PODCAST | Don't Burn Out, Burn Bright (feat. Jonathan Malm)

Jonathan Malm Podcast

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In today’s podcast, Carey Sumner talks with Jonathan Malm. Jonathan is the Founder of SundaySocial and ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com and he frequently consults with organizations on topics such as guest services and creative expression. He is also the coauthor of The Come Back Effect, The Come Back Culture, The Volunteer Effect, and The Volunteer Survival Guide.

In this episode, Jonathan provides insight on ways to prevent burnout, particularly among pastors who have been greatly affected by COVID-19 and its aftermath. He is passionate about helping pastors overcome burnout and offering resources to help prevent it from happening in the future.

We hope you enjoy this conversation!

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Get a copy of Don’t Burn Out, Burn Bright: https://dontburnoutburnbright.com/

To connect with Jonathan: https://www.jonathanmalm.com/

Sunday Social: https://www.sundaysocial.tv/

Church Stage Designs Ideas: https://churchstagedesignideas.com/

Take the Burnout Assessment: https://dontburnoutburnbright.com/assessment/

Follow Jonathan on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jonathanmalm/


Carey Sumner: Welcome everyone to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. I'm Carey. I get the privilege of working on the Vanderbloemen and client relations team and just working with all kinds of great leaders across the country. This week I am joined by Jonathan Malm. Jonathan is author of Don't Burn Out, Burn Bright, along with Jason Young.

He's done a lot of great projects. Many of you out there may use Things that he does through Sundaysocial.tv, or you may have been to Churchstagedesignideas.com. And so those are his brainchilds and creations. And so we're very excited to have you on the podcast today, Jonathan, learn just a little bit more.

 About this topic of burnout, which is so key for leaders to avoid not to embrace, but to, to learn how to process through that. And so we'll talk a little bit about that. So welcome, Jonathan. Glad to have you. 

Jonathan Malm: Yeah, thanks for having me. It's always fun to, to get into these podcasts. 

Carey Sumner: Yes, yes, for sure.

Well, let's start off for those listeners who may not know you too well, share with us just a little bit about your story, your journey Sunday Social and some of those Churchstagedesignideas.com days.

Jonathan Malm: Yes, I probably the first memories that I have of growing up my parents were missionaries in Guatemala.

So that was a fun experience. Just experiencing the country and it was in the middle of a civil war. So I remember a few nights like being worried that I was going to get kidnapped. I was never kidnapped, but there were some crazy things happening. In that area. Then we moved back to the U.S. My dad got a chance to pastor a church that had just gone through a massive church split. You know, lawsuit pending 1,000,000 in debt. The current property run down because We were building we're planning on building a building. So we purchased a property that we didn't couldn't afford. So a million dollars in debt, current building run down 75 people left.

It was just a fun situation. To get involved in ministry. That's where I started working in ministry. I went to college during that time and then came on staff full time doing. Worship leading media volunteers. You know everything that you do and then slowly getting to specialize as the church grew and as we got more volunteers on board But I have a heart for the church and as a pastor's kid and as a former staff member I somehow survived and didn't burn out.

Don't hate the church. don't hate mega churches. Don't hate small churches. Don't hate pastors Somehow I was the one who survived and then yeah, I just love resourcing the church And whatever ways I find. So church stage design ideas. com was one of those that I started. We were, we were trying to update this building that was built in the seventies and you know, everyone in town had been to that church.

And so they all knew what the church was, but we weren't that church anymore. So part of, you know, redesigning the stage was just whenever people walked in setting expectations for what they could expect from the service. So, yeah, I was blogging about that. People found, you know, people kept finding my website based on searching for church stage design ideas.

And I. I realized, huh, there's apparently a need here for this. I didn't know that other people were doing that. So I began to, you know, pull some research together, asking other people what they were doing. I use Twitter, which was blooming at that time. And that's how I built that. And then, yeah, I've just since started different projects as I see, you know, things that I was doing at my church.

Wow. Other churches must be needing the same sort of thing. So Sunday social was birthed out of that, realizing that, you know, it used to be all about keep it, keep it Sunday, Saint focusing on the Sunday morning service. And suddenly there was this Necessity to communicate with people throughout the week and give them good quality content and encourage them and keep them engaged.

