Autopsy-of-a-Burned-Out-Pastor

Perhaps the autopsy metaphor is not the best choice. After all, the person is not deceased. But the pastor who is burned out feels like life is draining out. Unfortunately, I have spoken with too many pastors for whom burnout is a reality or a near reality.

What lessons can we learn from those pastors who burned out? Allow me to share 13 lessons I have learned from those who have met this fate. They are in no particular order.

  1. The pastor would not say “no” to requests for time. Being a short-term people pleaser became a longer-term problem.
  2. The pastor had no effective way to deal with critics. I plan to deal with this issue more in the future. What types of systems do effective leaders put in place to deal with criticisms so they respond when necessary, but don’t deplete their emotional reservoirs?
  3. The pastor served a dysfunctional church. Any pastor who leads a church that remains dysfunctional over a long period of time is likely headed toward burnout.
  4. The pastor did little or no physical exercise. I understand this dilemma, because I have been there in the recent past.
  5. The pastor did not have daily Bible time. I continue to be amazed, but not surprised, how this discipline affects our spiritual health, our emotional health, and our leadership ability.
  6. The pastor’s family was neglected. “If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:5, HCSB).
  7. The pastor rarely took a day off. No break in the routine and demands of pastoring is a path for burnout.
  8. The pastor rarely took a vacation. Again, the issues are similar to the failure to take a day off.
  9. The pastor never took a sabbatical. After several years of the intense demands of serving a church, a sabbatical of a few weeks is critical to the emotional, spiritual, and physical health of a pastor.
  10. The pastor never learned effective relational and leadership skills. When that is the case, conflict and weak vocational performance are inevitable. That, in turn, leads to burnout.
  11. The pastor was negative and argumentative. Negativity and an argumentative spirit drain a pastor. That negativity can be expressed in conversations, sermons, blogs, or any communication venue. Argumentative pastors are among the first to experience burnout.
  12. The pastor was not a continuous learner. Pastors who fail to learn continuously are not nearly as energized as those who do. Again, this disposition can lead to burnout.
  13. The pastor was not paid fairly. Financial stress can lead to burnout quickly. I will address this issue again in my next post.

Many pastors are leaving ministry because they have experienced burnout. Many others are just on the edge of burnout. Pastors need our continuous support and prayers. And they themselves need to avoid the thirteen issues noted here.

Please let me know what you think of these factors. And feel free to add your comments and questions to this conversation.

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Comments

  1. Chris Amos says

    Perhaps in addition Thom, the pastor became obsessed with earthly kingdom building and noses in the pews.

    Excellent post, as always. I must say I have a few of these t-shirts hanging up in my closet but by the grace of God He has given me a new love for ministry and His people. It took 8 months of a death by a million cuts back in 2012 but the lessons learned, wisdom gained, and second chance given I would not trade for the world.

  2. kent says

    I would never take another sabbatical again. It was not worth the nonsense the awaited me when I returned. I would have been better off working straight through.

    • Thom Rainer says

      That’s not a good sign about the health of your church, Kent, though I’m likely stating the obvious.

    • says

      I’ve taken two Sabbaticals over the course of my 23+ years in this church. And I look forward to another in 3 more years.

      Our church (200 members) is led by a team of pastor/elders, and we have two on full-time staff. Leaving for a Sabbatical doesn’t leave a leadership vacuum. That’s not to say that upon my return there aren’t some things waiting for me, but that’s true after a week of vacation.

      But our leaders are given the empowerment to lead and direct in my absence, because they do so in my presence.

      • Bryan M says

        Rick, that last line ought to be tattooed on the forehead of every minister! It is absolutely key to building strong, healthy leadership in a church. As the saying goes: “If your leading, and nobody is following, you’re just out for a walk!”

    • F.L. says

      A dear pastor friend of mine here in Missouri (passed away a few years ago) took a month’s sabbatical. He really was in need of some R&R. When he returned, plans were in the works which led to his vacating the pulpit. Sabbaticals sound nice, and, the concept is good. I’ve rarely seen a happy ending to one unless it involved pastors of larger churches. Unfortunately(?), the majority of pastors are in smaller churches.

  3. says

    Perhaps this goes along with one of your points and maybe a previous comment:

    I would also say that a Pastor who’s foundation of ministry is not set on Christ, will burn out much quicker. What I mean is this: From experience (as a youth pastor), I firmly believe my aim and goal in ministry is not ultimately to be about people. I firmly believe that my goal and aim in ministry is to honor my Lord Jesus. If my focus is on pleasing people or even trying to find the best “method” to “grow a church” (which is not our job) than we are only setting ourselves up for failure because we will want to see certain results to our labor but we may never get it but we will only experience severe heartache and frustration.

