Margie Bryce

Your leadership coach
and self-care advocate

117: Back from Burnout ENCORE: Pastor Pat’s Journey Through Spiritual Strain and Recovery

The Crabby Pastor
The Crabby Pastor
117: Back from Burnout ENCORE: Pastor Pat's Journey Through Spiritual Strain and Recovery

While on sabbatical (yes, I’m taking my own advice), we are replaying podcasts where our brave guests tell their journey into and out of burnout. You won’t want to miss these as there’s always something to learn from others, right? 

What happens when the weight of ministry becomes too heavy to bear? Pastor Pat Robbins from Brown City United Methodist Church courageously shares his journey through a period of intense burnout. He faced a harrowing series of personal and professional challenges: losing multiple church members to grappling with family tragedies and his own severe health issues. Pastor Pat opens up about the overwhelming stress these events placed on him, especially during the pandemic, and how it ultimately led him to a breaking point.

Join us as Pastor Pat unpacks how he recognized burnout, the physical and emotional toll it took, and his path to recovery. This episode shines a light on the critical need for support and resources for ministry leaders. Whether you’re currently experiencing similar struggles or seeking to better understand the pressures of ministry, Pastor Pat’s story offers valuable insights and encouragement. Remember, no matter how isolated or overwhelmed you might feel, there’s always hope and help available. Reach out, connect, and let’s walk this journey together.

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Margie: 0:01

Hey there, Margie Bryce here bringing you the Crabby Pastor podcast, and I don’t think you’re going to be too surprised to know that it’s too easy today to become the Crabby Pastor. Our time together will give you food for thought to help you be the ministry leader fully surrendered to God’s purposes and living into whatever it takes to get you there and keep you there. So we’re talking about sustainability in ministry. I’m always really grateful when ministry colleagues are willing to share when things don’t go well, and I’m very, very grateful to this pastor that’s about to share his back from burnout kind of story and while his situation was extreme and there was a period of months where there was an extreme amount of loss and challenge going on in his life, I want to say to you that you don’t have to have that level of items and situations occurring in your life to have burnout happen.Margie: 1:19

And sometimes as ministry leaders we isolate, we don’t get the help we need.Margie: 1:27

We are concerned about where we can be open, honest and vulnerable and we aren’t sure where the resources are where we can get help.Margie: 1:39

So I’m hoping that Pastor Pat’s story here will prod you to get the help that you need and maybe consider resources, consider who you might speak with friends, colleagues, supervisors.Margie: 1:54

If you really feel like you don’t have anyone, you can always reach out to me at either the Krabby Pastor you can go to krabbypastorcom and connect with me through the website or margie, at margiebricecom. Reach out to me and maybe I’ll put a link in the show notes so you could do that if you really feel like you have no one that you want to hash this around with. So that’s my encouragement to you and listen closely and intently to this veteran pastor. Tell his story In this episode of the Krabby Pastor podcast. I am here with Pastor Pat Robbins at Brown City United Methodist Church and he has so graciously offered to share his story, to talk about the kinds of things that he experienced as he approached burnout and then where he is at now. And I’m very thankful, pat, that you’re willing to come on here, that you’re willing to share, always with the hope that other people will come away with something for their toolbox.Pat: 3:07

Yes, I agree.Margie: 3:09

Yes.Pat: 3:10

My pleasure.Margie: 3:11

Oh, thank you, thank you. So I want to ask you, though, to start out, how long have you been in pastoral ministry? I think.Pat: 3:21

I’ve been in pastoral ministry going on 27 years 27 years.Margie: 3:25

That’s a long time. I know you’ve had a really good run, a really solid ministry here, and the point of pointing that out is that it’s kind of interesting how you were in ministry that long and then it’s later in your ministry that you do come to experience burnout and it really has caused some shifts for you. But tell us how you came to understand that you were experiencing burnout.Pat: 3:58

