Seven-Reasons-Pastors-Burn-Out

I heard the story again last week. A pastor I know announced his resignation. No moral failure. No severe crisis at the church. No major family problems. No sickness. He was simply burned out. That’s how he described it. He said he had gotten to the point that he was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.

So he quit. Without another job. His church family was stunned.

I admit I haven’t seen recent statistics on pastoral burnout but, at least anecdotally, it’s high. It seems that hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear another story of a burnout victim in pastoral ministry.

Why?

What is unique to this vocation that causes such a dramatic dropout rate? May I suggest seven reasons from the hundreds of cases I’ve known through the years?

  1. The 24/7 mentality. Many pastors can’t “turn off” work in their mind. Even on their days off, they are waiting for that next telephone call or next crisis. Thus, they never relax.
  2. Conflict. I often heard it said that conflict is not the problem; it’s how we handle conflict. That’s true to a point. But if church conflict and criticisms are ongoing, pastors wear down. They eventually burn out.
  3. Expectations. All pastors would be problem-free if they were omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Of course, no pastor can meet all the expectations of church members. But many try. And they burn out as a result.
  4. Unwillingness to let go.  Several years ago I was with a pastor who was frantically trying to sort the mail that had just arrived. He was hurrying to go to his next meeting. I asked him why he didn’t let someone else take care of some of things he was trying to do. His blank stare was his answer. He quit ministry three months later and never returned.
  5. No friends. Many pastors fail to develop meaningful friendships, people with whom they can “let their hair down.” Without such outlets, burnout is more likely.
  6. Not suited for some tasks. This issue is similar to trying to meet everyone’s expectations. First, such attempts are physically impossible. Second, pastors are not equipped to do everything well. But many try and many fail.
  7. No life outside the church. I am amazed at the number of pastors who have no meaningful hobbies or recreational activities outside the church. I am less amazed when those pastors burn out and drop out.

Do you see these seven reasons often? What would you add or change? What can we do to help pastors avoid burnout?

UPDATE: Read the seven responses to prevent pastoral burnout here

Comments

  1. Mark George says

    Been there. Done that. Got the “T-shirt”. Now, 10 years later I am anxious to re-enter pastoral ministry. How do you go about that? Seems my “sabbatical” must be a red flag to most churches. Any suggestions or help in taking this journey back into vocational service? Thanks, Mark

    • Thom Rainer says

      Mark. -

      If you get the opportunity to do interim work for a church without a pastor, jump at it. The members of the church can get to know you and, hopefully, consider you to be their next pastor.

      Blessings an prayers friend.

    • Bert says

      Mark, you wrote my life! I been out 10 years and can’t get back in. I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes for full-time, bi-vo and interim positions. I’m “red-flagged”, too. I did have an interim opportunity like Thom suggested. They decided before I started that I would not be considered for the permanent position. I so much want to serve Him again in vocational ministry. I would welcome any suggestion, too, Thom.
      Bert

      • Thom Rainer says

        Bert (and Mark) -

        I recently heard from a friend who was accepted as a volunteer and unpaid associate pastor of a church. In a little over a year, he was back as a full time paid pastor in another church. Apparently the church was willing to look at someone whose resume indicated he was currently on staff at a church.

      • says

        Bert, I have been in bi-voc ministry for the past 7 years. Beause of sheer lack of time, I am forced to lean on others, and be patient with my paradigm for ministry. I am grateful. A friend & I have a mantra: “Ministry is spiritual, complicated and long term”.
        I do have a friend @ Gordon-Conwell seeking to fill mainline pulpits with with gospel-guys. Network in your area. Let me know if I can connect you. Praying for you brother…

      • ric lapaz says

        Have you considered going on a mission trip outside the US doing community organizing among the poorest of the poor in 3rd world countries? That’s what I do now after 30 years in pastoral ministry. It is purely volunteer work. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is. email me – riclapaz03@yahoo.com

    • says

      Find an associate position at a smaller church or growing church plant (i,e, Executive Pastor, Director of Assimilation). Stay there for 1-2 years as a “launching point” and a way to get your skills up and running. I did this after crashing and burning for 7 years. A gracious pastor hired me knowing that I would eventually leave. It was a God-send for both of us. Start small and find contentment. God will raise you up later. He did it for me. So He will probably do it for you.
      Lang Montgomery

    • JW says

      Why not start a bible study for people who don’t attend any church and go from there? I think any pastor who has been away for 10 years, and who is now ready to get back in, has a sharper sword to wield (for good) and would be effective in reaching “un-churched” people!

    • Jim says

      I just stepped down for my season of change/rest. I am a church planter at heart and I just left a very traditional, established church – very hard 7 years!!! Here’s what I am doing – I started a hot dog cart and I am the ‘Pastor on the street.’ The opportunities are amazing! You get to meet a lot of people! I’m building relationships that I would never have as a traditional pastor. I’m creating my own income, not dependant on a church or a committee. On my website, I have a page where I offer to perform weddings and funerals and such. The results have been very encouraging! Full-time ministry doesn’t have to happen in a church.

      • Retired Pastor says

        Jim, I think what you are doing at this present time is outstanding. I think there should be more of this kind of thinking. Not only could it be just a hot dog stand on the streets. It could be done in other ways as well. Keep up the good work and God bless you in what you are doing and the way you are winning souls for Christ.

    • Fr. Brendan Pelphrey says

      One issue that does not get discussed is the presence of psychopathic people in churches. Genuine sociopaths can destroy a pastor, and often the majority of the congregation–or even all of the members–stand back and watch, either out of fear or because they are not sure what to do. I have experienced clearly insane people who bully the pastor, demand impossible things, and are present at every meeting (or boycott the actual church services, but take over board meetings, activities and so on). Such people would be fired from any job, and frequently have been fired–so that they have time to harass the pastor. I think an effective tool in preventing burnout is to educate congregations about church antagonists, and urge the board to remove such people. In the ancient Church, they would have been removed as part of the ministry of the deacons.

      • says

        I agree completely. The main issue are those with Personality Disorders no Psychotics. Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic PD, etc are common in churches. Borderline women have a monopoly on seducing burned out Pastors who are rejected at home. People with Borderline PD are famous for destroying Pastors and families and churches.