    If we would remember that we are here for our God (Colossians 1), and by our worship of Him through our ministry, things will happen. God will and can and is doing great things!

  4. Allen Calkins says

    The BIGGEST one on your list is serving a dysfunctional church, especially if that church is in a non-growing area. I really do not know what can be done, but something needs to be done to address the problem of pastor eating dysfunctional churches. Perhaps stats could be developed to identify them better to prospective pastors and an aggressive set of questions given for a pastor to ask and get agreement on BEFORE agreeing to go to one of these toxic churches. Unfortunately, the more dysfunctional, the less likely they will find a pastor with the skills to change them. This is probably true for two reasons. 1) Some prospective pastors are wise enough to recognize the signs or research the situation and stay away. 2) God does not waste highly skilled pastors on churches that will waste that person’s gifts and abilities. So He does not lead them there.

    Another reason one not on your list is the hopelessness that accompanies not being able to leave a failing dysfunctional church. Few churches are interested in talking to a pastor whose resume is not one of positive growth.

    Another is how other pastors frequently shun pastors in troubled churches like they have a disease to be caught.

    • Jeff says

      Amen and amen! I too feel the hopelessness of not having that church success story to add to my resume. I struggle every Sunday night, wondering how I’m going to get through the next week. Should I REALLY be a pastor??? What else could I do??? Where can I go???

      Your post hit home to me. Thanks!

      • M. says

        Allen & Jeff,

        You are in the “mainstream” of pastors. The problem is, folks (and those in organizational leadership – people of influence) gravitate toward the successful, pace-setter pastors. Sadly, much of the “church growth” in our area is the result of someone building a new facility and syphoning-off members from area churches. People like something “new” and obviously, if its growing, (and if the kids like it!) God must be in it! Sound a little resentful? Perhaps. Our church and several others around us have “donated” members to such churches.

        • Allen Calkins says

          To Gary Jeff M and Angela I would say the BEST response for those who have discovered they are ministering in a dysfunctional church (some traits: tradition bound, unrealistic expectations, unwillingness to change, chronic critical spirit, dominating negative lay leader, legalistic looking at pastor, community and other members) is faithfully serving where you are. You have to learn to celebrate the little victories that go unnoticed by the church. It is also helpful to find other avenues of service that become your creative outlet. For me that has been Assoc work in support of church planting and working through the local Min Alliance to get area churches to cooperate on larger projects even though I knew my church would likely not benefit from the fruit.
          I was fired from one toxic church after 5 yrs. and served another for 10 years begging God for a new assignment for the last 4 years. I finally got that opportunity last year to a declining church with less dysfunctionality than the others I have served. So I am hopeful that revitalization is possible this time…but only time will tell.

      • Douglas Adams says

        What is really sad is to be pastoring a dysfunctional church and still have your success measured in terms of budgets, baptisms, and buildings. While not a rationalization for true failure one must discover the true measure of success in the Sciptures and a walk with God. Oftentimes, easier said than done. My heart goes out to my brothers and sisters.

    • Angela says

      Amen and Amen again Allen!!

      And then after this poor clergy person who was appointed (in many traditions) to serve a toxic and highly dysfunctional church, was burnt/chewed up by the clergy-killing congregation and spit out, I would ask the next question: “Whatever happened to Pastor {insert name here}”???

      All too often, many of these individuals, despite their good intentions to serve God and God’s people, become burnt out beyond the repair of a sabbatical and (unfortunately) leave ministry all together.

    • Anthony says

      Thom, thanks for this post!! I am blessed to be a bi-vocational pastor. My secular job is a wonderful place to work. They teach us leadership, conflict resolution, and just common courtesy.
      I serve the church that represents #3 very well. From my secular job I return to the church over half my salary and tithes and offerings. With both jobs I’m averaging over 70 hours per week. My wife and children are also involved in the ministry by being at the church.
      What we do is never enough. The deacon body has shot down every recommendation over the last four years but continues to complain about declining numbers and are unwilling to offer any solutions themselves. Our family is ready to quit.

    • says

      I would like to know the symptoms of a dysfunctional church. Next, thoughts on how to lead a dysfunctional church into a healthy status.

      • Thom Rainer says

        Ed: My book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, addresses the first issue. I’ll be dealing with the second issue fully by video this fall.

