Nights are long, the weather’s impacting your mood, and your to-do list is growing. But if I asked, are you stressed, what would you say? "No, I’m fine," perhaps?

The truth is that among church leadership, statistics on emotional and mental burnout are concerning. During our Changing Church survey in autumn 2021, 1 in 10 of our member church leaders reported that their emotional wellbeing was poor or very poor.

Mark Massey, leader of Frinton Free Church, Essex, shared some of his thoughts as a leader going into a busy season. He and his church are active in local evangelism, and Mark and his wife Liz have been running a massive summer mission week in Frinton for three years which involves 100s of volunteers – not an easy thing to pull off year in and year out.

Jesus embraced limitations


Embracing my limits is really key,” reflects Mark. Trying to lead a church and also trying to lead a mission that embraces and brings together a whole load of churches is too much. I’m limited and that’s okay. I don’t know if we’re very good at that in the evangelical church, we can be really busy with doing stuff. It took a couple of people to come and speak into my life…”

Mark remembers that there were times when Jesus said no’ to things in His ministry journey on earth. Jesus embraced His limits. He didn’t heal everybody or speak to everybody He could’ve.” In particular, Mark reflects on the fact that Jesus said no in Capernaum when people begged Him to stay and start a church there, because that wasn’t what He was called to.” In His life, Jesus remained in a small area geographically, and yet, at the end of His life He said He had done all that God had asked Him to do.

Mark tries to follow Jesus’ example, and he is aware that, when I don’t say no’, it eventually has consequences.” Mark has experienced times of physical and emotional anxiety and tiredness, with no time to play cricket (his favourite sport) or be with his friends and family. I’ve come to recognise the symptoms when not working within my limits,” he explains.

A rule of life’

Mark has had overwhelming moments as a leader, and has a few insights on how to try to avoid burnout. I just have to stop. For years, I did ministry and it would get too much and [I’d] crash for two days and sign myself off sick, stay in bed or hide,” he remembers. So, he tries to be proactive, have a rhythm in place and stay healthy. He and his staff team have a rule of life’ which is part of their job description; they can see each other’s rule and have accountability – anyone can pull me up.”

"I just have to stop. For years, I did ministry and it would get too much and [I’d] crash for two days and sign myself off sick, stay in bed or hide..."

Mark’s rule involves a monthly retreat day to deliberately chase the silence,” something that is totally alien to him as an extrovert. But he feels the benefit of God pouring into him. His motto is I can’t give what I haven’t got.” Mark also has a weekly Sabbath, and tries to start and end each day with a couple of minutes of silence. In His presence is a good place to remember you’re not the Messiah.”

For times when it is hard to switch off from ministry, Mark has words of encouragement and compassion. In the Gospels, Mark remembers, Jesus put in place a rhythm of retreat” in His life; the busyness in Jesus’ life was bookended by periods of rest. For example, when His dear friend and cousin John had been murdered, Jesus took time to be alone and pray. Jesus came away and had a pattern of retreat, rest and limits.

Mark notices that church culture can sometimes give off the impression that Christians are unlimited, and that sometimes Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” gets misquoted! So, he encourages the practice of finding someone to hold you accountable: It’s never too late to start that rhythm of rest and retreat.” And Mark believes that God puts way more into him than he can give to others.

Pray for me and all our leaders that we embrace the really good theology of limits… whether [a] leader or part of the church, let’s encourage them to have limits and know that that’s okay, [that] they’ll realise that and stand against that busyness…”

Useful links:

Member resource:

Avoiding stress and burnout is not an easy journey for churches. You may find this 2020 resource helpful: Guidance on Preventing Stress and Burnout by Faith in Later Life, Jubilee+ and others, including a contribution by Hil Sewell, our director of people and culture here at the Evangelical Alliance.

Member organisations:

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