Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Wisdom for Clergy

Let’s have a conversation about pastoral burnout. 

Who will speak up and offer wisdom for all of us?

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.


Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 2:13 pm

if we see the church as a vendor of religous goods and services the the pastor is the person to complain to when we don’t get exactly what WE wanted from that sermon, that program, etc. etc. etc.
i know there are people in my church who zip up to the pastor instantly after each service to complain about it.
constant bashing–when you are doing what you believed you were called to do (serve others) will lead to depression it seems.

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Michael W. Kruse

posted August 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I have a pastor friend who says he keeps submitting his resume to God for savior of the world but God keeps returning stamped “Position already filled.” 😉
I know from temperament studies that in ordinate number of people who are pastors are people pleasers. I wish more pastors would get instruction/mentoring early on about how to set appropriate boundaries in this regard. Furthermore, we need a significant readjustment to how congregants perceive the pastoral role and that means leaders who are not pastors focusing on creating healthy boundaries for the worshiping community.

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Chris Smith

posted August 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Barb, good thoughts…
It also seems that we all too often expect the pastor to be doing things that are the responsibility of the whole church community (or at least a broader group than simply one person) — visiting the sick, caring for the widows, counseling those who need it, representing the church in public conversations, etc etc — simply because we are paying her/him. Too often the “work of the people” in the broad sense of carrying out the mission of the Church falls on the shoulders of one person (or a relatively small paid staff).
It’s little wonder that pastors get burnt out!
Chris Smith

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posted August 5, 2010 at 3:21 pm

There are so many issues surrounding pastoral burnout. Two that most resonate with me are: 1. boundaries of time and relationship and 2. the growing lack of personal responsibility the parishioner accepts for his or her own spiritual/emotional health.
The first creates guilt within many of us when we do anything not focused on the ministry. When are we ever truly off the clock? When can we say to a person in the church I don’t want to be with you because you are toxic? Which leads us to the next issue, is it really the pastor’s responsibility to bring healing to the toxic person?
I find many parishioners are like patients who go to the doctor. They have type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and expect the doctor to give them a pill to make them healthy without ever taking responsibility for eating right and exercising. The physician has the option of not seeing this unhealthy person for another 6 months and not inviting this person into his or her life and especially insulates the family from this unhealthy person. But the pastor does not have those luxuries. We are somehow expected to make the irresponsible and resistant person spiritually whole. All the while dealing with this person’s impact on the congregational and family systems.
I am very interested in this conversation! Thank you for bringing it up.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 3:22 pm

I agree with Barb. This entitlement culture has crept into the Church and created a people who feel entitled to say (i.e., criticize and whine about) whatever they feel with no regard to the efforts that leaders are making. A healthy outlook helps, but when this kind of behavior becomes relentless, it can where even the most optimistic person down. Frequent breaks in addition to vacations help along with finding an outside pursuit that is not related to your particular church. Of course, when you’re mentally and emotionally worn down, sometimes you don’t even have the energy to take these breaks when the opportunity rolls around. Instead, you spend a day off sleeping in and vegging in front of the t.v. just to numb the brain. Bottom line: you have to invest in you and try to stay ahead of the curve or else you will find yourself burning out and worse, checking out.

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Robert A

posted August 5, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Agreed with many of the above, this is a multi-faceted issue.
The whole pastoral ministry dynamic has so dramatically changed over the past 100 years that a pastor of today would be barely recognizable to one from that day. Pastors have been forced into a supply-side system where they are seen to be responsible for so much and have such high expectations. Also, with the drive towards numbers defining our success (and the ridiculous “Christian” publishing industry fully endorsing this) so many pastors put in 30 years of ministry only to look around and see no one supporting them, affirming them, or honoring them.
Its hard to stay focused and positive in ministry when the “successful” types are defined by their numbers and dynamic personalities. Ministry is a dog-eat-dog world that is really difficult on the lives of the pastors who are dedicated to making up its support.
Then throw in the absolute dearth of spiritual growth in our people…you preach the same things day after day only to see the same people sitting, soaking, and souring. Its just so difficult.
Match that with expectations…wow its just plain hard out here.