    • Drew says

      Allen, I would disagree with your position that God doesn’t “waste” highly skilled pastors in such churches. I believe that whole attitude is part of the problem. Pastors that are “successful” are just pastors whose ministry the Spirit has chosen to bless visibly. There are many pastors in small, dysfunctional churches who are heroes, doing the very difficult work of loving unlovable people, sharing the gospel, and preaching persistently. The Spirit is at work through them, just not in a way that can be measured by a survey. Isaiah and Ezekiel were called by God to preach to rebellious people who would never change. What’s to say God doesn’t call great men to do the same today?

      • M. says

        Drew, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve watched how certain pastors in our Association have risen to “Super-star” status, primarily because their church began to grow (largely by transfer of membership) and became the “happenin'” place. Suddenly, a pastor whose face I wouldn’t have recognized in an association meeting – because he never participated – becomes the key-note speaker here and there.
        I understand (not to say I agree with) the politics of success and the desire to have a successful image both in the pulpit and int he community. Also, I’m not saying God doesn’t truly bless some pastors and churches with exceptional gifts and grace resulting in growth.
        Still, I have personally known several of those pastor to whom you refer, who serve faithfully, laboring to expound the Word of God, caring for a small flock without fanfare or, in many instances, appreciation. They don’t serve for those things, but, it is obvious they aren’t considered by many in places of influence to be men of any really significant ministry.
        I’m glad favor of God doesn’t depend on success…

    • says

      Allen,
      It breaks my heart that pastor’s around you are not praying for you, listening to you and there to help you! I thank God for pastor’s who have encouraged me when I was down. So much so that I sought out other men in similar situations and we started meeting regularly to encourage and help one another. It was great to know “I was not alone” and to find that I could learn from other pastors and help them too! God bless you brother!

  5. Chris Gilliam says

    Thom,

    Numbers 3,9,13 and possibly 8 are not in the pastor’s control. However there are many churches that operate this way. Indeed such a sad state of affairs. I would suggest that these 3 (4) assist in the creating of many of the other symptoms. I know you have dealt with this in your writings on the churches. One thing I find interesting, in my days at seminary we were encouraged to go and reform/revitalize these hard places. Today it seems the shift is to plant around them. Yet I would like to see some writing in the vein of the endemic problem that perhaps has its roots on the 40-50 when the mode for some of the dying churches was stamped. Could it be the mechanized processes were the culprit? Could it be the people’s expectations were set in stone when the church of 50-100 had constant pastoral care to the expense of the pulpit? And what of the campaigns like “a million more in 54″, what effect did that have in shaping the churches that are dying and have pastor’s that burn out? I would be interested in your findings. One last note, I have ministered in a full spectrum of SBC church life at the church level, to all us pastors–be faithful to God, your family, and to the bride he is directing your service too. Having read Jonathan Edward’s dismissal this mooring I was reminded, sometime bad happens to the best.

    • Thom Rainer says

      That’s absolutely true, Chris. Good pastors do get hurt. On the other matter, I am encouraged to see a new interest in revitalizing churches.

  6. Chris Gilliam says

    “Yet I would like to see some writing in the vein of the endemic problem that perhaps has its roots on the 40-50 ” Should have read 1940’s and 1950’s/

  7. Charles Rambeau, Jr. says

    I resigned my church yesterday. I am a bi-vocational minister and found that my secular job and my ministry were taking a toll on my relationship with God. I was burning out and bailed out before the church and I crashed. Burnout is real.

    • Anthony says

      I am bi-vocational also. We really want to help struggling churches but it’s like saving an uncooperative drowning person.
      Not all small churches are #3. I served many years in a great all church and hate to walk away from the church I serve now, but it is not worth family and health.
      We even went thru- “I Am A Church Member!” LOL. Great book and they loved it. But no help so far.

  8. says

    This is very interesting to me. My Ph.D. research focused on stress and bunrout in paraprofessionals in 1983 (Michigan State). Since that time, through a career in ministry and higher education, I have had many opportunities to work with pastors who are overly stressed and thoe who have experienced burnout. It is REAL. I have also used my educational and career consulting practice to assist in either reaffirming interests, abilibites, values and personality in light of decision-making, and this has proven most informative and helpful, giving some structure for the minister. What I appreciate about this article is that it addresses lifestyle matters which are essential to avoiding or healing burnout and which can be addressed as interests which can be incorporated into a realisitic action plan.

  9. Elder Larry says

    I would want to be the last to add any more to the pressure Pastors feel as a result of the pressure of serving others. May I ask, if burn out is a symptom of doing a work, that only can be done “In Christ”. The golden rule for those that “care for others” is to take care of yourself, if you are going to have a opportunity to save or care for others.