Well, it sort of came to pass when the crazy election was going on and then we were dealing with the pandemic and, like many of our colleagues, there’s a lot of stress going on because of the pandemic in the local churches here in Brown City. We had like 14 of our members had passed away and that brought a lot of extra stress. At the same time I had an aunt, an uncle, a grandson that died. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer, my lifelong friend had died and it was just overwhelming at the time it all happened and it seemed like such a short time that it was really hard to breathe. It was hard to find uh rest. I was pretty weary. Uh people would ask me, are you okay? And I would say yeah, I’m okay, but I really wasn’t. I didn’t know, uh quite how to handle what was going on in my body and in my mind, because I also had the COVID for 17 days.Pat: 5:07

we were pretty sick after the COVID. I had lost my eyesight and I had to have new lenses put in my eyes and I’d lost my hearing. So I have hearing aids now and it all just happened. It was like one right after another and there was just I didn’t know where to turn. And this was like one right after another, and there was just I didn’t know where to turn.Margie: 5:27

And this was over a span of how many months that all this happened.Pat: 5:31

This was over a span of about 13 or 14 months. Okay.Margie: 5:35

Okay, I remember you telling me about you were still very passionate about ministry and that you were going to nursing homes, very passionate about ministry and that you were going to nursing homes, and I think you were crawling up a ladder to Well, during the, during the pandemic, there was a woman in the nursing home in Seedling, barb Downing, and I went to visit Barb.Pat: 5:58

I was told that she was dying of bone cancer and Barb was a friend of ours and when I went to see her at the nursing home at that time you were not allowed to go into nursing homes, but they had set up a 20 foot ladder outside with a set of scaffolding beside the ladder.Pat: 6:16

So I got to climb the ladder and sit on the scaffolding outside of Barb’s window and minister to her that way. Knowing that when I climbed down the ladder that was the last time I was going to see her, was pretty difficult. But I thank God for the time that I was able to spend with her and touch her hand through the screen and pray with her. I am forever grateful for that opportunity.Margie: 6:42

You sound like you did some amazing ministry During that time in your church. You were still, by all accounts, looking pretty strong through COVID and you’re in a small rural town, but you were having some successful ministry, so it would look good, pretty respectable on paper, right.Pat: 7:01

It looked good on paper and I think for me, when the day my daughter came over to tell me she had cancer, that was that was pretty difficult. You know, I have one daughter and she’ll always be my baby girl, no matter how old she was. And it was just. And then a short time after that, her grandson died and it was just overwhelming, so trying to put on that pastoral face for everybody else. But when you look in the mirror you were really struggling, I was really struggling.Margie: 7:45

So what would you say? The telltale signs of burnout approaching would be.Pat: 7:52

Well, the telltale sign for me was I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I was irritable and all of a sudden I just wanted to hide, because it was really difficult at the time and it was hard to be the happy-go-loving pastor for everybody when I was hurting so deep inside of myself.Margie: 8:17

Yeah I was going to say because I don’t think hide is in your nature Really.Pat: 8:21

No, hiding is not in my nature. Yeah, there was just so much stuff going on at the same time.Margie: 8:31

So how did you get the help that you needed?Pat: 8:35

Well, you know I thank God for the District Board of Ordained Ministry. I’m a local pastor. Each year we go before the District Board of Ordained Ministry and the day of my Zoom meeting with the District Board I think pretty much everybody on the committee could see that I was weary and at some point in our conversation somebody had mentioned taking a sabbatical time, which I really never heard of that before. I didn’t know that there was such a thing available.Margie: 9:06

You never heard of a sabbatical before.Pat: 9:09

No, I didn’t know that there was such a thing. Oh, the district board said well, we need to talk to the superintendent. So I’m assuming after I was done with my zoom meeting with them they contacted the superintendent because Reverend Heiss called me that afternoon. It was like three days later. I was on a six week sabbatical which in all my years of ministry was one of the biggest blessings that I experienced. In all my years of ministry was one of the biggest blessings that I experienced.Margie: 9:38

So were you the kind of pastor then that made sure you took all of your vacation time every year before?Pat: 9:44