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Burned Out Pastor

posted August 5, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Are you sure you want to get into this topic?
We live in a society where most things are now handled by a “professional”, with no personal responsibilty for anything. Thus, we have professional missionaries, professional soup kitchens, professional visitation providers, and now professional pastors. It is now treated as a “job” where success is what the “company” takes credit for and failure is the fault of the “professional” pastor.
“Did you hear? Billy and Sue have left the church for XXX!” “Must be something the pastor said/did/didn’t say/didn’t do.” “Pastor, we are losing families ona regular basis – of course they are those XXX’s who always YYY’d, so it’s no big loss…but pastor, what are YOU going to do about it? AND…are you REALLY going to baptize that new couple, because they lived together before they got married, and had a child before they got married, and I don’t trust their salvation. And…what about Mr. ZZZ, aren’t you going to say something to him about XXX because that is just not Christian behavior, and I think he is lost as lost can be. Oh, and did you hear about BBBBB, and how she is MMMM…..”
And it goes on and on…but that’s ok, because we are the church who LOVES everyone…as long as they are perfect first…
It is no wonder pastors are burning out, no matter what denomination, or location, or church size.
But…obviously, this is the pastor’s fault, because he should be taking better care of himself, and distance himself from all of that…
wow…sorry…what a rant…maybe it’s burnout…but, I should be responsible and do something about it…

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posted August 5, 2010 at 4:08 pm

And doesn’t Bill Hybels take an extended summer break in Hawaii each year? Something which I gather he initially got a fair bit of flack for, but something which turned out to be somewhat of an oasis for him.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Thanks for bringing this up Scot… great comments so far!
To add my 2cents, from someone who is in pastoral ministry…
Yes this is a complex issue. It involves BOTH unhealthy expectations on the congregational side AND the pastoral side. It seems we have adopted several cultural assumptions about success, leadership, the role of faith communities, etc.
Wisdom (as Scot asked)?
1. I would say to pastors… be OK with people getting upset with you. When you start building healthy boundaries, taking regular time off for spiritual health & family, etc. some will complain… don’t just give in. We have developed congregations who are addicted to the ‘pros’ doing all the work for them instead of equipping people for ministry… and people who are addicted often get angry and lash out when healthy boundaries are set.
2. I would say to churches and denominations… it is beyond time that we begin to re-evaluate what we look for in pastors and expect of them… but this isn’t really just about the ‘pastor,’ it goes deep into ecclesiology. We need serious steps to get back to the core mission and calling of the church!

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posted August 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Pastors share equal guilt with those they serve. Boards and congregations have set expectations that aren’t realistic and the pastors themselves fail to teach those congregation and the board the error of their way. Pastors are often seen are employees of the church and less of a leader.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I think “Burned Out Pastor” summed it up nicely. We DO live in a culture where we look to professionals to take care of everything. I’m sure school teachers feel a similar burn-out. So many parents turn their children over to the school system with the expectation that the child’s complete educational needs will be met. Congregations do the same. We turn our kids over to the children’s pastor, our youth over to our youth pastor and we plop ourselves into the pew essentially turning our own spiritual development over to the lead pastor. Among my church friends it is staggering how many do NO bible study during the week. Nor do they read any outside spiritual literature or commentaries. I’m not being judgemental, I’m stating a fact. The expectation is on the church staff to provide all spiritual development. No wonder pastor’s get fried.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 4:33 pm

As someone who has worked both in corporate America and for the Church, I’m not sure that pastors any more pressure than managers in, say, hi-tech industries, but I think they are not as well equipped to deal with it.
They work with people, not data, so things are much more personal. And they’re working for God, not stockholders.
What some here see as a culture of entitlement within the church, I see more as a culture of capitalistic consumerism. People expect a return on the investment they make, products and services in exchange for what they give the church. If the pastor cannot deliver the goods, then in this free market society we simply find a supplier who can. Sacrificing our own wants and needs for the common good is not what our culture is about.

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Eric R

posted August 5, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I tend to agree that pastors aren’t under more stress than someone in a high pressure field, but there are significant differences.
You mentioned the personal nature ministry, and I think that this is one of the greatest stresses. When I worked for a large company, there were set responsibilities and tasks. Those tasks were completed and targets were reached, or they were not. It wasn’t personal. However, in the church world, it is always personal. People become hurt, or allow themselves to feel offended because the pastor did not properly (in their opinion) meet their felt needs.
Further, the pastor is always on duty because being is not a job, but an identity. I live in a small town, and the only time I get a break from being a pastor is when I leave town. I happen to live in a parsonage next door to our church. I find myself looking out the window before I take the garbage out to make sure I can get in and out without running into someone who will want to talk to me. In the average work world, I would put in my 8 or 9 hours and go home. Now, there is no difference. For me, always being on duty, and having little privacy is a killer.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Time off is good. But when time off is over, and you just go back to the same life-sucking situaiton, it’s not all that helpful.
I think part of the solution is: Friends
Most pastors I know just dont have that many people they are close to – or worse, they feel they have to protect themselves from people in the congregation behind the mask of “good boundaries.”
captcha: stoking acceptance