    Even Jesus illustrated to us in a way that cannot be ignored, we need to take time to strengthen ourselves, if we are going to be a help to others. Jesus illustrated this to us in a way that cannot be ignored. He often withdrew from the crowds, even his Disciples to go away on retreat, alone often to pray. In Matthew 14:22, Jesus take the time to reflect and consult the Father “BEFORE” taking on new and sometime life changing events. (22) And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away… (24) But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. It was then that Jesus could be seen by His followers “walking on water”, and of course saving them from the wind and rain, taking them to a new level!

    In another well illustrated post “Jesus Set Boundaries”, we find a need to have balance in all we do!; http://www.soulshepherding.org/1998/07/jesus-set-boundaries/

    •Personal Prayer Time: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

    •Set Priorities: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Luke 16:13).

    •Please God, Not People: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44).

  10. Mindy says

    I realize this is a post about pastor burnout, but I believe most of these could be true of professionals and business owners working in many areas. Or even volunteers who area burned out. I think the bottom line is that we all run the risk of burnout when we are out of balance with God’s priorities.

  11. Mark says

    What about the leadership piling more work on the pastor and not permitting breaks, rest, any easing of the pressure to perform, etc.?

    I think the take home message is that the pastor has to take control of the situation before it gets out of hand.

  12. Steve says

    I can attest to each of these. I’ve been in each of these situations before and some still today. 10 is the most pressing to me. Being a first generation minister and called later in life than many in seminary to the church, leadership and the church having been outright shocking at times. I’ve had little direction in leadership and was expected to lead meetings which I didn’t even know what they were!

    To go from no kinds of leadership positions before graduation to the complete overseeing of a church is an amazing paradigm shift.

    • Ken says

      That was pretty much my situation when I went to my first pastorate. I was 28 at the time and already had my seminary degree, but I really felt like I was in over my head (to be honest, sometimes I still do!). It’s normal to feel inadequate for ministry, and in some ways it’s healthy, because it forces you to look to God for guidance.

      That being said, I would advise seminary students to try and get on a church staff or at least find some kind of internship while they’re in seminary. Nothing will better prepare you for ministry than hands-on experience.

  13. Worn Out says

    I have been on the edge of leaving the ministry more than once. I am a bi-vo pastor and work 7 days a week and up to 14-16 hours a day at least a few of those 7 days. I see virtually no way out of this. Do you have anything for the bivo guy that has to pastor, but also has to support his family but doesn’t want to lose his wife and kids in the process???

    • Thom Rainer says

      Worn Out –

      I’ve written several articles on the topic for pastors and staff in general at this blog, but not specifically for bi-vocational pastors. I still think many of the principles apply. Let me know if you can’t find some of the articles in the search box. By the way, family always has to come first (1 Timothy 3:5), even if you have to give up your church.

      • Worn Out says

        Brother,
        1 Timothy 3:5 has rang in my head many times and every time I am on the edge of walking away from the ministry, I come back….
        Thanks for your ministry.
        About 10 years ago, I sat across a table from you at SBTS and you gave me some great encouragement as I was starting seminary….something I won’t forget. Blessings on you my friend.

        • Anthony says

          Worn out, please don’t give up. Being bi- vocational allows us the opportunity to step back at times and just work one job.
          Know that I’m praying for you and if we could ever get together we could encourage each other. Romans 1:12!!

    • Ken says

      Are you familiar with Ray Gilder? He heads up the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network for the Southern Baptist Convention. If you’re not tapped into that network, I encourage you to find them online. Ray was my pastor during my first two years of seminary, and he’s a very wise and encouraging man.

  14. says

    I think I have hit just about every one of the stressors listed. Not so long ago, one of my parishioners mentioned that I seem to have lost some of my enthusiasm. She does not realize that I am holding on for dear life at this point. If I could afford to retire, I would and maybe remind myself why I am on this journey and what is my relationship with God right now.

  15. Jonathan Brodeur says

    I am a youth pastor at a church without a pastor and so I feel like I’m expected to not only do youth ministry but also do 900 other things as well. I am going to be honest I have trouble saying no and I am trying to find that balance between doing youth ministry and making sure I am not neglecting my wife. I really needed to read this and want to say thank you for sharing it with us all.

  16. Mark says

    Hi Thom,

    Great list! I’ve seen each one of them before, both in the senior pastor and the pastoral staff. Would you say these issues are also applicable to pastoral staff?

