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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.)

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 31 Comments

  • jimpemberton says:

    I feel for pastors who get into this situation. This is a great list of things to do! Ideally, you don't want to wait until you are already feeling burned out. Rather, head it off at the pass. If you are running out of ideas, look for ideas both from your church members and from outside sources. Don't just copy programs from another church, but glean the kinds of goals or methods and reformulate them for your church.

    Also, get your church involved. If you need a vision, think about the kinds of things a church should be doing that your church isn't doing and get some committees to investigate and hammer out the details for vision-casting. This way they can take ownership with you. Also, the last thing you want to do is "arrive" and let the church fall into a rut of doing the same thing week in and week out. If that happens, people will become complacent and comfortable and the church will start to die a slow, painful death.

  • This is a great article because it speaks to the very foundation of pastor's and Churches needing help. I have been in an around the ministry for fifty plus years and i know this first hand. this is why you must seek help from organizations who believe in Kingdom building and are willing to be there for you and your ministry to help you through those times that can be challenging. Pastor's can't wear all the hats, it is impossible, even Jesus delegated and knew he could not do his ministry alone, So How Can you!! We are to here to help you and your ministry grow. GREATER IS HE THAT IS IN YOU THAN HE THAT IS IN THE WORLD – PASTOR'S I REMIND YOU THAT YOU HAVE GREATNESS IN YOU! But you also have the ability to seek wisdom, knowledge and understanding from those who work daily in their areas of expertise to help you and your ministry grow – Be willing to Ask-Seek-Knock on the doors that release you of cares of growing your ministry.

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  • Bett says:

    Oh my I feel stuck …. church not growing, I am pouring out, dog was killed by a car, and motor on the car went out, and crack in the ceiling which means the roof must be replaced, turned down for yet another job, and I just realized we have not enough money to keep services going every Sunday, as I have already cut it down to 1 hour each Sunday. All of this happened in 1-1/2 weeks..don't know what to do anymore. Don't know what I could possibly contribute to the small congregation of 5, I feel so empty and tired of struggling.

  • Bsp Julius Atsango says:

    This is quiet helpful to me as a minister! I will email you so that we can see how to get this teachings and many more to others here in Kenya. I am the President of the Ministers Association in our Eldoret City and definitely we can work together to help these 700 Pastors I lead who are experiencing these kind of challenges.

  • Bsp Julius Atsango says:

    This is quiet helpful to me as a minister! I will emal you so that we can see how to get this teachings and many more to others here in Kenya. I am the President of the Ministers Association in our City and definitely we can work together to help these 700 Pastors I lead who are experiencing these kind of challenges.

  • Maria says:

    Thank you for the post. It is exactly what is going on in my life… And it is horrible! i feel stuck, not knowing what else to do, without monet for a proper budget, without support from my denomination, without supporting friends… What I am going to do is to read more deeply the article and the links you suggested and reflect more about my life and my calling, and I will ask the Holy Spirit to strength me to put it in motion… I am pastoring two churches, one in English by myself, and another Hispanic along with my husband… It is not easy, and it is affecting my marriage too… I trust the Lord will help me.

  • @JamesinABQ says:

    Maybe as the Church, we should stop expecting the pastor to perform every week and understand that when we gather together everyone has something to contribute. This clergy / laity divide gives the pastor the expectation to perform and the observing congregation expects to be entertained. We as Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in each of us. We should be teaching each other, edifying each other, and building one another up in love. We have become dependent on a few gifts in the church neglecting the working of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. We have made a few gifts into jobs, titles, and positions in church organizations. We have allowed the church to become a corporate organization that requires individual performance rather than trusting in Christ to build the church. Making disciples is more like raising children than training an apprentice. I believe the stress that a church leader has is self and other induced. Jesus says, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. We must be carrying some other yoke and burden. I was a PK most of my life and I saw this expectation to perform tear my Dad apart. We need to study the Word and rethink how we gather as the Church.

