I have learned there are some underlying causes of pastoral burnout.
Here are 7 causes I have observed that lead to pastoral burnout:
Not enough rest.
When a person is tired they are naturally not going to perform at their best. Unfortunately, in my experience they will also tend to make poor decisions. Poor performance over time leads to frustration and eventually burnout.
Being willing to step away – even in the midst of the busiest seasons and most demands upon time – is critical for long-term ministry success. Jesus modeled this for us well.
Feeling alone to tackle problems.
Too many pastors fail to develop close friendships. When the pressure of ministry and decisions is overwhelming they simply have no one with which to share their burdens. We teach our churches that we are designed for community but many of us don’t practice that truth personally.
Frankly, it takes humility to ask for help. Having mentors and coaches means we must admit we don’t have all the answers. Being teachable is one of the strongest traits of those who finish well.
Unrealistic demands upon time.
Some churches simply expect more from one person than is humanly possible. For fun, I occasionally read – and laugh – and job postings for pastoral positions. If one were to put time beside what each item would require to complete it would be far more hours than a week provides. Some churches never allow a balance between family and ministry life for the pastor.
Sometimes pastors bring this on themselves. Pastors must learn to discipline their own time and rhythm of life. They must learn the power of delegation and empowerment and be willing to use it for the good of the church and the Kingdom.
Constant bickering from the pews.
Most pastors want to shepherd people. They love people and want to see them cared for personally. Seminary never taught us how to referee a fight. Yet, with every decision a pastor makes some agree and some simply don’t. This includes cultural and political issues where everyone wants the pastor to take a side – their side.
The difference in this with what other leaders deal with is the freedom pew sitters feel in making their objections known – often in unkind ways and with poor timing. (Just before a pastor goes to preach is not the best moment to state objections.)
Pastors must learn to lead for “an audience of one” to use an often repeated cliche. They must have a consistent and certain vision that serves as a guiding force through the clutter of opinions.
Questioning their own ability.
I see this especially among new or younger pastors. But it can happen to all of us in certain seasons. During times of change, uncertainty or trauma it’s easy to feel you don’t have what it takes. Most pastors felt this way during the height of Covid.
Frankly, many pastors put undue pressure on themselves. They compare their church and ministry to other churches. No two churches are alike as are no two pastors. Also, they try to be all things to all people. Impossible.
People often have a hard time believing that as a pastor I receive far more criticism than I do encouragement. It has always baffled me what people feel they can say to the pastor. Everyone needs encouragement. Sadly, I know some pastors who feel beaten down by people in their church and rarely receive a kind word or gesture.
I keep an encouragement file. Anytime someone sends me a card or note I place it in the file. On especially tough days I pull out the file and read the encouraging notes to remind me it hasn’t always been like this and some people do appreciate my efforts.
Never practicing self-care.
Certainly, this is something a church should strive to do for the pastor – help create a culture where the pastor can have a healthy life. But I place this one primarily as a responsibility of the pastor.
Pastor, ultimately, no one will protect your soul for you. You must discipline yourself to eat well, exercise, read, reflect and rest even in the midst of all the chaos.
How many of these are on your list, pastor?
There are resources to help if you are facing burnout. Again, don’t be too proud to reach out for help.