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posted August 5, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Corporate America has gotten to the point where jobs are 24x7x365. You go on vacation and not stay on top of your email and voice mail, and you might not have a job when you come back. We laid off well over 100,000 people in just a few years, and it doesn’t take much of a reason to put you on the street.
On the other hand, if and when you run into your co-workers outside work, they’re not expecting you to engage with them. The in-person part of the pastor’s job seems very stressful.
I think it’s also safer to share your emotions in corporate America. You can get mad at someone else, and no one really holds it against you. You can push back on dumb work, you can challenge other people’s stupid ideas, you can whine and moan to your boss about how bad your job is. Pastors don’t have a lot of opportunity to vent and be human, because they’re expected to be more Christ-like. That’s a lot of pressure.

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Richard H

posted August 5, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I can’t speak for other folks, but a factor I discern from my experience (in a mainline denomination) is that once upon a time the culture of the local congregation and the culture of the church hierarchy were fairly close together, and both in turn were pretty much aligned the broader culture. The enculturation work of seminaries diverged a bit from those other cultures, but not entirely.
Over the past fifty years each of those cultures has been diverging from each other. If we take our (mainline) seminary training at face value, we’ll end up in a completely different world than most of the churches we’ll serve. The demands and expectations from the church hierarchy frequently lack alignment with those of both the seminary and the local church. Because of the theological fragmentation of the denomination as a whole, I will like bring a different enculturation from my home church also. Makes me think of Berger’s old book, The Homeless Mind.
Time off? Time off is nice, but having a family it’s nearly impossible for all of us to coordinate to take off much time. Alignment between at least a couple of these ecclesial/social settings would help.
In our denomination we also need to figure out how to deal with the trust issue. As a declining institution, there’s a lot of fear and insecurity. Churches don’t trust their pastors or the hierarchy. Pastors don’t trust the hierarchy or the church.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm

The relentless schedule of many (self-imposed or mandated by the church) would have a lot to do with burn out. I think also the expectation by pastors and churches that a pastor grows the church also leads to burnout. They try to take on God’s role (“I planted, Apollos watered, but God makes it grow.”). When I look at Paul, I wonder how we have come to measure pastoral success as we often do today.
Captcha: deflects course

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posted August 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Jennifer@14–yes, Pastors do need friends. BUT, again i’ve seen people turn very vicious towards a pastor who tried to be friends with some–accused of having a “club” playing favorites, etc. I am friends with one of our pastors–she has very little time to devote to friends–her quality time is for the Lord and for her family. She is interrupted constantly day and night. she and her husband actually share one position–so therefore, they was both part-time. People in our church have a hard time understanding why they BOTH aren’t at every meeting or event.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Good post and some great comments, Scot et al….
I have too much to say to even know where to start….
** The general loss of a dynamic priesthood of the believers would relieve a great deal of pressure on many fronts.
** It hasn’t been that long since the time when there was no such thing as a “senior” pastor/minister … there was only one! There are very few who are both excellent shepherds and teachers who are also effective managers of personnel and programs.
** It is a tough line to walk when you are expected to support the status quo and yet you feel God is asking you to challenge it … sometimes the struggle between “livelihood” and “faithfulness” is very difficult to deal with.
** Life in a fishbowl is the pits. Period.
** Not being able to be “real” (read: have the same kinds of problems everyone else has) is the pits. Period.
** Amen to the comment about “people pleasers.” We are called to be God-pleasers, right?
** The church is a family full of fragile relationships … when these relationships are reduced to business exchanges, it is horrifically damaging. I keep thinking about “You’ve Got Mail” … and the “it isn’t personal” line from Joe … to which she replies that “just because it’s not personal to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t personal to me.” Relationship is EVERYTHING!
** Yes, friends are very difficult. Even if you can’t find them in your own church, you have to have them somewhere. I have a friend who became my friend before she knew I as a minister. She jokes with me that if she had known, she wouldn’t have been able to be my friend … but it’s too late now! Sad, but true!
…more than I thought would come out. Lots more where that came from….
captcha: exemplar established LOL!

