Burnout is a reality. Most of us have experienced it to some capacity. Mostly, this experience has been felt in the workplace, where the daily grind, the monotony, and stress just get us to a point where we feel both emotionally and physically exhausted. While we might not like to think about it, pastors experience this same issue.
Do Pastors Get Burned Out?
Pastor Dave was a very dedicated guy. He loved the people of his parish and he sincerely enjoyed serving God’s people to the best of his ability. He never got upset when someone came to him asking to speak with him privately about some problem or other. He made time for couples who were experiencing issues in their marriage.
He was at every church event with a smile and plenty of encouragement for those in attendance. He dutifully worked on his sermons throughout the week, met with the parish council, led a men’s small group every Thursday, helped serve meals every month to the homeless, and even mowed the grass of elderly members of the church.
On top of all of this, Pastor Dave also held a full-time job and had a family he was responsible to spend time with as well. But when he showed up one day for a council meeting and announced he needed to step away from the pulpit for a while, that he was feeling extreme burnout, the council was surprised.
After all, being a pastor was a fairly easy job, right? I mean, it was not like council member William’s job, where he worked in a factory and put in eight hours of overtime every week. No, the pastor had it easy.
Unfortunately, this is indeed how some people view pastoral ministry. They only see the surface and don’t take into account the number of hours many pastors put in each week. I can promise you it is more than most employers demand of you.
Now, I’m not saying you should feel sorry for your pastor — not at all — he chose to enter full-time ministry and knew the extreme demands of the job. However, this possession of that knowledge, and our taking him for granted are two vastly different things.
While the pastor certainly has the responsibility to do all of the things he is hired to do, we also have the responsibility to love, respect, and support him. A study conducted by Soul Shepherding, a Christian leadership training ministry, found the following:
- 75% of pastors report feeling extreme stress; 90% work an average of 55-75 hours per week.
- 90% feel fatigued each week; 70% say they’re very underpaid.
- 40% report serious conflicts with someone in the congregation on a monthly basis; 78% have been forced out of their pastorate due to a conflict with someone in the congregation.
- 80% will leave ministry completely within 10 years; 70% struggle with depression.
- 80% say their ministry has negatively impacted their marriage and family; 70% don’t have a close friend; 85% have never had the opportunity to take extended time off.
Not a pretty picture, is it? So, what can pastors do to address these issues?
Can Pastors Have a Work-Life Balance?
As with all things in life, balance is the key to remaining healthy and happy. Pastors generally live a very imbalanced life, with work taking up the majority of their time and attention, while personal well-being and family are forced to take a back seat.
In my opinion, pastoral candidates would be wise to first sit down with their spouse and decide how much time is sufficient to maintain a healthy marriage and home life. They have to be honest when interviewing that this time is set apart for that purpose and it is a no-negotiable.
Weekly quality time with wife and children, as well as a yearly sabbatical, are things you must insist upon. If that puts a church council off, then you probably would not want to be their pastor anyway, since they do not fully appreciate the importance of family.
If you are already a pastor, sit down with the council and explain to them the importance of family and of personal time to decompress, and explain firmly, but with love, that you intend to manage your time more in line with these values from here on out.
This will likely mean you will be relying on men and women in the congregation to be more active in the life of the parish, which is how it should be anyway. They can pick up the slack, so the pastor is healthy enough in both mind and body to carry the weight of his responsibilities to the entire community.
This brings me to another important point. Pastors need to be willing to appoint others to carry out the ministry. It might require you to train the person for a period, but once trained they are equipped for that ministry, which takes some of the burden off of his shoulders. The laity are supposed to be doing this anyway, but for some reason, we have allowed a model of church life to take over and force the pastor to do it all.
That is just not biblical. Every Christian is called to be a representative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That calling is, in fact, a ministry. It is one born of love for Christ and commitment to His truth. The Great Commission is everyone’s calling (Matthew 28:18-20). Yet, for some reason, most laity think that is the pastor’s job, not theirs.
They think they fulfill their end of the bargain just by attending Sunday services, the occasional Wednesday Bible study, and maybe greeting people at the door. Sorry, but that is not keeping your end of the deal.
Pastors need to teach laity this fact and then actively engage them in that ministry in the life of the church. Let laity lead Bible studies. Allow them to visit the elderly. And let them share the burden of mopping the floors and mowing the lawn they enjoy and use as much as the pastor. If you have deacons in the church, equip them to visit the sick, take care of the church building, prepare people for baptism, teach catechism, etc.
Why Does This Matter?
Be willing to engage the members of your congregation, even if that means stretching their comfort zone a little bit. Ultimately, they will grow in spiritual maturity and the pastor will have a little less to stress over.
This is not about shrugging off your duties, but about engaging them in a healthy way, and forming the congregation to resemble the apostolic model, wherein the laity were an active part of the various areas of ministry.
It may be difficult at first to implement this apostolic model since people will resist the changes, but in the end, if they are willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit who is the Creator of that model, then the church will experience blessings unimaginable before the new (old) paradigm.
They will find themselves growing deeper in their relationships with each other, deepening their appreciation of the gospel in action, and the pastor will finally be able to take a deep breath and relax once in a while.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.