    Mark

  17. Travis says

    I would add being emberessed to ask for mental health help as well. Depression and anxiety are prevelant among pastors but it’s a taboo subject.

  18. Ginger says

    It is always heart breaking to me when a someone is burned out and leaves the ministry. Personally, I think this is a great list that can give members, friends and family a great way to pray for their ministers, pastors and elders.

  19. says

    Dr. Rainer… Will you define “sabbatical” and clarify the difference between it and a vacation? I know this is a very sensitive topic among church members because they think, “I don’t get three months off in my job, why should the pastor?”

    This sounds like a great topic for a podcast!

    Thanks for all that you and Jonathan do! Love you guys and am grateful for your influence!

    • Thom Rainer says

      Sabbatical is a time of rest and/or study away from the daily demands of the church. Those who receive sabbaticals typically do so after extended years of service. I know of few vocations that have the demands and emotional swings of pastoral ministry. The typical sabbatical is a few weeks in duration.

  20. says

    Thom,

    I don’t often comment on your articles, but nearly every one of them blesses me, educates me, and encourages me. So keep up the great work and stay faithful to equipping God’s church and building up the pastors. As a bi-vocational pastor myself, your articles are a breath of fresh air. We need more voices like yours on the internet.

    PS: I love listening to your podcasts. Keep referencing your books and other resources, because they are very helpful. No need to apologize for self-promotion, because God is using those books for his glory alone. ;-)

    -Charles

  21. Dale says

    A few years ago I burned out big time. Ended up in hospital after looking for a bridge to jump off of. The answers are not to be found in medicine or shock treatments. Both of which were tried on me. Often times they only make us worse. The answer is found in Christ, and getting used to the fact God is alive and well. If you can’t change it don’t try to. Today I am in a new Church and very happy. For me I have found being bi vocational is a big boast. You can walk away from a problem and simply respond by saying I’m only part time and my time is up for today. Just a thought.

  22. Dean says

    A couple of observations from my own burnout.

    The current CEO/business models of leadership can often hold out the promise of growth and health for the church, but also lay huge responsibility on the back of a pastor who, by Jesus’ word should be a servant-leader, nor replicate the world’s authoritarian models.

    The person who is moving into burnout doesn’t recognize it! Nor likely will their congregation members. They desperately need competent people to come alongside with questions, compassion and grace, not cold diagnostics. The symptoms will show themselves differently from individual to individual.

  23. says

    After a lot of years in ministry and reading articles like this, which describe conditions that exist within church ministry, as well as, other professions, I would like to see some quantifiers put on some of the terminology. Burnout is a highly popularized term that sometimes describes those who have self-defeating patterns of behavior or simply give up for whatever reason. Another term is dysfunctional and what does that really mean? All people in the ministry have self defeating habits, it is when they go unrecognized and are not managed that extinction of hope sets in and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is there really any such thing as a church that is not dysfunctional at some point. Churches are dysfunctional because they are occupied and led with people who are dysfunctional. It is my opinion that church ministry is always a learning process of engaging the dysfunctional, with hope to manage challenges and even in the midst of difficult people and circumstances to learn how to manage, lead, and provide ministry without becoming a part of a system that sucks the life away from people who are called by God. Thanks so much for your work ….

  24. says

    Gentlemen and ladies, just want to say that your comments bless me just as much as many of the articles. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Andy says

    I would add that burned out pastors dont have a support and accountability group with whom they meet regularly.

    Great post!

  26. Jimmy Casey says

    I find it funny about the sabbatical, very few people I know ever get that Dr. Rainer I have been preaching since I was 14 I am 42 now. I have been pastoring since I was 20 if I am lucky I have had two weeks off in a year.

  27. Scott Newman says

    Yet another addition: Debt–both personal and church. Personally, we’re free from debt excepting a small medical bill and our mortgage. The church is another story. Either way, debt enslaves.

  28. says

    I happened upon this post while actually pondering resignation from my church. I’ve been in a real valley of decision for the last few weeks, and I actually wrote a draft of a resignation letter 2 days ago. Even though it’s tough, I feel compelled to prayerfully consider putting some of your suggestions into practice before walking away. I’m 38 and trying desperately to lead a 125 year old church where I am easily the youngest person (by at least 15 years) in any meeting I’m in. Thanks to your words, I don’t feel like I’m on an island anymore! Time to plan my first vacation in 4 years…

  29. Neophytos says

    Another one: “The pastor hung with his clique.” Sadly I’ve seen this as well. the young pastor has his special inner sanctum of the really good friends, then there was the rest of the chuch.