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posted August 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm

** The general loss of a dynamic priesthood of the believers would relieve a great deal of pressure on many fronts.
YIKES … I meant that the loss is a big part of the problem … and recovering this powerful truth and implementing it as a way to release the power of the Spirit within the Body of Christ would relieve a great deal of pressure on many fronts.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 9:13 pm

…one last thing:
I agree with Alan Hirsch and others when they say that the narrow focus on pastor/shepherd and teacher has been bad. The loss of the voice and influence of the apostolic and the prophetic and the evangelist (with the lost, not the sheep!) in the leadership core makes balance challenging….
…okay, enough!
captcha: aborts time … LOL again!

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John M

posted August 5, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Matt R, You nailed it when you said, “I would say to churches and denominations… it is beyond time that we begin to re-evaluate what we look for in pastors and expect of them… but this isn’t really just about the ‘pastor,’ it goes deep into ecclesiology. We need serious steps to get back to the core mission and calling of the church!”
The system is broken. Is the institution we call “church” really the church or has it become something else? If one were to try to describe “church” from the posts shared here, what kind of picture would emerge? Most of the comments are dealing with superficial symtoms. It’s broken. The emperor has no clothes. It’s grevious what we have become.

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posted August 5, 2010 at 10:10 pm

What other careers might pastors consider?
I think doing the same thing for life would be a little bit like being in prison. Trapped.
My friends and I are all in middle age, and a surprisingly high number of them have now moved into totally different careers. People change, and what was great in your 20s might not be the same thing that gets you excited in your 50s.
You can serve God in a lot of different ways.

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kevin s.

posted August 6, 2010 at 2:07 am

Our church makes it a point to hold our pastors accountable to the standards outlined in the book of Titus. Being a revered head of the household, with children and a wife who respect you is part of the job description.
As such, taking time off and being with your family is not a “vacation”, but part of the job description. I think that’s important, and it is part of the job description for any healthy company.
Churches too often cater to the proclivities of church-goers who wince at the idea of pastors taking time off. Many, and I’ve seen the sentiment here, don’t believe pastors deserve good pay and vacation. Churches that cater to such people fail, and their congregants deserve failure.
That said, many who should not be in the pastorate are joining the ranks regardless. There are obvious examples of pastors who are not faithful to the scriptures in any sense, but also those who graduate from theodiv programs and expect a job as a preacher within their denomination.
Increasingly, the standard by which pastors are selected has more to do with education and demographics than the biblical standard. So yeah, we find more people who are ill-equipped to handle a difficult job.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 9:27 am

One must decide for truth rather than safety, even if the safety is associated with the sacred by the churches. This places theologians on the boundary between church and theology as well as between theology and culture. So pastors must be unique in breaking off certain attechments to the culture that is actually threatening the existing churches and through a new understanding assist in an integration of church and society. It is the call that is inherent to the paradox of the God/man.
The principles of the reformation still apply. But any dogmatic approach is futile. The maturing of mind necessary to make the breaks is experiential, if I may take a page from the Wesleyan on this blog. You have been put on the edge. It is actually through the church members themselves, who are immersed in the culture, that any integration takes place.
May many work with you, and may they call you wise.

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Clay Knick

posted August 6, 2010 at 10:34 am

Some very, very random thoughts:
I’d preach/teach for free, it is the other stuff (a lot of it, too!) that I get paid for.
The traditional model of being a pastor is a “perfect storm” for burnout. Take a less than perfect person, wounded like everyone else with his/her own sins and weaknesses, and put that person in with other folks just like him/her and you have your storm.
Expectations cut both ways. We pastors can expect a lot of ourselves and so can the people we serve. Negotiate and transform expectations.
We’re servants, but not slaves.
For the most part, I’ve found Christ-followers to be supportive, prayerful, kind, brothers/sisters, let me serve in my strengths and gifts, work along with me. I am my own worst enemy.
Again, very random thoughts.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 1:52 pm