        I doubt that any of the people writing her have ever heard of these particular diagnostic categories. The Narcissists get elected to the Deacon/Elder Boards or go into Ministry. They will divide and conquer their Senior Pastors and leave them abused and confused.

        Pastors are usually Co-Dependents and try to rescue the really destructive people and are continually sucked into their sad stories. Every church needs a Counseling Consultant to advise them on dealing with these very destructive people.

        Lifeway needs to have seminars for every Pastor on dealing with such people.

      • Ken says

        @Brendan and Gary: Have you ever read “Antagonists in the Church”, by Kenneth Haugk? If not, you should – and so should every pastor and lay leader. It’s really helped me in identifying antagonists and heading off church conflict (by the way, I am NOT Kenneth Haugk. We just happen to have the same first name). I’d also highly recommend “Well-Intentioned Dragons”, by Marshall Shelley. Both books are easy reads, and very practical.

      • Lawrence Bennett says

        Thanks for your comments about those with personality disorders–we have a couple and huge problems have emerged as a result. Thanks for the sources, Ken.

    • says

      Mark,

      Have you ever considered full time ministry in a smal rural church. If you would be interested in this, check out http://www.villagemissions.org. We are always looking for qualified pastors who are willing to give themselves to serving in forgottem mission field of rural America.

      David

      • Judi says

        Hey, I was going to suggest Village Missions as well. My husband and I served with VM for almost 20 years. We had to leave ministry to care for aging parents and are now working with En Gedi Retreats (engediretreats.com) caring for pastors. Village Missions is a great organization and won’t turn you down because you have struggled in the past!
        Judi

  2. Rick Stevens says

    So many of the reasons & remedies regarding pastors & burnout focus on the pastor’s behavior.

    Certainly pastors, like everyone else, have to take responsibility for their lives. But I’m convinced the nearly singular focus on the pastor misses the most significant point.

    When will we begin to take seriously the organizational context? Isn’t pastoral burnout a failure of the church? A lay person would & should expect the church to come to their aid long before burnout reaches full bloom. Doesn’t the church have the same responsibility toward pastors?

    Instead pastoral burnout is too often one more burden & blame we place on pastors.

    Churches need to take responsibility because pastors need relief.

    May God bless His people & His pastors,

    Rick Stevens

    • says

      In my experience, pastors are much less likely to reveal their weaknesses .. their problems .. or even that they HAVE problems, than people in the congregation are, to understand and help. The congregation shouldn’t have to be detectives and figure it out for themselves.

      I’ve heard pastors say that people in a church dress up and polish up and go to church looking like nothing’s wrong, while inside they’re all messed up. But I do not recall pastors ever stating that about themselves, and certainly not in specifics.

      Your paragraph #5 should have been typed IN ALL CAPS. I know 2 pastors of churches of which I was a member, with whom I’ve also been good, close friends. That friendship helped them in a big way; I know so because they told me so. And it’s not that I’m anything special, just that I was a good friend.

      • Eric says

        I knew a pastor who shared his struggles in an accountability style men’s group and it was used against him… before you knew it the whole church knew his struggles and people lost respect for him. It was very sad. One more reason pastors keep to themselves.

    • says

      Larger, multi-staff churches may put guidelines in place to monitor their pastors’ behavior and therefore help warn and prevent burnout. But that is probably the exception. Any size church can also do this if they have trained and informed leaders to whom the pastor is accountable. Unfortunately, the burden to take action is usually on the pastor. Having a life outside of the pastorate is crucial for survival. I learned the hard way. I hope you won’t have to.

    • says

      I agree with Rick Stevens. Churches need to actually plan for their pastors to take at least two weeks with pay and send them to a retreat center for them to get their batteries recharged. This is not and should not be considered a vacation but a necessary part of their spiritual, mental and physical care. Conferences and seminars are NOT vacations. They are work! Our church graciously sent us to a beautiful retreat center in Colorado where we were ministered to and even counseled by professionals who deal with burn out and other ministry draining events and crises. The ten days were invaluable and I believe saved our ministry from sure burn-out. I strongly recommend every church to do the same for their Pastors before they burn out. Don’t wait till it’s too late.

      • Patricia Thornton says

        What a good idea; this is what I will suggest for our pastor. Thank you; we certainly don’t want to lose him and want to prevent burn out.

  3. Rick Wolgamott says

    I agree with your insights. I would add one: Being only seen as an employee with no real position to bring change. So often those who “hold the reigns” thwart any meaningful progress and many people in the church depend on these who control. The senior pastor is only a spokesperson on Sunday’s and is only paid to do what he is told.

  4. says

    Brothers, there’s an organization called “Ministry Coaching” that specializes on “life coaching” for pastors. I have seen their resources and put a member of my staff through it. It deals with “balance” on the life of a leader, in such a way that these “unbalances” that end up in ministers leaving their calling, are readjusted. At least, check on their website http://www.ministrycoaching.org
    Hope this help a little.
    Pastor Gadiel Rios

  5. says

    Additional: Church failed to give their pastor a meaningful break.
    I think a huge number of pastors does not have a quality vacation for years. Not even a hint of sabbatical leave. lol.

  6. says

    What about Bi-vocational pastors who has a young family (All children are 7 and under)? I am a teacher at a public school (middle school), I pastor a growing church, my children are small, and my wife is ill (trying to get her disability). I read these blogs a lot. I ask my mentor and friend. Everything is the same. You need to take off. I think, “It is easy for everyone to say because they don’t have the extra pressure of above.” What could you suggest for someone like me? Someone who has to work to keep the insurance and the bills paid, raise the kids, and take care of my wife. I am not complaining. Please don’t think this is a rant. I am just eagerly trying to find a way for me, and am willing to take any advice! Thank you in advance.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jim -

      I have never had an easy answer for bi-vocational pastors. That’s why you pastors are my heroes. I hope we can hear from some of the readers about some ways you can be helped.

