I have the incredible opportunity to interact with pastors regularly. In recent conversations, I asked two questions. First, have you ever experienced burnout in your ministry? Second, what do you do to prevent pastoral burnout?
Interestingly, every pastor with whom I spoke had experienced some level of burnout. And so they spoke from the voice of experience when they shared with me what they do to prevent burnout today. I aggregated their responses to seven keys to preventing pastoral burnout, not in any particular order or priority.
- Remember your call. Ministry can be tough and dirty. It can be frustrating and confusing. But if we remember Who called us and Who sustains us, we are able to persevere. We understand that we are not doing ministry in our own power.
- Pray for your critics. Criticism in one of the most frequently mentioned causes of burnout. Pastors on the other side of burnout told me that they have learned to pray for their critics almost every day. It has given the pastors a fresh perspective. A few pastors even noted significant change in their critics shortly after they started praying for them.
- Wait a day before responding to critics. Somewhat related to number two above, some pastors shared that ministry began to take its toll when they engaged their critics negatively in writing, in person, or by phone. Now these pastors wait a full day before responding, and they are amazed at how differently their responses take shape.
- Be intentional about down time. Pastors need it. Their families need it. Every week. Don’t skip vacations. Go on occasional retreats. Don’t lose your family by trying to save your church.
- Find a friend to share your burden. For some pastors, it was another pastor. For others, it was a retired pastor. Some mentioned that key confidants in the church had become their best friends. Pastors need someone they trust to whom they can unload their burdens.
- Do not neglect your prayer life. Pastors told me repeatedly that, as their prayer life waned, their burnout increased. Prayer was first ongoing conversations with God. But it was also a time for spiritual refueling.
- Do not neglect your time in the Word. We heard similar stories from pastors who began neglecting their time in the Bible. As that time waned, burnout increased. All the pastors noted that time in the Word was time beyond sermon preparation. It was a time of personal devotion and study.
Pastors are burning out every day. Many are leaving the ministry as a result. It is a real and immediate problem with many pastors and many churches.
Pastors and other staff: Do you have stories of burnout and recovery? What lessons can we learn from you?
Laypersons: What can you do to help pastors prevent burnout?
Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.