No, not usually. No, didn’t really worry about taking the day off. Didn’t always take the vacation. Would put family things aside to do church things. Everything came before my wife and I.Pat: 9:59

We were church, church, church. I think one of the things I’ve learned through this whole process is that I need to take care of me first. I need to make sure that I’m all right. I need to make sure that I’m healthy. I need to make sure that I’m well-rested. I need to make sure that I’m all right. I need to make sure that I’m healthy. I need to make sure that I’m well rested. I need to make sure that I’m in God’s word and when I get revived and when I’m well, then I can minister better is what I’ve learned.Margie: 10:28

That’s a key takeaway. Talk to me about your sabbatical. What did you do? Or?Pat: 10:35

not do. What we did was we went up to Grayling and stayed in our Aunt Diane’s house. She had recently died. Her and Uncle Jim died just a little bit apart. We stayed in their bed and breakfast, which is 15 feet off of the Manistee River, and we spent a lot of time in devotion, a lot of time in prayer, a lot of time in rest. The first week of the sabbatical was very difficult. My cousin kept asking me what’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you? Well, for the first time in my ministry, I was to do nothing, I was to rest and my wife and I were to take care of ourselves. And up until that point, I wasn’t very good at that. I wasn’t very good at taking care of myself. I always wanted to take care of everybody else. I’m a morning person. I’m usually up at 4 or 4.30 every morning. The funny thing is, on sabbatical there were days where we both slept until 10 o’clock in the morning, and that’s unheard of.Pat: 11:47

I think that was a way of our bodies catching up on what we needed Right. So the sabbatical was a very peaceful time. Got to experience the wonders of God’s creation right on the river. Most every morning there was one or two eagles in the tree outside of our door. It was just a wonderful time to be revived and to listen to what God had to tell me, and I do thank the Board of Ordained Ministry, I thank the superintendent for making a way for that to take me, and I do thank the board of ordained ministry. I thank the superintendent for making a way for that to take place. I like to call it a renewal, not a sabbatical, because what it did for both my wife and I it renewed us, it lifted our spirit, it lifted our energy and I think I have a better focus now.Margie: 12:40

You mentioned someone that called and said what’s wrong with you. What kind of responses did you get from people around you?Pat: 12:48

For some of the folks. They asked what’s wrong with you? You look tired, you okay today, today, pastor, and my response was always the same I’m fine, but I really wasn’t fine. But you know, I’ve learned over my ministry that, uh, I don’t share a lot with, I don’t. I don’t have a real big circle of people where I can share me. So I I acted like everything was okay. When everything wasn’t okay, I tried to be the best spiritual leader during that time that I could be, but it wore me out. It really did.Margie: 13:29

Right, right. And when people found out you were on sabbatical, what was their response to that?Pat: 13:35

Oh, the response from this local church was fantastic. People came out of their comfort zone and they took on leadership roles and this church functioned quite well while we were gone. I thank God that we have a great secretary who helps keep this place running, and there were just people that normally wouldn’t step forward that did, and everything ran rather smooth while we were gone.Margie: 13:59

Great, great. That’s always a blessing to hear that and people then understand that, hey, this is our church too, and they step up and they take that ownership. How would you say that your ministry life now is different from ministry life, say, before you experienced burnout?Pat: 14:21

Well, one thing.Pat: 14:22

I know for certain is that I’m able to say no, and before I could never say no or I would never say no. But I can’t do it all. And I’ve learned that that we’re all in this together, be it our colleagues or be it our lay people. We’re all in this ministry stuff together and we need to depend on each other. And I don’t think I was a lone ranger you know, it wasn’t my way or the highway but I like to do things. I like to lead by example. People see, and maybe then they’ll follow.Pat: 15:00