    • says

      Bi-vocational pastor MUST decide how many hours they can reasonably give to ministry. Then focus on the -13 priorities that must be accomplished. Part of those hours should focus on immediately equipping others with “on the job” training (take them with you). Then hand off (delegate) the ministry to others. Releasing others who are gifted and passionate is the best step you can immediately take.

    • Darcy Abbott says

      Jim…how well I can relate to what you are saying. My 3 children are all 6 and under, and I am technically working 3 jobs just to make ends meet. I have to force myself to take downtime every week after the children go to bed just to relax. An additional area of need I see that has not been mentioned is personal and church finance classes within required ministerial training. How many pastors burn out due to money issues, both personally and professionally? That is one of the biggest stresses I have at this moment, and it is the one thing that could force me out of ministry right now. My reason would be seeking a better job. The Call is the only thing that keeps me doing what I am doing.
      Also, thanks, Thom, for this article. There is so much I could say, and I can relate to many of the issues on your list. I think the roughest part of ministry is what my dad told me years ago. He said ministry is very lonely, and I have learned this too many times to count, unfortunately.

  7. says

    For those who have taken a sabbatical, I would suggest that you consider planting a new church if one is hard to come by. This will help another local church, association and state convention in expanding the ministry.

    Thom, I think the biggest problem with burnout is an entitlement mentality that permeates our society and has drifted into the church. People (both church members and pastors) think they deserve something that they are not getting or wanting. Moreover, this mentality leads people to become disenfranchised and disillusioned with the church. What each person in the church needs (people and pastors) is the Gospel on a daily basis: remembering what it is that God through Christ Jesus has done on our behalf. We need to teach this consistently from our pulpits to the pews to the people in our communities (how’s that for some alliteration?).

    That’s my $0.02.

      • Roger Van Donkelaar says

        Not a shameful plug at all … Great read. I just came back into full time ministry at 66 after 3 years of retirement … Hardest transition I’ve ever made. Can’t do it all like I used to, feeling somewhat guilty, but loving the call to ministry that never diminished. Go figure! Trusting God is easier to tell the people than it is to apply to my own life. Sensing a stronger dependence upon God through prayer.

        • Christina says

          Roger, I think you hit the nail on the head. Pastors often get so busy being pastors that they forget to be children of God. Prayer life is essential. I cannot even begin to imagine taking on the task of being a pastor without a daily set time to be in the presence of Almighty God. We all need that relationship with Jesus and the Father. We find rest there and we find a renewed strength. And, yes, make sure your contract has a 2-4 paid weeks of free time. We are fortunate to have several pastors on staff. Any one of them are more than capable to fill in and they do. Our head pastor only preaches 2 times a week. Others fill in the gaps. We also use our congregationmember as lay ministers. Many people have developed skills that can take some of the burden off the pastors. There is no one person in charge of seeing every person in the hospital. We delegate. We delegate most everything. The body of Christ is the church, not the pastor. We are suppose to serve one another.

    • says

      Here are a few of the reasons Paul didn’t burn out: Lydia, Timothy, Barnabas, , Priscilla, Aquilla, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus. Claudia, Crescens, Titus, Luke , Mark, Tychicus, Carpus

      • Simul Iustus et Peccator says

        Yes Lang! He had co-workers. They appointed elders. And moved on.

        I also wonder if working with leather, long periods of quiet on some trips, etc., were occasions for prayer, relationships, observing God’s handiwork, relfection on his heart and church issues, etc.

        Paul was intense and could teach all night–but not every night.

  8. says

    As a Coach for Ministers, Missionaries and Churches I also see many fine people hit the wall after several years of ministry. May I add my thoughts to the great ones listed.
    1. There are no perks, rewards and affirmation for a Minister/missionary that has a balanced life. There are only rewards for people who are “workaholics”. Thus, those who take a biblically based sabbatical are perceived as damaged goods. Balanced Ministers need not apply.

    2. Ministers get absolutely no training on emotional, relational balance before entering the minefield of professional ministry.

    3. The family role of many Ministers is that of a Rescuer, Hero, Overly Responsible Slave who is incredibly sensitive to any criticism, negative feedback, failures or upset members. A Hero Must always have a Victim to Rescue. They know nothing about how to say “No, thanks. I can not save you son, father, husband and neighbor. God alone saves.

    4. The harder we attempt to Rescue the more we will be criticized. The higher we are put on a pedestal the farther we will fall into depression and anxiety and our wives and kids be upset. We had never heard of “The Rescue Ministry Triangle Trap.” until the wife leaves, the kids rebel and the Deacons attack us for failing to save them from themselves. The Rescue Ministry Trap is this formula: A person or Problem Persecutes (An attack by drugs, sinful behavior,rebellion, sickness, etc) the Victim. We are asked to Rescue the Victim from the Persecutor and be a Hero Rescuer. When the Hero Rescuer fails, as we must since we can save nobody from themselves, the Victim will be angry and attack the Hero Rescuer and tell everybody that we are the Persecutor but we feel like a Victim. No wonder Heroes burn out.

    5. The biblical answer is found in Romans 12:2 Stop being conformed to the world systems demands and their fleshly desires and be transformed by the supernatural renewing of your mind.
    6. I realize that the Hero Rescuers reading this will be hurt, angry, bitter and resentful because I am “Blaming them” and they feel like the real Victims. No problem, if you cannot learn to do ministry like Jesus then after you hit the wall come and see me. That is how I make a very good living.

      • Simul Iustus et Peccator says

        “Resilient Ministry” by Bob Burns, et al. affirms what you summarized. It’s based on a 7 years of research, surveys, interviews and focus groups, supported by the Lily foundation and several seminaries.
        “Dangerous Calling” by Paul Tripp is an intense look inside the pastoral heart, like an uncomfortable check-up, where you’re diagnosed and found to be a sinner, no matter how many arguments you offer to the contrary.
        Church leadership communities are WAY over-idealistic about their pastors, who need the gospel more than anyone in the church.