    I still prayed daily for the pastor and his family and always tried to encourage him, but I always felt awkward about bringing this point up ever. It’s sad that I’ve seen this at various churches.

  30. Evelyn Lee says

    So do we have a cogent definition of a “dysfunctional church”? That’s really something that non-clergy like myself need to be more mindful of as we struggle to support our clergy

  31. Richard says

    Is there a potential problem if a church calls a pastor who has suffered burn-out and is still appears to be in recovery? It appears it takes a lot of maturity, strength, and recognition of the causes of burn-out and the time it would take for the healing progress. Is the Pastor Nominating Committee putting the church into potential peril in recommending a call?

  32. Charles N. says

    I took a church almost seven years ago which to my finding had some of the above mentioned problems. I went in as a full-time pastor but soon i realized i needed to work a full time job to pay the bills. The church is an older church, been around for over 150 years. I have people that outright tell me if change a certain thing in the building or take something down they will leave. I have a horrendous Sunday PM and Midweek attendance in comparison to Sunday. Folks right out tell me, who have been here forever, no way they would ever come to anything but Sun AM, and they even won’t come in on time for that.. My people think i don’t do anything. A lady in the church asked me why i was so tired on Sundays since she couldn’t figure out what i do. Of course at the time i was also working midnights on Saturday and then coming in after getting off at 8.30am on Sundays and getting in the van since no one else would drive the van route. I have no friends in the church or even in the ministry. Having to work full-time precludes me from fellowships. My college, which is big on numbers, treats me as a pariah. I had someone from my school call me about preaching for me. I told him we are in a small town and run about 45. Never heard back again.
    Physically i am exhausted. Work full time. I have two special needs sons who live in a home an hour and a half away. We are there at least once a week. I usually don’t have a day off at all. Lucky to get time off here and there. I have very little help when it comes to doing anything other than what people want to do. Most of which needs to be left falls on my wife and me. I have little time for visitation and soulwinning.
    Financially we are a mess. I was hurt at work but didn’t realize it until I couldn’t file a claim. I had surgery in December and have quite a bit owed from it. I haven’t been paid 3000 all year to this point by the church. We live in the parsonage but truthfully I would rather not.
    What kills me the most is i am such a flop. All i am doing is what i need to do to just get by the day and the week. We have folks come thru from missions to groups who are doing all these things for God. Winning folks. Training them. Seeing them grow. I have done none of that. I have just done what i could to keep the church functional. What to do? i don’t know? I am tired. I have failed these people and most of all I have failed God.

  33. Rodney says

    I know burnout is a real issue. I currently have no other ministerial staff. I am desperate to keep the youth ministry focused since I have two sons in the youth group. I have attempted to keep the music ministry focused and faced criticism for the way it has been addressed. Nothing seems to get done unless I am pushing it or getting my hands involved. I don’t mind serving I just wished people took ownership of their responsibilities. I know the stress is affecting my relationships at home and at church. We are financially strapped. We literally live week to week most months. There are few couples in the church that have been a blessing to us and if it were not for them we would never be able to enjoy some time away – they literally pay for us to get away. Our Sunday nights are dead and none of my leadership will accept that fact.

    I probably shouldn’t write this on a Monday morning but I am weary. I struggle to stay focused on the mission at hand and my hope and faith in God’s provision and deliverance is met with the darts of doubt and discouragement. I was encouraged this morning in my devotional time with this truth, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD” (Psalm 27:14).

    I am grateful for this ministry and as I read the stories of other pastors I know I am not alone. I know God has not abandoned me. I know my wife is my number one supporter and encourager. I am striving to stay focused and faithful. It is hard at times. I know that God has a plan and He will work His plan for me when He has prepared me for what is next in my life. Until then it is my desire to continue to preach the Word and love the people. The latter part is the greatest challenge for me today.

    Thank you Thom for what you do to help pastors. I hope to personally meet you one day.

  34. Ken says

    I’m curious about the “sabbatical” comment. Is that really a viable option for small-church and bivocational pastors?

      • Ken says

        In your opinion, how long should a pastor serve at a church before he is allowed a sabbatical? I’m at a small church, and I’ve served here seven years, so I admit I have an ulterior motive for asking! :)

        • Ken says

          @Dr. Rainer: I guess what I meant to say is, how often do you think pastors should take sabbaticals? In all seriousness, I really would like to know your opinion on that.