But I think the best thing I’ve learned to say no that I don’t have to do it all, that, uh, if I’m sitting down to have dinner and the phone rings, that I don’t have to get up and leave my dinner and come back and eat it when it’s cold, that I can finish my dinner and then go on to what the task is ahead. You know, I know of a colleague that had mentioned that he could really use a sabbatical, but he also stated that he doesn’t think that he could leave the church because the church couldn’t function without him. And I don’t know if he’ll listen to this, but I hope he does, because we have the pastor. We have to be healthy first and there are people in the congregation that will step up and and take that leadership role while we get the need, the care that we need. So I think that’s important that pastors take time and first care for themselves.Margie: 15:59

Okay, what do you do now, then for self-care that maybe you didn’t do before?Pat: 16:05

Well, I walk more in devotion, I read more, I rest more.Margie: 16:17

What do you do to rest? We have trouble stopping. That’s why I’m bringing that up. Well, you know.Pat: 16:22

I just came off a vacation. We took 30 days and went and lived on the Betsy River over in Frankfurt, michigan, and salmon fished. So being outdoors is a way for me to rest. Spending time with my just me and the Lord is a time of rest, and spending time with my family and my wife. We’ve been together 47 years. We’ve been married and we’re just now starting to spend more time with each other, because we’ve learned that if all we do is ministry, then we neglect each other and I’ve learned.Margie: 16:57

that’s very important and I know she’s a very active part of your ministry there as well.Pat: 17:02

She’s very, very active in every aspect of my ministry.Margie: 17:08

That’s a real treasure. So what would you say? This is your moment to say something to your fellow ministry colleagues. Go ahead and take the soapbox for a minute, pat.Pat: 17:22

What I’d like to say to my colleagues is that our superintendent is not our enemy, that he’s our friend and he’s there to help us, and the Board of Ordinary ministry is there to help us. They’re not our enemy and it’s okay for us to ask for help, to reach out and find that we’re weary and ask for help and see what can be done to help us rejuvenate ourselves. I probably never would have asked because I didn’t know that it was available to have such a thing, but I thank God that my colleagues saw the weariness and mentioned it first, because Karen and I got the blessing of that time away.Margie: 18:09

Great, great Well, I really appreciate it. Do you want to add anything else to what we’ve chatted? I really do appreciate your sharing this. When I heard your story of what those 13 months were like, I just wow, that’s a lot and you don’t have to be pressed all the way against the wall like you pretty much were. To seek routine self-care, to seek a sabbatical, I think in some denominations I think ours you’re eligible every seven years-ish. There’s a criteria. So if you have served that many years, you are eligible to take a sabbatical and that’s just a wonderful resource. And I still am shocked that you had been in ministry that long and was unaware that that was available to you.Pat: 19:00

One last reminder from the Krabby Pastor is it can happen.Margie: 19:04

It absolutely can happen. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story and giving us a glimpse into how you can go through burnout and then come back out on the other side in a better place, because I know ministry is going well for you right now, isn’t it?Pat: 19:20

Yes, it is, things are well.Margie: 19:22

Yeah, even post-COVID, and the challenges that that is and that has been and will continue to be for a little while yet. But, yeah, I want to thank you so much for sharing with us today.Pat: 19:35

Thank you very much.Margie: 19:46

Have a blessed day. Okay, you too, please reach out and get the help that you need. If you, or maybe a colleague is experiencing burnout and just can’t seem to move past, move beyond or through situations and the fatigue level is there, don’t do nothing. Don’t just think that an afternoon is going to take care of it. There are times and places where God is asking us just to stop totally for a period of time what you’re doing. So reach out, go to the show notes. I’ll put a link to connect with me via email if you really have no one else to reach out to.Margie: 20:27

You don’t want to become the Crabby pastor. Hey, thanks for listening. It is my deep desire and passion to champion issues of sustainability in ministry and for your life, so I’m here to help. I stepped back from pastoral ministry and I feel called to help ministry leaders create and cultivate sustainability in their lives so that they can go the distance with God and whatever plans that God has for you. I would love to help, I would consider it an honor and, in all things, make sure you connect to these sustainability practices, you know, so that you don’t become the crabby pastor.

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