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Burnout: How You Get There & How to Get Out

Help! I'm Sinking and I'm the Pastor Burnout:

Both in ministry and in life, the disparity between idealistic expectations and hard reality creates the greatest disappointment an individual can experience. Early in their ministry assignments, pastors brim with excitement and joy as they prepare to lead a hurting world to Jesus Christ. They envision an expectant, loving, and forgiving congregation that will embrace them as family and support them through all of life's difficulties.

However, according to statistics from a major denomination, 15,000 pastors will be fired this year and 85,000 are at the point of leaving the ministry because of discouragement and disillusionment. In fact, according to Focus on the Family, 1,500 pastors will leave the pulpit this year and 3,000 - 4,000 churches will close their doors for lack of a shepherd.

Why are they leaving? What happened? Some suggestions from research include:

  1. Lack of clearly defined boundaries - tasks are never done?
  2. Workaholism
  3. Conflict in being a leader and a servant at the same time.
  4. Intangibility - how do I know I'm getting somewhere?
  5. Confusion of role identity with self-image
  6. Time management problems
  7. Multiplicity of roles
  8. Inability to produce 'win-win' conflict resolutions.
  9. Difficulty in managing interruptions.
  10. Being too serious
  11. Preoccupation with 'playing it safe' to avoid enraging powerful parishioners
  12. "Administration overload"
  13. Loneliness - the pastor is less likely to have a close friend than any other person in the community


Warning signs of burnout:

  1. Belief that they are no longer effective as a pastor
  2. People have become obstacles
  3. Demonstrate lack of interest in Bible reading & prayer
  4. Difficulty rebounding - fatigue
  5. Complaining - Irritability - Conflict
  6. Withdrawal, sadness, sleep disturbance
  7. Feeling unappreciated
  8. Feeling isolated
  9. Despair that the work will never be finished
  10. Treating themselves and others in an impersonal way


The realization that burnout is occurring and that emotions are blunted and shut down often leads an individual to withdraw into depression that can end in either moral failure, marital isolation or resignation. Burnout cannot be cured quickly or with easy answers. However, the beginning of a turn toward health could include the following disciplines:

  1. Find fresh spiritual disciplines. Learn the art of relaxing. Take time to just sit with the master and read His word while you enjoy the quietness of His peace.
  2. Take regular time off. Even your creator took one day in seven to REST and you aren't stronger or better than He is.
  3. Get proper exercise and sleep.
  4. Relax and learn to enjoy the other side of silence.
  5. Join a small support/prayer group made up of your peers.
  6. Change your thinking - take a personal audit. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" . . . "so think on these things".
  7. Do something fun - laugh sometimes.


God created us to set appropriate boundaries in our lives to preserve us in the midst of incredible demands that the ministry brings. Failure to do so leads to burnout and eventually marital or moral issues or we simply become one more carcass on the road to ministry failure. Let God lead you as you reassess your lives to bring the order that He requires for us to effectively minister to the needs of a hurting world.