  9. Craig Lewko says

    That’s why the first church had Deacons, not dickens. To help with the ministry not control it. I have been in churches where I didn’t even know I had a deacon or ever heard from one to help in time of need. There is a need to revamp that system. I haven’t been a pastor but have been active for going on 34 years. I have done multiple ministry but cannot say God has called me to any particular one. He has allow me to enjoy what I do and has multiplied my efforts many a time. People have tried to tell me I need to be or do but I found my rest in The Lords efforts and not my own. I think this may be another problem where God wants to use us but there is a greater desire to be someone we are not more than who God wants you to be. Some of these people may be out of rank. I struggled with this in the early days of my salvation until God settled the issue for me though Ephesians chapter 6 where He needs people to live as soldiers on a daily basis ready for an attack (I wrote a poem as a testimony to this, and if anyone would like to read it let me know). We are to encourage each other on the front lines following instructions and maybe not giving them. Each day is a new day that God has to handle for me. I like # 5 b/c this is what I see when a person cannot be on the outside the same as on the inside b/c of bondage that legalism will put someone under.

  10. says

    Thom,
    Like some of the other guys who have already posted, I have gone through a “burn-out” situation. Fortunately, I had a group of godly men around me that went to bat for me and got me some time off (about 6 weeks). Not only did they get me time off, they set up a plan to meet with me during that time off. I also had a caring church that gave me that time to recuperate. From my experience, here is what helped…
    1. If you are beginning to see physical signs of burnout (anxiety attacks, loss of appetite, insomnia, irratibility), talked to a licensed Christian counselor. The counselor
    may recommend you see your physician. Follow their advice!
    2. Share what is happening with some spiritually mature men. You might want to start with someone outside your church family who knows you and your church.
    3. Seek, trust and follow the counsel of these leaders. The guys in my life talked to the leadership of my church and got me the time off. Most churches love their
    pastors and his family. If they know the depth of the problems you are going through, they would want to help. And if they don’t, better to find out now than later. There
    are worse things in the world than getting fired.
    4. Use your time off to rest, read and reflect. In addition to Scripture, I found Wayne Cordeiro’s book “Leading on Empty” and Brennan Manning’s book, “Ruthless Trust”
    helpful.
    5. Exercise
    6. Hang out with your family. During my time off, I would sit of the couch and look at the picture of my wife, kids and grandchildren, that was over our fireplace. I wanted
    to get better, not just so I could go back to pastoring, but for them.
    Finally, you mentioned “expectations”. They can go both ways. Sometimes a pastor has expectations of the church he leads that are not realistic. When churches don’t live up to our expectations, we get angry. Then we internalize that anger, which leads to depression. Live with that long enough and you will burn out. It helps me to remember that, local churches are collections of redeemed, recovering sinners, led by a pastor that is a redeemed, recovering sinner.

    Thanks again, Thom, for this very timely post!

  11. Brother John says

    Lack of regular exercise is a huge factor in all this as well. Even just a 30-minute brisk walk every day can make a huge difference.

      • says

        Very interesting conversation. I am kind of a “greenhorn” when it comes to ministry. I have a desire to plant a church and pastor it. Right now I have just bought an apartment, and am planning to get married on November 2nd. The frustration I deal with is trying so hard to maintain a Godly testimony in a very ungodly environment at work. I’m pretty hard on myself any time I make a mistake at work. I feel like I have failed God. I am anxious to be in full time ministry, and scared at the same time.

        I did want to comment on the exercise. I think that is very important for anyone. It really does take a lot of stress off. Not only that but eating healthy and balanced diets. Even what we consume can affect how our bodies feel and function, which affects our mind, and ultimately can lead to difficulties spiritually. I’ve been trying to promote a health and fitness program as my own business to help take off some of the financial burdens. Hopefully it can replace my full time job or help get me started on my mission to plant a church.

  12. says

    Burn out is in the head and heart of the Minister not the deacons, members or public. The great suggestions about sabbaths, time off, rest, delegation are great but I’d the Minister needs to be a hero he will always refuse to do them unti a heart attack, divorce, teenager with drugs, etc.

  13. Patrick Crosby says

    Where I worship we don’t use the term pastor but what it sounds like is the equivalent to a Shepard or elder. At any one time we have between 5-15 elders that don’t get paid.
    1. Thank you for what you do -serving God.
    2. You are not responsible for my salvation. I am a grown man with grown up decisions and real consequences! You can’t prevent things from happening.
    3. You are not my personal servant.
    4. You are someone I should be able to trust to explain the difficult teachings of Jesus.

    My family has many ties to a certain denomination that holds the preacher/pastor responsible similar to what is mentioned by others here. Many became tired and frustrated. Don’t be like them. That is a large reason I don’t worship in that denomination.

    Remember, Jesus didn’t convince everyone to follow Him. What makes you think you can fix everyone’s problems?

    Serve god first, others second and yourself last. The difference in serving and surviving is knowing your role, knowing what you can change and what you cannot.
    Stop spoiling me! Tell me the truth, tell me you need a break. Let me help you; I need to serve too.
    Again, thank you for what you do.
    Just another church member,
    Patrick

  14. Ray Earley says

    #5 hit me. I’m still somewhat new in my area and it’s hard to make friends here w/other pastors. I go to assoc. meetings, started a pastor’s conference, etc. Nothing really worked. Most of these guys grew up around here, so they are well established w/one another and have been for years.
    As far as developing close friend relationships w/in the church, I have learned the hard way that you just cannot trust church members with “friendship” information and hurts.
    Toughing it out,
    Ray

    • TJ says

      I’m with you, Ray. Just this week the one person in my church who I considered a true friend, my associate pastor, resigned out of the blue and sent our deacons a long ranting email about how I had wronged him and was promoting a false Gospel in the church. If that weren’t hurtful enough, he did this without ever raising a single concern to me about any of the wrongs I’m now said to have committed. This is also the third significant conflict in the past 4 months, and my one year anniversary is two weeks away.

  15. BlueThunder says

    Going on eight years, my formal ministry experience has been the opposite; pastors will do anything to minimize and insult your reputation to keep you out of ministry positions. Many would rather the entire church stay small or stagnate than have you leading any real hands on ministry. Growth is good only if it revolves around them. They aren’t burnt out. They are just stuck on their own importance. I’m sure there are exceptions but these are types that I ran into.

