If ever there was a career path that was uniquely vulnerable to burnout, it is the pastor/minister. It is estimated that 40% of pastors and 47% of pastors spouses report suffering from burnout. According to some sources, 33% of pastors experience burnout within the first five years of ministry. Other sources suggest 1500 pastors per month leave the ministry because of burnout, conflict or moral failure. Pastoring a church is not all "lollypops and gumdrops!"
In many ways, life as a pastor of a church is the meeting place of several risk factors that can easily combine for the "perfect storm" and set you up for burnout.
- Constant demands by the people you serve.
- Boundaries are often fuzzy and some circumstances demand untimely response from us. This makes balancing home life and Church life an art.
- Pastors are generally unappreciated and under paid.
- Many of the problems we deal with are not quick fixes.
- Someone is always unhappy with you.
- Success is often demonstrated by how busy we are.
- Church politics is a minefield.
- Personal & Church financial pressures.
- frustration and futility - pour out your life for others and nothing seems to change.
These and others are the not-so-glamorous parts of being a pastor and is it any wonder that the burnout rate of pastors is one of the highest of any profession.
Burnout is the place of exhaustion. Exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally, and is caused by prolonged excessive stress. The stress mercilessly pummels you, and you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with everything going on in life and not sure if you really care. Burnout inhibits your ability to work well. You find any obligatory task increasingly draining, and this impacts your motivation. As this progresses, you begin to feel a deepening sense of futility as you feel helpless and like you just can’t keep up the pace. This often takes one to a place where one feels like they have nothing left to offer, and this leads to feelings of resentment, hopelessness and helplessness.
The insidious thing about burnout is, for many, we’ve all experienced seasons of these feelings. When getting out of bed and off to work takes every ounce of energy we can muster. It’s true, however if you have more days like this than good days, there is a good chance you are on the way to burn out.
The Warning Signs
- feeling out of control of your life. Like you have no other options to do things differently.
- frustrated by the lack of reward / recognition for your hard work. Like nobody cares.
- A sense of ambiguity of responsibility - what is actually expected of you.
- A sense of insatiable demands.
- Lack of meaning and purpose in your work or life.
- An unrelenting sense of crazy, chaotic work pace.
You may be on your way to burning out:
- if everyday is a bad day.
- if your work and / or home has a sense of futility.
- if you are always fatigued.
- if you spend the majority of your day in meaningless activity - bored stiff.
- if you spend the majority of time feeling like you are running just to keep up.
- if you feel you don’t matter any more.
In my case and in the case of many others who have experienced burnout, the effects are far reaching and spill from one area of our lives to another. Research also suggests burnout inhibits your immune system making you less resistant to colds and flu. There is some indication that chronic stress can have serious effects on your heart.
For these reasons, it is important to be aware of the signs of burnout and take preventive steps to take care of yourself. It is also important to recognize the symptoms of burnout so if you, in fact, are suffering from burnout you can take steps towards regaining health and a better sense of balance in life.
Dealing with Burn Out: The 3 R’s
Recognize - watch for the warning signs.
Reverse - Start making a conscious effort to manage stress in healthier ways. Look to for ways to slow down - clear the schedule and put in place healthy boundaries.
Resilience - Get some support to help you learn to deal with stress more effectively by tending to your physical and emotional health.
Suggestions for Preventing Pastor Burnout:
1. Keep first things first. Your relationship with God and your own family is paramount. Keeping these foundational relationships vibrant will make you a more effective leader and pastor in the long run. Your ability to help others, inspire others, see others healed and living a vibrant faith is impeded significantly when you neglect the first order things.
2. Not everything that is Urgent is Important. Mr.& Mrs. Jones may call for the 10th time because they are having a "major" argument and want you to come and referee. Of course it's always a crisis. Mr. and Mrs. Jones have had marriage problems for a while, they are still together and probably don't need a referee as much as they need to make an appointment for marriage counseling. Perhaps this can wait for office hours.
3. The right kind of responsible. It is important to remember we are responsible to people not for people. People are ultimately responsible for their own faith life and life decisions. It not realistic or healthy for us to take on those responsibilities for them.
4. Balance in the pace of life. Remember, Jesus took time to be alone with God regularly. There is lots of opportunity to busy. Busy will fill a life from start to finish if you let it. Cultivate times of quiet and solitude, fun and relaxation.
5. Learn to say No! nicely. Nobody likes to hear it and few like to say it but it is necessary for us for the sake of healthy boundaries, to be good stewards of our families, our time and our ministry.
6. Redefine Success. Success in the Kingdom of God is defined by faithfulness not by budgets, programs, numbers of butts in the pews or how busy we are.
These should get you started but it maybe necessary to seek out a coach or counselor to help you explore the ways you can address the potential burnout risks in your life, help you restore some balance, and maybe sort out some thinking to free you from the hamster wheel of driven christian leadership.