So that's what Sunday social was birthed out of the idea of helping churches who are already under resourced overworked to be able to put out quality content on their social media throughout the week. And that's. Mostly what I do now, along with writing with, like you said, my co writer Jason Young, we love writing books together.

We somehow found this great mix of personality and, and, and expertise that works well for us. How many books do you guys have together now? 

 We have 1, 2, 3, 4, I think about 5 now, so it's, it's been, we're in a rhythm, it's pretty fun. Partnership, yeah. Yeah, I'm blessed to have, same thing with Sunday Social, I have a partner that we've worked together for 7 years and egos have not become problem, problematic and, you know, it's, it's, it's fun to be able to, Have enduring partnerships that you're still grateful for.

Carey Sumner: Yeah, that's great. That's great. I love, I love y'all's heart for really helping those local church leaders, and it comes birth out of living that right being in that context, even with your dad pastoring a church, but you being on staff and understanding, hey, One of one of the things that leads to burnout is there's there there's a never ending supply of Sundays that are coming right old cliche and you're trying to engage people you're trying to engage the culture and especially for a church staff member that can just over time get daunting.

Maybe let's use that as a little transition point to talk about the book that you guys have, Don't Burn Out, Burn Bright. Talk to us just a little bit. Why did you guys write this book? 

Jonathan Malm: So, of course, we all experienced a pretty traumatic event in our lives about, you know, three years ago. This little virus that ran around the world.

Yeah. And... Especially pastors. I saw my pastor at the church where I'm involved navigating this complex issue that, you know, if you have services, if you don't have services, if you require masks, if you don't require masks, you're going to make half of your people mad, probably more like 80% of your people mad.

It's, it was, it was a horrible thing to go through as an individual. It was really horrible to go through as a church because You know, as a pastor, you're just trying to help people navigate this. You're trying to help them deal with anxiety, deal with anger. We were all dealing with dealing with, and you had to make decisions that were difficult.

And the heart was there. The heart was for people, but people weren't getting that. They were just getting mad about the politics of it or the. Whatever, whatever specific element of it was. So me and Jason, we both saw so many pastors burning out, or if not just, you know, hanging on by a thread. So. You know, a lot of church, a lot of pastors weathered that COVID time, but then two years after 2020, they left the ministry, or they lost their faith, or something way worse, you know?

So we, we have this heart, we just, we're like, how can we, how can we write to this? How can we speak into this topic? And we've heard stories of pastors that are, you know, had books about burnout on their shelf and when an elder sees that. They fire the pastor because there's this sort of like if you're, if you're dealing with burnout, you're, you're probably not going to last very long and you might, you know, be prone to a moral failure or to getting some wacky theology into the pulpit.

And there's a lot of fear about burnout. So There's a lot of books about burnout, but we wanted to create a book that was sort of an anti burnout book. You know, once you're, once you're heading toward burnout, you probably need to deal with counseling, and it's a slow road to get out of it. But how can you actually avoid burnout?

How can you create healthy, high capacity leadership and last in ministry for the long haul? Because we have seen pastors that do that. I mean, Rick Warren's one of those examples that, man, that guy, it was just really cool to see his ministry and how he turned it over to the next pastor. It just, it seems like it's rare.

It's not. There's more that do it than we realize. But we tend to focus on all the people who go out in a blaze of glory, but we do believe it's possible to last in ministry for the long haul. And we wanted to create a resource to help pastors and ministry leaders do that. 

Carey Sumner: Yeah, I think that's great. I was serving as an executive pastor in a church during that time and season.

And you're so right. I mean, I was used to as a leader, you make a decision and some people are upset, right? Not really leadership if that's not happening. What I wasn't prepared for was we'd make a decision and everyone would be upset and you're just trying your best to make it through. And we definitely see that at Vanderblomen and just the number of people who afterwards have just left and from it.

Job market standpoints. They're just way less people in ministry right now and way more churches with needs. So I love that. 

Jonathan Malm: There's a whole lot of, there's a whole lot more realtors and health coaches. And that seems to be the two or three things that former ministry leaders get involved in.