  16. Whitney says

    Forgive me if I’m overreaching or repeating – I’m neither in ministry as a “professional” nor did I take the time to read every comment. However, after having read several it occurs to me that a large part of pastoral burnout is that, perhaps, the Church in developed countries just has the wrong cultural idea. Sure its great to have a President and CEO and CFO and CIO and yadda yadda yadda at the head of any successful business. I think for too long God’s church has been treated as a business…..where’s there’s a CEO everyone answers to (God) and then there’s the Pastor. I think Corinthians clearly points to a different kind of church – organized testimony, no formulaic equations or time stamps in worship…. Sure, ok, Paul’s kindof a Circuit Rider but when he’s not there, the Church in Corinthians is able to (albeit in heavy sin) hold its own and Paul instructs them in ways in which to correct their errors in his absence. Maybe Pastors burnout not just because they have too much on their plates, or they have the 24/7 job of the weenie whiners in the congregation PLUS a full time job, or they’re so busy dealing with the intricacies of sin in the Church that they can’t make enough time for God to fill their own cup – but maybe because the idea of CHURCH is completely whacked and out of sorts with what we see in scripture. Success isn’t measured quantitatively in a body by budget needs or butts in seats (perhaps like a business), but rather the fruits of the outpouring of the Spirit and Love from the congregation out. I see this VERY rarely in churches as a whole, but have caught glimpses of it as a few congregants love on one another here and there. I have yet, however, to see a congregation actively support in love their pastor and his family. And the families burn out way faster than the pastors…..thus perhaps “Christians” themselves are responsible for the resultant stereotypical “preacher’s kid”. By ignoring their duty to support the pastor and his family so that he might focus on ministry and not have to also deal with the insignificant stresses of like (like his grass growing three feet tall because he has back to back weddings, funerals, impromptu pastoral counseling appointments, homeless men that need assistance, etc). I imagine if congregants responded to Pastors and their families as Christ, in the way Paul pictures throughout Corinthians, that not only would ministers NOT burn out, but their families would never want to leave the church, ever. I threw this idea out at a small group I no longer attend, when asked for hands-on weekly ministry ideas to adopt in the following year, and got a room full of cold shoulders and stares full of ,”HMPH. Heck NO! You’re crazy.” Thus, I think ultimately the reason for Pastor burnout is improper cultural structuring of the Church, AND congregants unwilling to be obedient to a call in scripture to support their minister.

  17. says

    I think we (pastors) sometimes have wrong expectations in ministry. Things will happen rather we do a good job or not, and there is never a formula there to figure anything out.

    I know John MacArthur had his entire staff against him 10 years in with those same staffs and 200 members of his congregation including elders condemning him and his preaching ready to blow-up the church. Jonathan Edward got kicked out from his church 20 some years in the same church, and Charles Spurgeon also getting kicked out after 25 years in the same church and gets discredited (red-flagged) by the denomination. And these men are the best of the best in ministry.

    I feel pretty burned out myself 5 years into ministry mainly because church can afford to pay me full-time. I’m actually afraid that I might not get back in ministry if I decide to leave and take on a job.

    • Darcy Abbott says

      Great point, DG. I know of several instances of this, and the pastor either had to leave ministry or face a divorce. I think we miss the unsung heroes of the pastor’s home, the spouse. Thanks for bringing this up in this conversation.

  18. Scott Cassel says

    I think all of these are spot on. They do place a great deal of the responsibility on the pastor, but that’s probably as it should be. Self care from burnout is part of our ministry task. Having said that, churches and denominations would do well to actually do something to help – and saying “don’t burn out” doesn’t count. If pastors are truly an important resource for the work of the Kingdom, then caring for the resource is both moral and strategic.

  19. Randall Slack says

    What about betrayal? I pastored a rural church for 7-1/2 years (grew from 25 to 60 the first year). About 4 years into my pastorate, a man who had become my “friend” (who had been a former elder at this church) wanted to return to the Board of Elders to “help me.” He did return and three years later, turned the entire board against me. The church youth were growing in numbers and, along with that, we began to introduce newer music (we did not replace all traditional music). It seems that he and his wife did not like the music and were determined to return to traditional music. After arguing for over a year (at every board meeting) one of the elders stood up near the end of church one Sunday, and demanded to know why we were singing a worship song, “Create in me a Clean Heart, based upon Psalm 51:10). I resigned a week later.

  20. says

    Hey Thom is Fantasy Football a hobby? Seriously sports has been a great break and release from the pastoral ministry for the last 20 years. I run every morning and coach my son’s football and baseball teams!! I try to golf but not as much as I used to. Someone once said to me, “Golf doesn’t that take 5 hours???” I looked at him and said “Exactly!!!” There is nothing like being out on a plush course with a couple good friends for the good part of a day! So I guess I do have hobbies. Maybe that will help me do ministry for 20 more years God willing !! Thanks for the post and The Lord be with you!!

  21. says

    Love the brevity of this post, packed with such truth. Well, at least from my point of view. I’m a first in my family to be in full-time ministry we are in our 23rd year. I have experienced all of the above, over half of them in the present. Over the last 4 years I’ve learned to say “no” and learned to separate “idealism” from leaders and congregants from what I feel God is leading me to do. However, you stated it, #3-#6 are still what I deal with, therefore, #1 becomes my biggest problem. I pray, I “give” it to the Lord, etc, etc….but I can’t turn it off! Most recently, I’ve been going through the book, “Leading On Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro with a group of other pastors in our area (North Dallas). He went through it and did a fantastic job putting it into a book, with practical application for follow-through. Thanks for the article – I’m not alone (1 Kings 19:15-18)!

