Pastor burnout is a common problem in the church today. I hear from pastors on a regular basis facing the stress of ministry. One thing I am pushing us to address at Leadership Network is this issue of burnout; including the more severe issues of mental health and depression. Soul care is so important for all of us. Having served in the secular world, in elected office, and as a pastor I know first hand the stress ministry brings unique stress.
In this post, I’m specifically addressing burnout.
Here’s a common scenario, which can cause burnout to happen. These may be some of the more common ones I hear. Perhaps this is your story.
- The church gets to a certain level.
- Things start to slow down.
- The church stops growing.
- Maybe even slides backwards for a while.
- Money becomes tighter.
- People are complaining more.
- Everyone is asking the pastor “What’s next?” “What do we do now?”
- You’ve done everything you know how to do.
- You feel stuck – trapped – afraid – paralyzed – confused – overwhelmed.
And, this is just one scenario. There are so many others. It could be the church is still growing – even rapidly, but the pastor is doing more now than previously. There never seems to be an end to the growth. People are demanding more and more from the pastor – there’s pressure to continue the increases, but it feels like life is always going to be running out of control.
Pick your own scenario, but I know this, if not careful, the stress will quickly cause the pastor to:
- Become more sensitive to criticism and stress.
- Stop reading and learning techniques and strategies.
- Quit taking risks for fear of messing something up.
- Become protective – maybe even isolated from others.
- Develop excuses for every challenge.
- Respond defensively to every challenge.
- Begin to question your abilities.
- Work harder, but not smarter.
No doubt, even if only a few of these are true, these are impacting every area of your life – including your family.
If this is your story, I have a few words of encouragement:
Get help now. It might be professional help or not, but ask for help today! Burnout can be a dangerous slope and you don’t want to be at the end of the slide. You wouldn’t encourage the people you lead to do life alone so why is it a good idea for you? (There are lots of resources. One I have been talking with recently is Full Strength Network.)
Surround yourself with people. Don’t do the opposite, which can be a usual response to times like this – especially it seems by pastors. Find people who love you. They are there if you look.
Find your center of gravity again. (Most likely this is Christ, right?)
Get back to the truth you already know. You may start by reading 1 Kings 19 for another time one of God’s servants fell on difficult times. Read the Psalms. You may even want to read the end of the Bible. Regardless of what happens this all ends well for a follower of Christ.
Renew the passion for your vision. God called you to something. He never said it would be easy. God-given dreams rarely are. Let whatever fuels you most fuel you again. Problems are often God-given opportunities to allow us to trust Him more and watch Him work His will in our life.
This may mean you have to stop doing a lot of other things, even things people expect you to do, so you can better concentrate on what God called you to do. And I assure you it wasn’t to please everyone. Plus, some of the stuff you are doing someone else probably needs to be – it’s could even be what God has gifted them to uniquely do.
Start doing something towards a goal. Inactivity never solved anything. you may need to rest. I’ll cover that too, but you may need to see progress towards something new to refuel your tank. Again, this doesn’t mean doing more. It means doing something better with your time and trusting others with some of the things you’ve been doing. It means getting better as a leader – a Jethro counseled Moses type of leader. An Acts 6 type of leader.
Look for some small wins. Sometimes that may be as simple as hanging out at a coffee shop with someone excited about their faith – or sharing with someone who has no faith. But doing more of what excites you in ministry and finding success in the “little” things (which are often really the big things) will help rebuild your confidence.
Stay faithful in the small things. Those disciplines you once had – such as reading your Bible everyday – but you may have gotten distracted from them – are even more important now.
Discipline your Sabbath. This is huge! God didn’t give this command for seasons when everything was “caught up” and there were no more immediate demands. Those days never come! God knew what He was doing when He commanded a regular Sabbath – and when He demonstrated it for us in His Creation. So, certainly a day a week, but if you need more it would be better to quit for a quarter than be out for the rest of the game.
Thanks for serving – even when the serving gets difficult. I am praying for you. Please let me know any way we can help.
(You can make this post better if you share resources you know of to support pastors who may be facing burnout.)