How Pastors Can Deal With Burnout

It is Rev. Chuck Clarence’s first day on the job at New Peaceful Rest Church. He is the new pastor. Things started off good. However, things slowly deteriorated over the weeks ahead. The trustee board removed Rev. Clarence’s computer from his office. The deacon board began attacking his character during business meetings. The choir started walking out on his sermons. It was now a war zone. The church’s mission was to save lost souls, yet it was now Rev. Clarence’s soul that needed to be saved.

The Difficult Problem

How do today’s pastors avoid burnout with their demanding jobs? Expectations for pastors continue to rise as churches attempt to apply secular standards to religious organizations. Trustees want to use management by objectives to produce high performance organizations. In fact, church members want to evaluate the pastor’s performance on secular criteria such as membership growth, financial increase, and the organization’s influence in local politics and communities. These new demands are accelerating the departure of pastors.

Over the years, many churchgoers have forgotten or ignored the respect due to today’s shepherd. Hebrew 13:7 states, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Pastor firings, congregational conflicts, and society’s expectations of religious institutions are placing today’s pastors at a disadvantage. Pastors are increasingly getting burnout. Disruptive forces are wrecking havoc on America’s churches. Can effective preachers afford to be burned out and lose their God given focus?

The Burnout Factors

According to a 1984 study on forced terminations in the Southern Baptist Convention, 1056 pastors were being terminated annually. In fact, 72,000 pastors were fired across America in 1999. According to PastorCare Network, the vocational life of a pastor has gone from 20 years (1980) to 14 years (1995). In fact, 50% of pastors who work fulltime quit in five years.
What causes pastor burnout? Burnout is defined as a mental condition that involves long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in a work task or occupation. There are a variety of things such as personal conflict that would create an unhealthy environment. According to PastorCare Network, 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours per week, and 75% of pastors surveyed report a significant stress-related crisis at least once a month. Richard S. Brown Jr., pastor of the Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, has seen what burnout can do to a minister.

Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger, authors of Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry, found the following common issues emerging: (a) preference for a different type of ministry, (b) the need to focus more on family, (c) conflict in the congregation, (d) conflict with denominational leaders, (e) burnout or discouragement, (f) sexual misconduct, and (g) marital problems. These signals mark an emergence of a more selfish society where “What have you done for me lately?” is the proverbial theme. Many followers don’t understand the physical, mental, and spiritual demands of shepherding a congregation as long as their spiritual welfare is addressed.

Pastoral Strategies for Burnout

Today’s pastors need winning strategies to prevent burnout from their church duties. Many followers do not understand or care about the physical, mental, and spiritual demands of shepherding a congregation as long as their spiritual welfare is addressed. In many organizations, conflict is a big factor for burnout. Former pastor Robert McGee of Foster Chapel Church maintains burnout is just part of the job. McGee has the distinction of being at the same church for over 40 years. McGee says, “All pastors at some point get burned out because of the nature of the work spiritually.” Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger, authors of Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry, found five reasons for pastors leaving their churches. This includes pastoral leadership style, church finances, worship style changes, staff relationships, and building projects.

Joseph Tolbert, the current pastor of Foster Chapel Church, has been in the ministry since 1997 and has shepherded over three years. He maintains that some burnout is due to a lack of clear focus: “We need to understand that the ministry is bigger than us. Some people lose focus and get burned out.” Sound renewal strategies are needed. Richard S. Brown Jr., pastor of the Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, makes an effort to stay refreshed in his ministry. He offers the following advice: (a) take vacations, (b) eat right and exercise, (c) break up the routine, (d) pray and study God’s Word, and (e) do not take things personal. Tolbert takes a different strategy of preventative maintenance. He believes obtaining a strong staff to which you can delegate tasks is a good deterrent. McGee, the elder statesmen of the pastors interviewed, explains that pastors should be proactive in dealing with burnout. McGee explains, “Jesus had to go away in the mountains for peace. Pastors also need to do the same thing.” He adds that it is important that pastors get encouragement from their helpers. Stress will continue to plaque pastors.

A Positive Future

Today’s pastors must rethink how they care for their physical and spiritual welfare. Great American Thomas Paine once said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.” This article highlighted that today’s pastors face sever challenges, but they can prevent burnout by implementing personal strategies for securing rest and renewal. If pastors want to survive the hectic pace of today’s living, then something must change. Can churches move ahead without good shepherds?

I have my doubts—biblically speaking. Hebrews 10:14 states, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Therefore, pastors have a divine mission to carry out their calling. However, they must be both diligent and careful as it relates to avoiding burnout. With the increase of resignations and terminations in America, pastors need to take an active part in developing strategies that promote their healthy body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, pastors cannot afford to be victims of burnout. They can be to become champions of their own well-being.