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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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