Ministry Burnout vs. Ministry on Fire

desk with paperwork

Several years ago, I read an article that truly hit the nail on the head regarding the ministry of directors of religious education. The article was titled, “Unsung (and Underpaid) Heroes of the Parish,” and included this paragraph:

The U.S. bishops believe that the “single most critical factor in an effective parish catechetical program is the leadership of a professionally trained parish catechetical leader,” according to the National Directory for Catechesis. A director of religious education is expected to have a deep spirituality and respect for the tradition of the church, superb administrative and organizational skills, and a small mortgage and few living expenses. In addition, she must possess the ability to choose curriculum, cajole parishioners into volunteering as teachers, deflect criticism from parents with grace—oh, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. . .If you don’t already know your DRE, find her and thank her for all her hard work. Better yet, tell her regularly—and lobby the pastor to pay her more.

(Heidi Schlumpf, National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 16, 2011)

Having been a DRE for many years, I felt a longing after reading this article to personally meet Heidi Schlumpf and thank her for penning the description of nearly all catechetical leaders. I didn’t meet Schlumpf, but I certainly felt an immediate connection.

As DREs, we are called upon to wear many hats and to do so without high praises and yes, without much pay—at least in most cases. How, then, do we avoid ministry burnout? Better yet, how do we continue to flame that ministry into a ministry that resembles the passionate flames of Jesus’ ministry?

I believe the key to avoiding ministry burnout is indeed taking, or rather making, the time for personal reflection and meditation. We have all heard that we cannot give what we ourselves do not have. I must admit I shrugged that comment off after hearing it one too many times. Yet it is so true. We need to take the time to quietly be with our God. One way to do this is using the 3-Minute Retreat, a marvelous way to refuel. Liturgy and the wisdom found in Scripture are certainly sources of strength and spiritual nourishment.

Another way to avoid ministry burnout and one that most catechetical leaders forget to do is to play. Taking time out to re-create oneself is usually that last thing we think of, because we are so busy doing the many tasks at hand.

I challenge every DRE reading this to schedule a “play day” at least once a month. Put it on your calendar as you would a parent meeting, and stick to it. We can lessen ministry burnout if we take time to be with God and also take the time to play.

How do you avoid burnout and spark a ministry that’s on fire?

About Marian Bach 5 Articles
Marian Bach has been involved in school and parish ministry for nearly 25 years. She has been a Director of Faith Formation, Catholic School Principal, Youth Minister, Vacation Bible School Director, and Children’s Choir Director. Marian holds a B.A. in Faith Formation and Church Ministry from Franciscan Silver Lake College of the Holy Family and a M.A. in Theology from St. Norbert College. Her interests include listening to folk music, singing, nature walks, conversations with children, mowing the lawn, and a really good cup of coffee.

7 Comments on Ministry Burnout vs. Ministry on Fire

  1. I’m fortunate that my job as DRE allows for a great deal of flexibility. I take time to go to a quilting/sewing group twice a month during my regular work hours. I can make it up anytime that works for me. All three priests that I have worked under have agreed to this arrangement. As a result, I’m more than willing to come in whenever I’m needed such as nights and weekends. For me this is a win/win situation and I’m very grateful to everyone I work with for their support and encouragement.

  2. This is my 10th year as a DRE.
    Honestly, I am burned out.
    Praying and taking a day off a month aren’t enough.
    I think this is a topic that begs more exploration and I have no solid answers.
    I think finding a balance between what you know needs to be done and what the parish is willing to do is a huge one. I think I have tried to take on too much on my own when I should have delegated. And when delegating doesn’t work (and it often doesn’t because the DRE will pick up the slack won’t she?) then letting programs go or simplifying them is the only option. In this past year I got rid of our Christmas pageant and it looks like there won’t be receptions after our confirmation masses. (The first Communion receptions disappeared long ago.) If someone really sees a need, they will step up and take those projects on. It feels like a failure but it also makes room for people to step up who normally would not.

    • Kristen, thanks for your honest sharing. Catechetical leadership is so very challenging and avoiding ministry burnout is not easy. You are right that the topic requires more exploration…it is a very complex issue. One of the best books I’ve read on the topic is by John Sanford: Ministry Burnout. I believe it is out of print but you can still find it on Amazon: In the meantime, prayer is vital as is support from family and colleagues. All of us in this ministry need to pray for one another and support one another! Thanks again for sharing!

      • Joe, thank you for your reply. I ordered the book.
        Didn’t mean to diminish prayer…being an effective DRE is impossible without a daily prayer…and handing over the keys to Jesus…especially when I realize I have gone and driven off without Him. (happens more often than I’d like to admit.)

  3. Hello from Ireland!
    Having left my post as Diocesan Director of Adult Education – I would like to add that COMMUNITY is vital to any leadership role in the Church particularly for Lay Ministers. Sometime I fear the ordained Ministers don’t trust the Laity deeply. It’s more than useful I believe to have people on your side to be able to talk to share with laugh with and really enjoy being a Roman Catholic. And prayer too, Oh my word, having people to pray with is SO important, those who will support you, encourage you and love you into your ministry. “Burned out” is a rotten place to be.

  4. Hi Kristen!
    Your story sounds so much like mine! When I was a DRE, I kept taking on more and more responsibilities, and then couldn’t figure out how to delegate, after doing everything myself. After I left my parish position to take a diocesan position, my former team members told me they wondered why I never asked them to do the extra things (like receptions, buying gifts for sacraments, picking up supplies, getting learning areas ready, etc.) Truth is, I was afraid to let folks know I couldn’t do it all! If I had it to do over, I would trust my catechists and youth team more — and be honest with parents and tell them that I really needed their help. I loved being a DRE and miss it. My advice is to talk to your pastor, team, and active parents. Ask them to do “small things” at first. I bet they’ll gladly step up!

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