Avoiding Early Burnout in Your Speaking Ministry

Thanks for all the wonderful responses to my post on how to set fees! I’m glad you found it helpful.

I want to revisit a few other themes and pick up where we left off. First, if you’re wondering whether it’s right to set fees at all, read this post.

Got that? Now I want to talk about another important aspect when you’re starting out: how to combine calling and professionalism to avoid burnout.

I am gifted to speak. That’s not bragging; it’s just something that God has gifted me in. I am not particularly administratively gifted, since it often takes me forever to answer emails, and never ever leave me a phone message. I’m not that great at hospitality. But I can speak.

Yet just because you have a gift doesn’t mean that you have to use it constantly, or that this is now the only thing that God wants you to do. For instance, I’m also involved with coaching Bible quizzing at our church, which is far less geeky than it sounds. And the teens love it (and they’re not geeks), and it’s a wonderful program. But it takes up four weekends a year, plus countless practices. I’ve turned down some very large speaking opportunities on the weekends that the quiz tournaments are held, because they’re my first priority because they have to do with my kids.

Does that mean that I wouldn’t have been used speaking? No, not at all. But those speaking opportunities will still be there in seven years, when my youngest is out of the house. I need these years with the kids now.

What I’m about to say may sound strange if you’re just starting, but here goes: if I wanted to, I could be booked constantly. You’ll get to that point, too. If you are gifted at speaking, and you use the techniques I’ve talked about to get your marketing materials in order, you’ll get bookings. And from those will come more bookings. And one day, you’re going to have to start saying no.

Lately I’ve been taking each speaking request to God a lot more and asking what I should agree to, because I don’t want speaking to be my whole life. It’s an important part of my life, but it isn’t all that God has called me to. And when you begin your speaking ministry, you have to start with that idea: what is it that God is calling me to? And how can I best use that gift?

One thing I aim to do is to be intentional. I’ll speak where I will have the most impact first. In general, these are outreach/seeker events, or community wide events. Denominational events come next, with church events at the bottom. I’d rather speak to women from different churches at one time, because then these women are returning to their home base with the message that I believe God gave me, and then that message can spread farther.

That doesn’t mean I don’t speak at individual churches; that’s still my bread and butter. But if I have to choose, I choose the higher impact engagements, even if the fee may be a little bit less.

I had to wrestle through this with God to make sure I was making the most of my gifts and my time. You need to do this, too. Otherwise, speaking can become “just a job”, or even a burden.

I have talked with other speakers who have become burned out because they haven’t put good boundaries around their time. They’ve taken engagements for weekend retreats, and spent hours traveling, only to have the ladies hand them $75 at the end of the weekend, which didn’t even cover their gas. It’s demoralizing and depressing, and if you keep doing that, you can lose the enthusiasm for using your gifts.

We need to use our gifts, but we have to temper it with treating ourselves as professionals. Again, that doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to lower fees on occasion; but don’t burn yourself out and sacrifice your family when that’s not what God is asking you to do. If you believe that God has given you something valuable, it is okay to be paid for your time. A worker, after all, is worth his (or her!) wages.

When you’re starting out, getting engagements is such a concern that you may take lots and lots that don’t pay. But before you get too caught up in a crazy schedule, go to God and figure out what is a reasonable schedule for you. How much can you afford to be away from your family? How much money do you need to bring in? How much do you need to charge?

It does nobody any good for you to burn out, or for your family to miss you and hurt with you not there. So pray about what you want your ministry to look like. And then set reasonable fees and reasonable limits so that you can grow to that point.

It begins with a calling from God; but God has to be a part of this at every point. Don’t try to build something just for you or you will burn out. Seek Jesus’ vision, and you’ll find that just the right number of doors will open!

Wrestling with your calling? My keynote address on the Adventure of Speaking deals with the burnout and loneliness we sometimes feel–and inspires us to persevere.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks Sheila.

    Keeping a balance between our passion for our ministry call and the call to our home is a major focus of my new book, The Mission-Minded Family. And here’s an article about the importance of finding the middle ground. God’s “balance” is not neutral; it’s a divine tug-of-war, and God will show us His direction for each day. See Balancing Missions and Family.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement in this post. I recently spoke at an event and was paid $50, for a two day retreat where I spoke three times. I was hurt and felt taken advantage of. Then I felt guilty for focusing on what I was paid! But I spent a lot of hours preparing. When you think about the money spent on decorations for example, what I was paid was embarrassing. It also showed me what the focus was of those who were planning. I’m focusing on the good of the weekend, but I certainly learned to talk about my expectations before agreeing to speak.

    • Oh, that’s rough. And sadly not all that uncommon. I think people forget that WE are giving up a lot to be there. I can understand speaking for your own church for free, or for very little, because it’s your own church. But this is so different and people need to understand!

  3. This is post is so confirming. I often struggle between my present and my future. I want to enjoy today but plan for tomorrow, finding balance is a challenging. You blog is totally an answer to prayer!!

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