This phenomena is also fed by supervisors (bishops, denominational execs, ministry directors) who ostensibly endorse weekly sabbaths, monthly days of prayer, and long-range planning for taking sabbaticals: but then make appeals for one more commitment of varying lengths of time and energy for the pastor/missionary/christian-worker without inquiring with the immediate supervisor/leader/pastor/missionary: Is this a suitable time and commitment to invite the woman or man into? And associated questions could be added as a form of discernment *before* making the request…this drives me crazy, and I end up having to carefully confront the one up the line from me in supervision and authority: “Can we talk about this?” Thankfully, I have yet to be rebuffed by the requests.
But, every time I’ve made this intervention, it was precisely b/c I knew this would become one more situation that would push the colleague into or toward exhaustion. Thankfully, my judgment- at both ends- has been trusted, but I fear the day when my colleagues don’t practice what they preach *for* those they supervise: it will quench the joy of ministry.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Agree with those who pointed out the captivity of much of the church to American consumerism, where if something needs doing we hire a professional to do it for us. Too often, the staff of a church is viewed as the only people who do real “ministry” while the rest of us consume their services. Both staff and congregants can suffer from this mentality.
As Peggy points out, a recovery of the church as “priesthood of all believers” is needed, so that ministry is shared among the body rather than the professional staff being expected to do everything. Greg Ogden’s book Unfinished Business is a great read on this aspect.

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Bob Porter

posted August 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm

This obviously is a very important discussion.
As someone who has been in different kinds of lay leadership for more than 50 years, I believe that the modern-day role of pastor is one of the most difficult I know. As many have noted there are many reasons and many different situations.
I have heard Chuck Swindoll talk about how essential a small support group has been to him personally. These people do not need to be from the congregation, but they have to be developed.
As far as church operation is concerned, a small group of lay elders who are selected (not elected) because of their demonstrated commitment to following Jesus can also be a big help. A pastor needs to work out of his/her passion. No one has all of the necessary gifts, nor should they be expected to have them. Shared leadership needs to decide how all of the needed roles will be addressed.
One of the key tasks for a full-time pastor must be nurturing their own relationship with Jesus. If that fact alone is understood going into a relationship, it will certainly help.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 4:29 pm

I am not a pastor but want to express my gratitude to all of you who are pastors. You are doing a very difficult job by combining some of the highest stress jobs out there (business owner, psychologist, customer service etc). I have thought that I would like to do more in a church (and have), but the role of Pastor is not one I can fill in its present form.
Again, thanks to all of you who do it anyway. Many of us really appreciate you.

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Bob Smallman

posted August 6, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Sorry to jump in so late in the conversation, but Friday is my day off :), and Linda and I just got back from seeing the movie, “Salt,” together. Fun flick, by the way!
My first pastorate, in 1974, was in a mission church, and I couldn’t understand why I was putting in all these hours and my members weren’t interested in attending all the programs I was designing for them. All I knew was that I was working horrific hours and they didn’t seem to care!
After three years I resigned (translate: “ran away”) and returned to seminary for a degree in counseling. Since I now had a family to support, I went to school (at TEDS) in the morning and worked at Solo Cup Co. on their second shift (2:00 – 10:00). I worked my way up from machine tender to department foreman for the Foam Cup Dept. (and got Scot a job — but that’s another story for another time!). When I finished my classwork and was supposedly working on my thesis, Solo promoted me into management and the fun began. I sometimes worked 70-hour weeks, got calls in the middle of the night, lived under incredible pressures, was given unrealistic production demands, was demeaned by workers and superiors, etc., etc. (Does this sort of experience resonate with any of you pastors??)
Here’s one of my take-aways from that experience. Pastors are not the only ones who face job pressures. In fact, I know that a lot of my present members are working in pressure-cooker situations, so I’ve quit trying to convince anyone in my church how many hours I work or how hard the work is. Several of my members could top nearly any story I have. So I do think we pastors need to quit feeling sorry for ourselves. Like a number of other professionals most of us are over-worked and underpaid. (I mentioned that a while back in a Tuesday afternoon Bible study I lead, and a couple of retired teachers just laughed!)
Beginning about 20 years ago, I have taught and re-taught a seminar on Pastoral Burnout, and each time I’ve presented it, I’ve come down on a different core reason. Perhaps that’s because there really WAS a different reason at various stages of my own ministry. (And people have touched on a lot of these above.)
But now — looking back on nearly 32 years with the same rural congregation — I would say that at least part of the problem is that we come into this work with inappropriate expectations. We think that if we just do a good job of preaching, teaching, counseling, and administering people will appreciate us and everything will go (at least relatively) well. But this ignores the reality that we have been called to take up our CROSS and follow Jesus. Ministry is not just hard work, it is suffering — in a way that I think is foundationally different from other difficult jobs. It’s cross work. And I’m not sure that can be taught or adequately conveyed in seminary.
But if, in the “church of hard knocks,” a pastor doesn’t come to terms with the fact that suffering is a part of the job, even if he or she is doing their job well — they will indeed burn out in one way or another. We don’t need to be masochistic about it, but we do need to be realistic about the nature of the work. Others have called it the cruciform shape of the ministry.
Having said that, you need to know that I am greatly privileged to work for a group of extremely generous, affirming, appreciative members. Sinners to be sure, but extremely patient sinners with their sinner-pastor. I’ve tried to leave a couple of times over the years, and God (in his grace, I now understand) hasn’t let me, so the suffering continues — but it’s suffering coated with resurrection joy!