  22. Rich says

    I don’t aim to rain on anyone’s parade…however, I’ve seen some talk about the Pastoral ministry like it’s a job or something…I could be wrong here but the majority of Pastor’s who seem burn out to me were to busy treating it like a job or a business instead of a calling. I mean you might want to consider was it God who really called you? Do we not have faith enough for us to believe the same God that called you is able to keep you there? God is the one that promotes, not a pulpit committee and any other man for that matter…I haven’t really heard anything about that…The Pastor’s that are in my (about (4) area have been in the same church from 25-30 years…If we take a biblical approach instead of a rational one, the ministry of the word which is what will feed the flock of God, which is the Pastors purpose, is the main duty of the Pastor, not to serve tables…where is it in the bible that a Pastor is to be available 24/7? just some thoughts…

  23. says

    Thom, thank you for this! I’ve always enjoyed your well thought out discussions and observations. I am a church planter (3 yrs old)…(the church, not me :)). My family and I started this ministry with a burden from God and a vision to see our city introduced to the power of Christ! We had no human help to begin with, a real “start from scratch” ministry. A friend introduced me to your book ‘Simple Church’ and let me tell you…it revolutionized my mind set! As a church planter, I found it to be the most practice source for ministry…outside of the Scriptures of course! Forgive me for rambling….here’s the point. I have felt burnout before, in our new ministry as well. Maybe it’s carnal, but here’s why:RESULTS. When you plant a church, bi vocational like I did, you tend to put a lot of weight on your shoulders about who showed up, who didn’t show up, etc. Then, when I became full time (6 months ago) it got worse for me, because I expected more out of myself. To all who may read this, if you are on that verge of burnout because of a lack of results…here’s my encouragement: if you take credit for when attendance is down, then you’ll take credit for when it is up. It’s His church, let Him build it! You are His servant, let that sink in a bit…GOD BLESS.

  24. says

    I have had a ministry to Pastors and Christian Leaders for over 30 yrs. In the last several yrs. I’ve had to very much limit it because everybody wants it free and denominations have been unwilling to help. We are in Alaska and take our clients out into the wilderness to fish and relax. Most will fish for a couple of days then pretty much sleep the rest of the time. Everyone of them upon leaving say to us in some way “I didn’t know how much I needed that. I’m going home and change my life style! I’m not aware of any that have.

  25. says

    I guess I approach this from a different angle. I come with no answers, just questions. I am a bi-vocational church planter, and honestly, failing. I’ve been a student of leadership and church growth, I have the degree, etc. I went through all of the training, had the assessments, and today, after 20 years in ministry, this process has certainly been humbling and forced transparency. I don’t know if ministry is even in my future. No moral failure, no conflict, just failure. The effects of ministry and all of the cliche’ issues associated with it have taken its toll on me physically. I am not the same person who moved to plant the church, but I am not sure I want to be. I have learned a lot about myself, but I cannot say that this is what burnout looks like. Feels like death, looks like the titanic, and as humbling as an outhouse.

  26. Bert says

    I have been following this blog since my first post early on. I appreciate all the comments and viewpoints posted here. I have struggled with writing this post but feel I must. I believe burnout could be defined as increasingly overwhelming circumstances until there is a final straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. In my experience I was increasingly overwhelmed with church conflict including worship wars staff conflict, infidelity of a staff member’s wife, undermining of my leadership by a staff member in which more and more of my time was taken with these issues. So much time that my family was neglected to the point that my wife had an affair. That was the final straw. I could not take any more and I resigned. My intention was to take a sabbatical to repair my marriage. When I tried to go back to ministry I was “red-flagged” for leaving the ministry and not currently serving. It’s been 10 years now. I most certainly feel called to ministry and never viewed it as just a job. I certainly agree with the post regarding care for the pastor’s wife from the congregation. The reality is it doesn’t happen. In fact my wife felt isolated from having any real friends. And she is a huge extrovert. The isolation from me from being overwhelmed with an ever growing list of crises in the church and from the church folks who always kept her at arm’s length contributed to seeking intimacy elsewhere. She is certainly responsible for her own sin but I and my church certainly didn’t do enough to help prevent it. All in all I believe the way we do church in America today is broken. Those serving in ministry, and there families, are not allowed to be real people with real issues. If the church finds out you are real people then you are seen as damaged and unworthy to serve. The truth is the damaged and unworthy of this world can relate much better to a damaged and unworthy pastor. Unfortunately, the people of most of our established churches treat such damaged and unworthy people (and pastors and families) like they are afraid something dirty might rub off on them so we are shunned. Something must change if the church is to be able to continue to advance the Kingdom in America.
    Bert

  27. says

    The emotional and spiritual pain in these letters make me want to cry. There are several Christian Counselors that can be helpful to Christian leaders but I rarely hear of Baptists asking for assistance. Just the people writing on this topic would fill a great therapists practice. I am seeing Missionaries and Pastors who have no training in setting boundaries, dealing with dysfunctional members and staff and getting along at home. Thom, when is Lifeway going to Marshall resources for these folks? They need help?

  28. Daron says

    Dr Rainer,
    Thank-you for you desire to encourage pastors and the all-too common issue of “burn-out” in this evangelical culture, and also understand there is no 1 specific reason but I am a bit confused by this article.
    From what I understand from the scriptures. This article seems particularly lacking in biblical clarity on the issue of burn out. Though I agree with some of the reasons above could lead to a pastor ” burning out”, Paul in 2 Cor 4:1-6, seems to lay out vastly different counsel on why pastors burn out, and how pastors should keep from ” burn out” ….How they keep from “ἐγκακέω “, and it has little to do with any of the reasons listed above. If anyone had reason to ” burn out”, it was the apostle Paul as 2 Cor 11: 23-29 clearly states. Yet he grounded his thinking, and his motivations to keep from “burn out” in different, and I would even argue somewhat antithetical to some of the 7 reasons listed above. For example ” “to much conflict” and lack of ” letting your hair down ” time have nothing to do with Paul’s brand of ministry in the NT. I pray that those that want to “shepherd the flock of God who were purchased with his own blood”, would go to the specific Biblical encouragements to keep us from ” burn out “, and not to advice that is strikingly close to what the world would offer a person struggling at their job. ( 1 Cor 2:5). I do not want to presume that your intent was not specifically practical ways men can keep from burning out, but I believe that should have been qualified at the outset if that was the agenda. If it was meant to be biblical advice then i would argue it is insufficient at best.
    Daron

  29. SOREN OX says

    I believe having a multiplicity of teachers in the church could help to avoid burn-outs. A group of elders could hold each other accountability for moral integrity and Biblical teaching; and one another with other church responsibilities. But the preaching and teaching of God’s would ought to be the chief objective. Lastly, having several teachers in the church could help to avoid the congregation becoming too attached to one pastor.