  • Wes Hughes says:

    I did my doctorate work on stress/burnout for ministers. What I learned is this: people who are in a caring profession take very little time to care for themselves. Self-care is an important aspect of any profession, especially those in ministry. Scripture also points to a Sabbath rhythm many followers of Jesus have lost. Jesus is my ultimate Sabbath rest and by learning to establish a healthy SABBATH in Jesus where I cease from "my work" to rest in Him, one day a week, I learn the valuable lessons of grace, trust, partnership, etc. I'm a certified coach and would be happy to assist any ministers desiring to develop a Sabbath rhythm.

  • bambam2011 says:

    Not to be redundant, but I appreciate your post as well. This week has been that week for me. The very word to my wife, and a couple of others, has been 'paralyzed.' I've been in the ministry for 20 yrs, confident of my calling, but paralyzed right now. I benefit from my studies and present my messages with enthusiasm, but everything else seems to be wearing me out. Not to mention these as excuses, but I know the following has impacting how I feel: Moved 1.5 yrs ago across country to lead a church, oldest son is going to college this fall, our building flooded and is under repair (since Feb), I have been asked those "questions," not to mention I've been fighting Bronchitis this week and broke a tooth eating popcorn last night. If only I could hit the 'pause' button on life and get everything in order, and, when I'm ready, I'd push play and come out prepared!

    • ronedmondson says:

      I have learned that when I don't feel well physically it affects everything else in my life, but this is a tough season for you. Praying for you now.

  • Gripped by grace says:

    Great post. Actually went through a really serious bout with fatigue and depression. As I filtered through your advice I found much of what you shared matched with my experience. I would also add that escaping to retreats designed especially for pastors also helped tremendously. I attend one every year at Beeson Divinity School. They even offer a week of camp for the kids. Just another arrow in the quiver.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for sharing your story and this suggestion! I agree…escaping is a great way to renew…

  • Ron… Beautiful Post!!! As Usual!!! I only would add one thing (Amazing for me, eghh???)

    The truth in Isaiah 40:31 is SO AWESOME in relation to this, I have heard wait "interpreted" in this scripture as "the lost art of meditation", sorry to quote the Message, if that trips anyone up… 🙂

    But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
    They run and don't get tired,
    they walk and don't lag behind.

    I envision the power that David's Mighty Men walked into every time I can get into this space!!!

  • discoraged Pastor says:

    Oh that it was that simple!

    • ronedmondson says:

      Obviously from your name it won't be that simple….but it starts there. Marriage counseling is never simple, but it begins when a couple commits to a process. I'm praying you find the help you need. Leading alone is never fun or healthy. Surround yourself with a few people, and if I can help point you in a direction, please email me. I'm praying for you.

    • Discoraged Pastor, I will also throw my name in the hat for you… I would love to walk this thing out with you relationally. I don't pastor (so to speak, officially), but I do recognize and have pastoring grace in a smaller portion… Pastors are under so much attack, and oppression from the forces of the world… Relationally in the body we all are given strength when we lock arms… I think you can click on my icon… to get my web site & a contact form… I am here and I have space in my heart for you… 🙂

  • Thanks for your post and your encouragement Ron. I'm not burnt out, but I know I'm lacking a few things in my life that will guard against it. I am planting a church in New England and, though we have a monthly CPN (church planter's network) I still haven't found a coach. I sense very little support from my denomination. For the past six months we have been short on our fundraising goals. We are slow in developing a team. There are a few other things as well, but the point is, it has been a huge test of faith, commitment, and vision to keep my eyes on the goal. I know we are walking the path God has laid out for us and most days I'm energized but the "wind and the waves" are ALWAYS blowing. To elaborate on a book title from John Ortberg, we've gotten out of the boat, but to walk on water, we've got to keep fixing our eyes on Jesus and not be dissuaded by the winds and the waves.

    Thanks again for your encouragement!

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks Nathan. Stay on the positive side and keep trying to find that coach. Obviously from another comment on this post, you don't want to reach the point where everything seems hopeless!

      Church planting is tough, especially in the early days. Let me know if I can help in any way. Praying for you.

      What city are you in? I may know some folks.