Carey Sumner: Absolutely. And so I love y'all's focus to say, Hey, How do we deal with this? Well, before we get there, because that really was partly my experience was those team members who were really ready beforehand. Man, they kept driving through and they thrived their families through that. So, so maybe at the talk us through at the beginning.

I think you have a little. Burnout assessment, right? Yeah. That you guys put together. Talk us through the burnout assessment a little bit. 

Jonathan Malm: Yeah. So there's a burnout assessment at don't burn out, burn bright. com. It's free. It's anonymous. Again, we're not going to send the results to your pastor or to your elders and let them see all your dirty laundry and why they need to fire you.

But the goal of it was to talk about this in the first chapter of the book is you need to understand. Where your potential for burnout might come from because it's not a, it's not a one size fits all. It's not a, it's not a single factor that causes people to burn out because, you know, and I'll, I'll post videos frequently about burnout on my Instagram and people will say like, Oh, you just need a You know, if you're burning out, it's because you're doing something you're not called to do.

I'm like, ooh, talk about all the pastors burning out and tell them that and see, or they say, you know, you need to learn how to rest. And I'm like, okay, yes, we need to learn how to rest. But there are also people who are just killing it going 100 miles an hour, and they're able to last, right? So We often so easily distill it to one idea.

Like if you just spend time in the word, you're going to not burn out. And then you have leaders that are, they're not even Christian and they're not burning out. So obviously that's not fully it, right? Like but spiritual, the spiritual side is obviously a factor, right? So there were sort of 10, 10 warning signs or 10 areas that we identified that we see that leadership And to burn out.

And so when you go through that assessment, it just asks you some questions to kind of gauge where you are, what area you might need to to focus on. And it's been cool. We've, we've gotten a lot of feedback from people taking it saying, yeah, this is actually confirmed some stuff I've been hearing from my counselor or things that I kind of felt I, you know, I sensed that was the case and it was just nice to get that confirmation.

 And then we tied in ultimately to the book, just saying, okay, now what do you do with that? Yeah. Here's actually the chapter where we talk about that because we don't want to just identify the problem and then leave you there. Say, good luck. Here's the problem. 

Carey Sumner: Yeah. But which that, that really helps define reality, right?

But one of the things you guys talk about is that denying your reality, it's the worst thing you can do in leadership. Maybe let's talk about that a little bit. 

Jonathan Malm: That's, that's especially in certain church circles. There's, there's this, there's this sort of denial element of it, and we often say it's faith.

And there's this balance, right? Like, there's this balance between faith and denying the reality of the situation. I remember I had a friend that attended Bible college, and one of their friends at Bible college was saying, Yeah, you know, my, my, my cousin is you know, he's been sleeping for a few months.

And they're like, sleeping? What do you, what do you mean he's been sleeping? Yeah, he's in the hospital, he's been sleeping. Like, you, do you mean your cousin's in a coma? And the guy said, oh, we don't use that word. That's not a word of faith, right? Like, that's not a faith word, right? And it is kind, it's kind of a funny example, right?

But like, it's not a, not funny the person's in a coma, obviously. But the, the sort of like, you're denying the fact that like, there's a, there's a medical issue here that we need to address, right? And I, there's this temptation sometimes to... And we do this, we do this in ministry. We, we have to see a vision for something that is not necessarily our reality.

You know, I want to reach our city for Jesus right now. We have 50 people in our church. So obviously we're not doing that, but I believe it's possible. We do speak in faith. We do live from a place of faith, but if we. only live there and don't also acknowledge reality. We can often be in a state of denial where we say, yes, I'm exhausted and I don't see any end in sight and I need to do something.

Otherwise I'm going to burn out. So that is the first step is acknowledging something needs to change. 

Carey Sumner: Yeah, so, so often that can be difficult, though, you know, you mentioned even seeing the burnout book on the shelf can can lead to you know, the elders questioning or even if there's not an actual disciplinary case.

Step taken, you know, the whispers start up or, or the people projecting onto, right. And those can be really difficult things in church life, for sure.

Jonathan Malm: Because there's that, that myth that if you're just Rock and rolling with Jesus, you're not going to burn out, and if I'm burning out, I must not have enough faith, or I must not be, you know, one on one with Jesus, there's something wrong with me, that this high pressure situation is breaking me, what's wrong with me, like, you know, it's, it's, 

Carey Sumner: it's, you know, you, you look in the gospel of John, and what's, The first thing the disciples do immediately after the whole death and resurrection.