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Jim Martin

posted August 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I have now being in the middle of pastoral ministry for over thirty years. There are a lot of factors which contribute to the stress and strain. The following is what has contributed to my overall self-care.
1. Regular exercise. I work out in a gym four days a week. This has been incredibly important for my overall well being and especially as I deal with stress.
2. Having friends and a life outside the congregation. This has helped me kept my perspective on my ministry.
3. Working on my own self differentiation. Taking responsibility for my own functioning and not the functioning of others. This awareness helps to keep me from overfunctioning to make up for someone’s lax behavior. (See E. Friedman, P. Steinke, or M. Marcuson)
4. Being away during the month of July. (2 weeks vacation/2 weeks study) This has been incredibly important over the last 17 years.
These disciplines have been incredibly important to me in not just surviving but retaining my joy for ministry.

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posted August 8, 2010 at 10:05 am

Thanks for your comments. I find these posts on pastor burnout somewhat depressing – not because I doubt the truth of them, but because they leave me ambivalent about response.
I know that many occupations are very stressful, and the more leadership, competition, and responsibility, the more the stress. Many would find a sub 60 hour work week relaxing. Pastor is on this list – no question.
But as a lay member of a congregation how should one respond? It almost seems as though turning to the church – and to those in the church who are actually trained (i.e. the clergy) with questions and struggles and/or for spiritual guidance is to become “part of the problem.” The “good” church member volunteers, takes what is given, makes no waves, and poses no challenge.

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posted August 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I have lots of thoughts swirling around my brain as I ponder your comment.
I spent 13 years of my career working in “secular business” (aerospace and banking) and 14 years in “ministry” (three in parachurch ministry, two as a missionary overseas, four at a Christian university, five years in church pastoral ministry) … with nine years as a stay-at-home mom (not all consecutive) with 3 boys — which folks say is the equivalent of two full-time jobs. ;^)
I’ve experienced just about every kind of job stress out there — including being laid off. Each of them have their own “flavor” of stress … but I believe one of the reasons that ministry burnout is so pervasive is because the internal and external expectations, as well as personal and professional expectations, can be quite different.
Most of us who have been called by God to “feed his sheep” would do it for free because it represents loving God and loving others as servants of our Lord, Jesus Christ. That is all good and well, but when one attaches “paycheck” and “performance appraisal” and “job description” and all that to it, things can get sticky.
Then, from the congregational side, you experience expectations (many of them unspoken) that can only be called “church culture” — the kind that says you have no personal life away from the church and that you and your spouse and your children are in the fishbowl for all to see.
Boundaries are very, very important … and I agree with the earlier comment that problems with appropriate boundaries is the key. Without appropriate boundaries, ministry can come before family (my dad was a church-planter….) — and I understand how secular work weeks of 60+ hours can do the same thing.
But when my husband is on-call for his work, he is “working” on work. When the problem is solved, he’s finished. Done. Nothing left to worry about.
Ministry “problems” are almost always “people” problems … and those stay with you for a long time … because they are not solved as quickly or as neatly as IT issues are.
And people problems at church have come to be handled more and more in “secular” ways … and not as brother and sister in Christ. And there is nothing more stressful that Christians handling “business” issues as if they were not “personal” — and, more importantly, “spiritual”.
…too long, again. Sigh….
Pastoral Burnout has been a long time brewing — it will not be solved by any quick fix. This is part of what is happening in the missional and simple/organic church movements — looking at what and how and why we do what we do so that we can be loving in all that we do and say and are.

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posted August 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Bob and Jim — I resonate deeply with both of your comments. Thank you for sharing your very helpful perspectives.
…one last comment, about sabbaticals….
It was telling that the last five pastors who took sabbatical at the church where I was on staff … came back to jobs that were significantly changed while they were gone, or left within months. I think it is telling about some of the challenges that come in bridging the “professional ministry staff”, the “business staff” and the “lay governing individuals”.
Okay, I’m finished. ;^)

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