendships, clear expectations, enough sleep… it’s a long list. Don’t fancy yourself to be above your humanity. Take care of yourself. Let your team take care of you.

The Bottom Line
The reason for sharing this is to give you hope that you can lead with joy and life for over 30+ years in worship ministry. My goodness, I’ve been a worship leader for most weeks since 1990, when movies were $4 and gas was $1.15. And by God’s grace, I’m just as passionate today as I was then.

Of course, life ebbs and flows, and there are hard seasons. But friends, let’s stay devoted to our First Love. Let’s watch out for each other, so no more leaders get picked off by enemy snipers. Let’s guard the trust given to us as worship leaders.