They're like, I'm freaking out, right? Like, like, like I'm done with this. Like I'm going to do this other thing. And Jesus comes in, pulls them, them back in from it. And it's almost as if they were not willing to deal with the reality of, no, this really just happened. And now there's a call on your life to go.

And, and, you know, I think sometimes when we. experience burnout, we're willing to lay down the call of God on our life simply because we just need a season of rest, but too many times look at it as you said, no, we just lay down the call completely. 

Jonathan Malm: I think there is, I think there is a, I mean, I talk about this sometimes with people who They feel called to ministry, and they're so disillusioned that they feel like they need to step away from their church.

And I think there's this myth that ministry happens in church. It does happen in church. And I'm not trying to say everyone needs to quit their church and just... But we, we distill our calling to a profession. And that's problematic because I don't work in a church. I work with people. You know, thousands of churches, but I get to minister through them and or then there's people that, you know, work my, my old, my, my current pastor, he before he was a pastor, he worked in the restaurant industry and his ability to minister and pass to the people in that restaurant.

You know, the gifts and callings of God are without repentance like that calling is on your life, whatever your job is. So sometimes we need to separate. Okay, yes, you can step away from working at a church for a season or working in that high stress environment for a season, and you can still be operating within your calling.

Carey Sumner: Oh, that's good. That's good. You guys talk about values and kind of put letting values lead to life and longevity and leadership. Maybe talk about that just a little bit about going about. setting up those values and how you've seen them lead to that longevity. 

Jonathan Malm: Yeah, there's this, there's this tendency and when we use the word values, I think sometimes you can say, you know, like values as in, you know, keeping integrity, keeping a pure heart, a pure mind that's not necessarily, that is what we're talking about, but we're also talking about.

Simpler things like the value of not letting money dictate what you do. So that really big giver, that really big tither who has unlimited access to you. I see so many people who don't know how to say no. And they say yes, but they say it begrudgingly and they say it with kind of this anger in their heart. And it just becomes more and more and more angry, which then leads to them.

Just like, that's it. I'm giving up. I'm done. I'm not going to do any of this. But I found that when I can say no joyfully, it frees me up to say yes. Joyfully. So, you know, this is something my dad helped me understand is that, you know, I was in college. I was, you know, studying, I was working at the church.

I also had my friend group. I also needed some time to recharge and people would ask me to help with something. Hey, I need you to design this graphic. I know it's after work hours. Can you do it? And, you know, I was going to go hang out with my friends. So I was like, well, yes, I can. I have time. I'm having to give up spending time with my friends or give, give up, you know, dating my wife and, but I have time I can do it.

And I had, he helped my dad helped me realize that downtime is a valid use of your time, rest, relaxation. Recharging. I want you to say that again for every pastor who's listening who needs to hear that right now. Say it again. 

Rest is a valid use of your time. It is, it is something I learned that I have to schedule into my day and I have to prioritize.

So when I say yes to someone, I'm saying no to rest. Or I'm saying no to a relationship, and so I don't, I, I, I can, I, what I learned is I can actually not be a liar, not come from a place of life. I can say, no, I do not have time to help you with that because my rest is valid. My rest, the time that I need to devote to this is valid.

So I can say, no, I don't have time for this. But then when I do have time that I say, okay, I actually do have a. A slot in my schedule where there's nothing filled there. I can say yes, joyfully. Like I will, because I do, I love, that's the problem is people in ministry. They want to help you, you get into ministry because you want to help people.

You want to be involved. You don't, you don't want to take it easy. You're not looking for a cushy job. You know, like you want to get into the mud, into the weeds and work with people. But if we don't know how to say no, and if we don't believe that our rest and downtime is that is valid, then we're going to say yes.

And we're going to say it begrudgingly, which is. It's not going to help us, it's not going to help the person ultimately. 

Carey Sumner: Yeah. You know, I, it's almost like the Lord might set aside something that tells us about having rest, 

Jonathan Malm: and it's almost like there was like some pretty angry conversations in, in the Old Testament about not keeping that rest.

