Journal of Christian Ministry | 2023: The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout – Book Review
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2023: The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout – Book Review

2023: The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout – Book Review

The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout
Sean Nemecek
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023, 272 pages, $19.99
Reviewed by Dusty Decker
DMin Student, Liberty University

A tsunami has been crashing on unsuspecting victims for the past three years. With disregard for who is affected and what the aftermath may entail, the struggle has been relentless. This giant wave is the reverberation of a devastating pandemic that has taken its toll on society while producing mental exhaustion and anxiety. While this has been a callous time for those affected by these hardships, the ones affected the most are those that are trying to clean up after the waves. These preverbal lifeguards are the pastors and ministers of local churches. As educators prepare DMin students to stretch their understanding of ministry and dig deep into the creativity that can come from solving specific problems, one problem that certainly needs further attention is ministerial mental health. Predictably, many of students are starting to tire and wrestle with their own deep mental battles, leaving professors searching for adequate resources to deal with the subject.

This unfortunate trend of burnout among Christian leaders is what spurred Sean Nemecek to sit down and write The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout. As a former pastor for eighteen years and now the West Michigan Regional Director for Pastor-in-Residence Ministries, Nemecek genuinely desires to see church leaders recognize and recover from burnout. Nemecek states, “This book is a practical resource to help you identify whether you’re experiencing or approaching burnout, guide you through it, and teach you to establish practices that will build resilience for the future. (xviii) Through personal experience, stories from the trenches, and research-based information, Nemecek leads the reader on a journey of intersection and healing. While there have been numerous helpful books for tired church leaders, such as the highly formative book The Spiritually Healthy Leader, Nemecek’s text reads as a true handbook. The book is broken into three sections: Understanding Burnout, Recovering From burnout, and Resilience Against Burnout. If taken at a slow pace, the abundance of information presented can provide students with a diagnosis and a pathway to mental and spiritual health.

The book’s first section, understanding burnout, is worth the book’s cost. The wealth of information Nemecek delivers is so abundant that it requires a couple of passes to digest all of it. Some of the best information comes in chapter four, as he discusses stress, anxiety, and shame. Nemecek uses the comparison of mental stress to structural stress. While stress can be advantageous at times, such as from competition and exercise, too much pressure can produce breaking consequences. “Stress becomes a problem when it is too great or lasts too long. Like the materials tested by engineers, we reach our breaking point.” (48) This brings us to one of the best points Nemecek delivers in the entire first section of the book. Many church leaders are quick to self-diagnose burnout as taking on too many tasks and over-exerting themselves, although Nemecek argues that at the root of burnout we will rarely find overwork as the cause. Like peeling an onion, he guides the leader in understanding that the deeper the hurt, the more it points to something other than overworking. These deep layers include feelings such as anxiety and shame that need to be addressed. This peeling back of feelings is a necessary step for DMin students to understand ministry at a deep level. This section alone could provide a full course worth of content for educators.

The second section of the book, recovering from burnout, is the expected section that will propel most readers to buy the book. In our self-help-driven culture, getting straight to a solution is highly desired. While Nemecek gives some solid steps to recovery, the information and heart behind the advice in this section propel it well past the self-help label. Nemecek uses a vast selection of biblical examples to show the reader how to recover from burnout’s effects. The subjects presented in these chapters, while not necessarily new ideas, help the reader understand that recovery is necessary and attainable. Some of the most impactful advice comes when Nemecek discusses “differentiation of self” in chapter nine. Many struggling leaders find a majority of their tired actions leaning toward people-pleasing. The thoughts of others steer us to make decisions that produce unhealthy results. Nemecek states, “When we lose our sense of self in leadership, other people’s opinions become our identity.” (120) This is a minefield for self-doubt and anxiety. To become whole, leaders need to understand their true selves defined by God.

The final section centers on what comes after the reader can recover from their struggles. This is where Nemecek shines. While most books get the hurting readers to the point of helping themselves, the author takes the next step of helping the reader prevent future burnout through spiritual growth. As a former pastor who has been through burnout, Nemecek understands it takes more than just a quick fix. “You will be tempted to think that your burnout journey is over, but it’s only just begun. If you go back to your old ways of living before burnout, it won’t be long before you burn out again.” (179) In the class room setting, teaching the vital steps of lament, surrender, and love, gives students the reminder that proper health is a journey.

While Nemecek routinely mentions that readers need to seek professional counseling on their mental and spiritual recovery journey, this book should be a staple in any Christian leader’s library. Divinity educators could easily incorporate this writing, especially section one, ┬áin their stable of teaching resources as they strive to address an ever-growing concern among ministers. It is imperative to teach DMin students that they can overcome the towering waves of burnout by digging into the in-depth information provided, answering the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, and taking to heart the examples given. “As you work through recovery and build your spiritual life on God’s love for you in Christ, you will become a stronger and better leader than you ever could have been before burnout.” (224)