  30. The Crew says

    I hope this is not taken the wrong way, because I do believe that the issues brought forth in this article are true dangers and need to be addressed and dealt with by the shepherd and those who are sherderded. With that said, I think we need to be careful to elevate the difficulties of pastoral ministry in such a way that portrays the pastorate as an impossible vocation. If Paul is our example, enduring hardship can be expected and endured because of God. To think that Paul did not have to deal with some of these difficulties would be naïve. Rather the strength to endure and the ability to work through these types of situations comes from God. Each one of these seven dangers can be exacerbated by a Pastor that believes the church rises and falls with him. Pastors need to ensure that they delegate, prioritize, and disciple in such a way that ensures that the weight of the local church does not sit squarely on the shoulders of the pastor, but on the local body as a whole.

  31. Greg Stiff says

    8. Unrealistic expectations from others. He expects them to respond which reassures him he is reaching them. The expectation others will remember him for special moments such as his birthday, holidays, and anniversaries, when in fact, these are needs to be met by his family.
    9. Inability to accept other’s hobbies, likes, pursuits which seem irrelevant, un-spiritual, and out of step with his personal choices as a Christian.
    10. Fear of his own failure. In an effort to keep things moving he alienates others from his hidden weaknesses and only empowers others to assist him look good.
    11. Not teachable. His dwindling ability to hunger for the Word of God and a developing attitude of a Biblical know-it-all eventually leads to an alienated and barricaded mentality.
    12. Never arriving. The sense of failure when his friends in the corporate world or blue collar trades begin to reap the reward of investments, and retire comfortably, realizing he has not been offered the same opportunities in the small church he has pastored. He sees his children struggled more than their peers while they were homeschooled or in small Christian schools and not offered the opportunities found in larger circles. As other seemingly better trained, more influential, and prospering younger men step onto the Pastoral scene he may feel out of place, date, and fellowship. This leads to retreat.

  32. says

    Three points I would add. People who burn out . . .
    1) Don’t study God’s Word for personal growth. Henri Nouwen identified the need to be alone with God before having the power to minister to God’s people. Jesus was our example here.
    2) Don’t fast or pray regularly. I find myself close to burnout if I am not intentional about these disciplines. They bring me back to the only One who can give me life.
    3) Don’t listen/read good stories or laugh.

  33. Al Ellis says

    I am a Bi-vocational Minister of Music and have worked in churches for over 25 years. The thing I see as the biggest proponent for pastoral burnout is deacons who aren’t doing their Biblical call. They see themselves as the pastors boss and not his helper. People have asked me if I will ever transition over to the pastorate and I say no-way. I could not do it.

  34. Bryan H says

    Here are a few other reasons I have experienced and witnessed. 1. The fishbowl effect. Life as a pastor, like many public positions, is lived in a fishbowl. Unlike entertainers, sports figures or politicians however, the pastoral fishbowl isn’t in the position of the media and translated for the world. It’s in the position of the very people pastors are ministering too. There is no level of separation and the minister knows whose eyes are glaring in. This makes it incredibly difficult to deal with family issues or internal problems that are present in the minister. 2. Financial strain. Many ecclesiastical bodies have unrealistic expectations of the return on investment (or lack thereof) they are making in hiring full time staff. Through the years I have witnessed far too many ministers in financial crisis because they are not compensated at a level adequate to cover basic obligations, let alone live at a level commensurate to the community they minister in. Add to that the expectations placed on the spouse of a minister, which is often a heightened volunteer set of positions, and the ability to function adds up. I have not seen the statistic in years, but observation alone leads one to the conclusion that a disproportionate number of ministerial spouses do not work outside of the home. Whether by refusal, false expectation, image, theological belief or another reason, a number of ministers burn out because of the attempt made to live on a below average income in a single income family environment. 3. Disenchantment. This is more high level and calls for a critical thought approach, however it is certainly a reason in a populous of ministers and leads to burnout. Ministry is in great part non-tangible. Simply put, ministers often spend years seeing the a true disconnect between what is biblically espoused and the reality of what happens among members, how people are treated, how people act, how principles taught actually take root and grow. If the divorce rate among evangelical Christians is actually now higher than the general population, one has to question the effect that has on ministers. If infighting, power struggles and conflict are no difference in the church than in the world, or in the eyes of ministers actually higher, there has to be an effect on ministers. If no tangible victories are recognized, some ministers may really struggle. If they are wired to function in an environment where they need to see results and the results they see are all negative… Burnout. Just empirical, non scientific observations.

  35. Andrew H. says

    Sometimes pastors are given responsibility without the authority by the governing board. The result is that their work is frustrated, undermined, or opposed without any recourse. Without the “teeth” to ensure that plans get executed, pastors can grow weary and feel the meaninglessness of their work.

  36. Eric Calhoun says

    I’ve served for over fifty plus months as pastor over a membership of 100 plus visitors weekly, but I’m receiving no support in developing members into disciple. I’ve requested teachers for the entire time and no one has come forward to assist. Because of that all age groups are combine together also there’s is no youth ministry because there is no one willing to assist. There are two high school principles and three teachers but still no help. This has gone on for four years.

    I’ve partitioned God for help yet no aid has arrived. I not living in disobedience or willfully sinning. I presented my resignation to the deacons 10-6-2013 but they wouldn’t accept it but all agreed that my concerns about the ministry were right. I believe that God impressed upon my spirit to move own but I’m not 100% sure if my frustration is influencing my decision. This is affecting my personal devotion. I meet with the deacons (10-10-203) once again but I have no desire to stay. Please pray for me.