Holy , . 

Carey Sumner: I, I love how Jesus talks about though, like, like Sabbath was, was made for man. Right. And for the Sabbath 

Jonathan Malm: and it shocks me though, how, how important the Sabbath was like, there, there are prophets that that was their whole thing. Like you are not resting like an angry judgment upon Israel. It actually kind of makes sense why the Pharisees were the way they were because like there were, there were prophetic punishments that happened because they weren't keeping the Sabbath day.

Holy. They weren't resting. God takes it seriously. It's crazy. Well, and 

Carey Sumner: if you play that out, it's because he knows us. He knows that when we just keep going and going and going and going, it's, it's going to lead to that burnout. And, you know, you could think of that in the seventh day Sabbath, but I think there's also those, what is the Sabbath within the day, right?

That you're talking about. That rejuvenates, recharges you, it reinvigorates you for the work of the ministry. And as you said, if we can view ministry not just as our jobs, but it's just who we are because we're followers of Jesus, then some of those pressures and burdens get released. Not necessarily that, hey, you got deadlines, got to get things done, but But if I'm investing into people who don't know who Jesus is outside of work, then suddenly that's not work anymore.

That's just the natural rhythm of life. And, and I can make those good relational 

Jonathan Malm: boundaries. Yeah. And I think, I think one of the difficult things about this concept of Sabbath for us is that, you know, Sabbath in Bible times was. In a farm situation or a fisher situation, it was people who are working physically outside and they were getting physically exhausted.

Hey, listen, I work in front of a computer. I work, I, I'm not, you know, chopping wood all day. My body doesn't need that rest. Instead, what I'm doing is I'm spending emotional energy. I'm not spending physical, I'm spending some physical energy, but it's emotional energy. That's the big problem for me. So what's so important is.

Not just resting my body, not having that Saturday where I'm, you know, I'm not doing anything physical because you can't do something physical. It probably is actually a good idea to do something physical on your Sabbath day. Instead, we need to find a way to shut off that emotional energy or that brain energy and let that rest.

And that's what's so hard for people is, no, I'm not working. [00:23:00] I'm responding to an email or I'm just kind of thinking about that problem all day that is coming on Sunday, right? And it, we don't get rest because we need to understand that it's a, it's an emotional. And and mental thing that we're resting a Sabbath that we need to take not just a physical one.

Yeah, that's good. 

Carey Sumner: That's good. All right. Last question. What one thing do you want ministry leaders to know after reading this book? 

Jonathan Malm: Oh, man, I would like them to feel encouraged that there are subtle tweaks. I don't think most ministry leaders are, you know well, let's look at it like this, like, you know, if you keep your car running well, You know, you change your oil here and there, you align your wheel, you do, you do subtle tweaks to your, your car.

It can run at a high capacity, it can run at a high speed. It's only when we neglect it for long term that, that Ferrari only can go 10 miles an hour or can't go at all. So, I want to encourage... pastors, ministry leaders, make those small tweaks. Just check in on your soul from time to time. Check in on what, how are you doing?

Where is your health level? And what can, what tweaks can you make? So you can go at a high, at a high speed. I do believe that high capacity leadership is possible and burnout is not inevitable in those situations, but it requires that constant, those constant little tweaks we got to do. And I love.

Churches and ministries to, to, to embrace that idea. 

Carey Sumner: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Jonathan, it has been great to meet you and chat and have this time today. How can people find out more about don't burn out burn bright and more just about the work that you and Jason 

Jonathan Malm: are doing? Yeah. So again, don't burn out, burn bright.

com is the website that has some bonus materials, like a, a leadership guide that you can walk through your staff with this a personal reflection guide, so you can, you know, as you're going through the book, you can kind of read and answer some questions. It has that assessment and yeah, all the links to all the places you can, you can purchase the book.

 Then if you want to follow me more I'm on Instagram. I make silly little videos about what it's like to work at a church. They're fun and people seem to be liking them. So it's just at Jonathan Malm on Instagram and you can direct message me there. I love talking to people and meeting new people.So awesome. 

Carey Sumner: Well, Jonathan, great to meet you. Thanks for being here. Thank you everyone for tuning in to this episode of the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. And we will see you on the next episode.