  35. Jim says

    Tom, this is a great article. I was wondering if you any suggestions on how a pastor who needs to improve on being effective relationally and develop his leadership skills? Are there courses you would suggest a pastor take, books to read, etc? Thanks – Pastor Jim

  36. PM says

    I am approaching 35 years in ministry. I entered into ministry after being raised up from the dead, (literally) and having been recovered by the Lord. I attended a two year Bible school, where my wife and I met and married. We returned to her home town following graduation and committed to help her parents with a church they pioneered and pastored. At first everything seemed fine and on track with church development and growth, including a Bible School with several graduates who went on to become successful ministers in surrounding communities. Unfortunately my Father in law had become quite cynical, embittered, and backslid. The Church board recognized his distress and sought to encourage his recovery including a sabbatical, but he only grew more embittered and distant. Eventually I an a fellow associate were asked to “co-pastor” as a last resort effort in his recovery, the board suspended my father in law and told him we would fill in until and if he would repent and be recovered. He only became more combative and sought to undermine the board and any efforts to continue the ministry at the Church from which he had been suspended. I wanted to run at the time, some 32 or so years ago, but felt a sense of responsibility before the Lord, for the people…so I stayed. The school from which I graduated and ministerial organization they formed, sided with my Father in law due to his misrepresentation, deceptions, and outright lies about the Church and myself. Mind you, during all of this, folks would come up and thank us for taking action, often saying that we had no idea how necessary it was for him to have stepped down, but that things were far worse that we even knew. We faced rejection by many we loved and respected, as well as by the majority of folks in the surrounding community…but we sought to minister to those who remained and walk in love toward, praying for my faith in law. The stress became so great it took a toll on my family, on my marriage, and what relationships remained. My wife became distant and estranged, we nearly divorced after she became emotionally involved with another man about 14 years ago…and meanwhile I continued to pastor….FAST FORWARD. Thankfully my wife and I were able to (by the Lord’s grace) recover our marriage, but we continued at the same church and despite all of our efforts, it began to decline. In the midst of recovering our marriage, we were able to reach out to ,my father in law during what turned out to be his final days. He actually thanked us for having upheld the standard of God’s Word and for having walked in love toward him, while he acknowledged his regret for failing to do the same toward us. We stood with and prayed for him and during that time it came to light that he had been inappropriately involved with numerous women back when pastoring the Church from which he had been suspended, then continued afterward. In fact several of the women that affirmed our need to have him step down were listed in a diary of his sexual conquests that was discovered which detailed his sin. Having said all of this, I am now at the point of having placed the actual Church property up for sale, in hopes of planting a new work and allowing my wife and I to take a sabbatical after all of these years. The Lord finally was able to convey to both of us that neither we nor the “church” could or would flourish if it remained as, and where it is. In part the Lord was able to help us by acknowledging that there were communities in which even He was incapable of ministering to the folks as He desired, such as His own home town. He also brought to our attention that while there were times recorded in the Acts, in which various ones were led to specific placed to minister, there were also times they were discouraged if not prevented form going to other places. While I do believe there was a season in which the Lord wanted us to remain planted, I also believe we very likely have overstayed that season and did so to our own hurt. I am almost 60, dealing with health and financial issues, no retirement to speak of, and with the prospect of starting over. As overwhelming as this prospect is, I continue to rejoice in the Lord’s faithfulness and would ask folks to learn form other’s insights and if need be failures and the wisdom of sound counsel such as that offered in this article.

    • Thom Rainer says

      What an incredible story of tragedy and victory in The Lord. I am taking time to pray for you now, PM.

  37. Peter Tang says

    Thanks Rainer for the insightful symptoms of pastoral downhill. I have seen many of the issues as direct causes for ministry burnt-out. But I am not sure an absence of sabbatical is part of the cause. By definition, a sabbatical is a long period of refreshment (from 6 months to a year) after 6 years of continuous service. Sticking to this format causes more harm than good (especially to a small church with one pastor). To have to wait 6 years for refreshment and renewal is just too long a wait. By that time, most would have been dead and beyond resuscitation! A shorter but more regular period for spiritual refreshment is necessary for a pastor to remain motivated and challenged to lead the church. Churches must provide time and money to allow pastors to be away for short period of refreshment and renewal without pre-conditions.
    Peter Tang

  38. Nathan says

    This is a great article. I’m not a Pastor but I’ve been in leadership capacities and found that the more burned out a Pastor is the more disconnected he is and the more he relies on his leadership and then they in turn get burned out.
    My family had to leave our beloved church because we were all buned out. My wife was having panic attacks. When the phone rang she would be scared it was the Pastor asking for us to add something else to our already full plate.
    He was burned out and thus put more pressure on the leadership. When we started saying no out of preservation he lashed out and left us no choice but to leave.
    We were devastated. I’m still in contact with a few members and they mention how exhausted the Pastor always is and how his preaching has turned from love to ranting about everything that’s wrong with the world.
    Please Pastors take a rest. We love you and want to help you.