  37. John Hendee says

    Good article.
    All are good points. I think another is that many preachers are ‘running’ a church and have little of any real evangelistic opportunities. I remember years back when I was an Asso. in charge of evangelism in a mega church. The preacher one day asked me if I knew what ‘key me up in the ministry’? I was sure what he meant. He said “I see you the morning after the night before.” The night before would be when I was out teaching the evangelistic studies I developed. He said being out there and seeing people to Christ keep everything else in perspective. Sadly, way too many preachers and staff members do not know now to effectively share the Gospel with other people If that is your case I invite you to take my 8 week on line class starting in 2014 with Hope International University. You will be trained and you will start having ‘ the morning after the night before’ experiences. John Hendee; Chair of World Evangelism, HIU. Contact Phil at pbtowne@hiu.edu, if interested.
    Or write me at john.hendee@cox.net

  38. Sean says

    8. No financial support.
    Often times You are expected to work for free or expected to work full time jobs, raise your family be there for every emergency and counseling need and still have time to study GOD’S word, pray and prepare sermons and teachings as well as oversee/do the administration and misc church needs. This has often been my experience over the past plus decade of ministry.

    • Ken says

      Well, come on, it’s not like being a pastor is a REAL job… (I’ve been a pastor for 18 years, and believe me, that comment is purely in jest!). To be honest, I have a lot of respect for you bivocational guys. I don’t know how you do it. Every now and then I’ve preached on those passages that speak of a church’s duty to support their leaders financially. I usually say something like, “If a church can afford to pay its pastor full-time, it should do so. If a pastor has to be bivocational, then you need to respect his schedule. You can’t always leave your workplace at the drop of a hat, so it’s not fair to expect your pastor to do so.”

      P.S. I use the term “full time” only in terms of financial support. I realize every pastor is a full-time pastor, but not every pastor gets full-time pay!

  39. says

    Another reason for pastoral burnout: a workaholic senior pastor who demands that all the associates keep the same hours that he does. Any attempts at delegation are confronted as “slacking off”. Somehow, he is able to keep this pace, and the associates who burned out and left were viewed as “probably not really called to ministry”.

    This is not uncommon.

  40. says

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could just pinpoint the single most prevalent reason for Pastor burnout? But as we see from the replies, the reasons are as numerous as those who burnout. And Thom has done a wonderful job condensing them into just seven reasons. I would like to add some suggestions that might help prevent burnout even before it begins.
    1. Examine your call. Being called of God into the ministry does not always mean into pastoral ministry. There are many different facets of ministry including preaching, counseling, writing, etc.
    2. Do not assume that when the offer comes, it is God’s will. Many pastors are fresh out of seminary or fresh out of an unpleasant ministry and are eager to make the move. Pastors are human just like the rest of us. They have been in school for several years and they want to begin making their way in the world. They want to be productive and make a difference.
    3. In ranking the pros and cons when deciding to accept an offer, don’t rank salary as the most important factor. Remember the saying, “All that glitters is not gold.” I had a cousin who once served on the board of a large denominational church in the Midwest. He said when they called a pastor and offered $250 a week (this was years ago), the candidate would say, well we don’t think God is leading in that direction but will pray about it. When they offered $375 a week, the candidate would indicate that God was leading in that direction and would pray about it. But when offered $500 a week, the answer was that definitely, God was calling him to that church. Unfortunately, we as humans are prideful (even pastors) and the more we make, the more prideful we can become.
    4. In ranking the pros and cons when deciding to accept an offer, don’t rank salary as the least important factor. Pastors have families to support, also. They live in the same world as we do. It cost them the same to live as it costs us.
    5. Don’t accept an offer because you fear it is the only one you will receive. Remember, God has a plan.
    6. Don’t be afraid to negotiate your needs into the offer before you accept. This is not being unreasonable. This is being wise.
    7. When starting a new position, establish you personal and family time immediately. Setting the ground rules for your personal and family time immediately leaves little room for misunderstanding.
    8. When accepting a position, don’t think you are God. Be humble. Let the people know you are not God but are just a human as they are with human flaws.
    9. Upon moving to a new community, establish connections outside your church. You need to connect with other pastors, even outside your own denomination. These connections can serve as your support and your accountability.
    10. Be cautious in establishing close relationships with members of your own congregation. Sometime members want to get close to the pastor in order to get their own agenda established. If they fail, they turn on you. If you do establish a relationship with someone in your congregation, don’t flaunt it. This can cause jealousies and division in the church.
    11. When someone new comes into your congregation shouting “Lord, Lord,” do not be too quick to give them a place of honor. Matthew 7:21. Ronald Reagan’s motto was “Trust but verify.”
    12. Do not let your denominational beliefs allow you to judge other religious leaders in the community. Jesus said, “Judge not.” If you judge, you will be judged.
    13. Delegate. Do not assume the responsibility of every job that needs to be done. The pastor should not be mowing the lawn and cleaning the toilets. If your church cannot afford to have these things done, let the board establish volunteers. I sometimes think that small churches stay small because the congregation expects the pastor to do everything, so the pastor does it. And finally, the pastor’s most important responsibility is to:
    14. Make Disciples. It is through these Disciples others are reached, leaders are developed, and the mission of the church is fulfilled. These Disciples minister to people, they lead small groups, they call on sick, and they grow churches.

  41. Murray Phillips says

    It is definitely stressful being a pastor in a time and nation that has become more and more secular. Add this to the fact that, for pastoral calls, it is defintely a “buyers’ market”. Most churches, and that includes small member churches and bi-vocational positions, have more candidates aspiring to the pulpit. As a result, the churches can pretty much treat a pastor anyway that they feel. If the pastor cannot meet expectations, then, they’ll simply bring in a new person. It is merely a reflection of the “secular world” where workers are stressed out, scared, and treated as nothing more than expendable cogs.

  42. Ken says

    Excellent point about not making money the issue. Some years back I had a church that was interested in me, but I decided not to pursue it because they didn’t pay enough. Actually, their salary package was about $10,000 more per year than I’m getting now, but for what I’ve have had to deal with in that church, it wasn’t enough!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Seven Reasons Pastors Burn Out “I heard the story again last week. A pastor I know announced his resignation. No moral failure. No severe crisis at the church. No major family problems. No sickness. He was simply burned out. That’s how he described it. He said he had gotten to the point that he was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.” […]

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