  39. says

    Burnout is over the top real! I watched as my husband made the journey through a very dark place around 2009-2010. After serving at the same church for (now) 23 years, numerous transitions and painful moments over the course of that time led him to a book, mentioned by Dr. Johnny Hunt, “Leading On Empty” by Wayne Cordeiro. This. book. was. life. changing for my husband.
    Now he is passionately leading the same church but with a different outlook.
    God has also led us to offer a place of respite & refreshing for ministers & their spouse. Check us out at blessthepastor.com
    Truth is, we are all running this race so let us run to win by giving encouragement to one another.

    • says

      I loved the article! This is a needed discussion! Thank you, Dr. Rainer!

      It took me almost 20 years as a pastor to actually find the courage to talk about these issues with the Church and church leaders. I was afraid of being misunderstood and being thought of as a whiner. Oh how I wish I had confronted that fear long ago! Most of our church leaders and especially the church body understood I was just speaking the truth! I was being transparent! They appreciated it and were GLAD to see I was human…

      I have also found that there are a lot of fellow pastors dealing with the same junk (even before I read all of these responses to this article!). If we as pastors would let down our guard and stop competing with one another we could actually encourage and help one another by meeting regularly, listening, learning, praying, weeping and laughing with one another.

      May God revive us pastors and our churches!

  40. Eddie Thompson says

    After going through a serious burnout in 1999 it took me quite a while to understand what had really happened. After reading Archibald Hart’s book Adrenaline and Stress, I learned that burnout is as much physiological as it is psychological. Living under severe daily stress for an extended period of time creates a serious adrenal gland problem. Depending on a boost of adrenaline everyday to function creates a long term, although misunderstood, health problem. If changes don’t take place, the person will eventually crash and burn, opening up a door for dangerous long term health problems.

    According to Arch Hart, pastors often are adrenaline addicts…but without good reason. He said pastors just don”t need that much adrenaline to do what they do. But it becomes their drug of choice.

    It seems the adrenal gland sends out this powerful chemical for energy (especially in an emergency). But living under serious long term stress and making constant demand for adrenaline, the adrenal gland becomes severely over taxed and eventually stops working. The demand is still there, but no adrenaline is coming. When that happens the person will experience a fatigue so deep they will have a hard time functioning. They will wonder why they are so tired and can’t recover? Taking a break or vacationing doesn’t help that much.

    Because they didn’t discover what’s going on in their body, they will eventually go back to the same cycle.Then they are in danger of making bad choices to feel better – or feel anything (alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, XXX porn, deep depression, suicide, or even preaching louder and more demanding trying to expose the sins of others. (The old adage is that “He who preaches the loudest is usually the most guilty”) Or they blame the church for over working them and walk away from ministry altogether.

    So pastors who are prone to extended stress burnout will have to choose a completely different lifestyle because this one has become insane and unworkable. They must stop this pattern of living and ministry so the adrenal gland can begin functioning again as it should. Pastor Wayne Cordero is an example of someone who understood this and eventually recovered. From recovery going forward, they have to be very careful about how much stress they have. They can easily fall back into burnout even though they’re not under the same load of stress as before. Their capacity for this is forever altered and that may a good thing. It may keep them from destroying themselves.

    If you are watching a pastor who is severely stressed out, please help him understand the danger. You might save his marriage, family and his ministry. Perhaps even his life.

    Thanks for your feedback.

    Eddie Thompson, Senior Consultant, Family Evangelism & Discipleship
    Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
    205 Convention Drive • Cary, NC 27511
    ethompson@ncbaptist.org

  41. says

    Thanks for the blog. I am blessed to serve in a church that loves me and my family. I take responsibility for most of these areas. But after 14 years as senior pastor at one church and 25 total in ministry I see the need for a sabbatical (that includes some rest and some continuing ed) of maybe 3 to 4 weeks. I typically take a week for vacation, though my church allows 2 (plus a couple Sundays away for pulpit supply, missions, or revivals.) But it seems so self-serving to be the one who brings up a sabbatical. How do pastors educate their churches on the care needs of the pastor without seeming self-serving? We tend to be the ones who get the info and read blogs like this. That question applies to more than sabbaticals. Even forwarding this blog to the finance team, personnel team, or deacons seems self-serving… even risking the morale and confidence the people have in the pastor.

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