Nine secrets to avoid a pastoral burnout

Nine secrets to avoid a pastoral burnout

Note these nine ways to protect yourself against burnout.

Omar Miranda, MEd, serves as editor and director of Insight Ministries and lives in Plainville, Georgia, United States.

"Omar, I am quitting the ministry!” My pastor friend’s threat over the phone seemed authentic and emphatic. He proceeded to speak about the stresses and frustrations of ministering to his church, congregation, family, and the world. 

What could have caused my friend to feel so hopeless and helpless? He had more than a decade of varied pastoral experiences. He was a remarkable pas­tor—the kind that reflects the love of Jesus, loves people, and is easy to connect with; an effective preacher; and a wonderful counselor, problem solver, and administrator.

After he stopped talking, I asked him whether there was any acute change in his work or personal life? His response came so quickly that it surprised me: “No, it’s just an everyday, nonstop type of job. I always feel like I am about to enter a crisis, I am in a crisis, or I am just coming out of a crisis. It’s never just calm! And it just wears me down!”

What could have caused my friend to feel so hopeless and helpless? He had more than a decade of varied pastoral experiences. He was a remarkable pas­tor—the kind that reflects the love of Jesus, loves people, and is easy to connect with; an effective preacher; and a wonderful counselor, problem solver, and administrator.

After hearing him out I gently responded, “It sounds like you’re burned out, or on the verge of being so.”

My friend was taken aback. He admitted that he had never considered that as his problem. For the next several minutes, we talked about making some crucial changes in his spiritual, emo­tional, social, and family life and in his ministry that would ultimately ensure his continuance in fruitful, joyful, and effective ministry for God for many years to come.

Scary starts, simple strategies

Every month approximately 1,700 to 1,800 pastors leave the ministry.1 The main reason is burnout.2 “According to an article in the New York Times . . . 40% of pastors and 47% of pastoral spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations. And 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.”3

The statistics are sobering and startling—but you do not have to be one of them! Here are nine ways to be proactive and to protect yourself against burnout.

1. Think rightly about God. Many times pastors forget that they can only serve within the power and boundaries that God has set for them. They tend to want to do things in their own power instead of leveraging the power that God has already promised and given them. They forget that God calls to, continues, enables, and completes the work of ministry.

This, however, is not a new issue. Take a look at what happened in a problem congregation that Paul had to strongly rebuke: “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Cor. 3:4–7).4

2. Think rightly about yourself. Thinking rightly about God allows pastors to place themselves in a proper perspective. They can then take an honest view about their specific skills, spiritual gifts, and talents. Paul, a very self-reliant and strong-willed indi­vidual, wrote, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has given you” (Rom. 12:3).

When pastors have unrealistic expectations of themselves, they may land in difficult situations. Such expec­tations may originate from comparing themselves to other pastors or from their own desire to better their perfor­mance. Bottom line: expectations must be adjusted to be realistic.

3. Have regular periods of solitude. Pastoral ministry can often be a time-demanding experience. Some pastors feel pressured in their work all week long, many hours each day. They just do not find time for themselves or their families. A pastor is not expected to work 24/7. To be a successful and fulfill­ing pastor, it is necessary to set aside intentional time to care for personal and family needs—for study, prayer, exercise, rest, relaxation, and family togetherness. The truth is, there will seldom be time if you do not schedule it. God, your family, and your parish expect the very best from your ministry.

I know of pastors who take time at least once a week to be by themselves in solitude, study, and prayer—maybe at a local park, the library, or in an office uninterrupted. That kind of being alone can be used for Bible study, journaling, reading, or just jotting down thoughts for a future sermon. Pastors should not be stretched so thin in terms of their schedule that they could not allot time on a regular basis for rejuvenation, restoration, and refocus.

4. Have a solid marriage. Next to your personal relationship with God, your relationship with your spouse is the greatest determinant of your success in ministry. Your spouse can either help or hinder your long-term effectiveness and fruitfulness for God. Therefore, you must recognize the importance of taking time to address all facets of your relationship with your spouse properly. When things are busy and stressful, you will find it easy to get lazy in the relationship with your spouse.

Several years ago, I received a dis­tress call from a pastor who had gone through a difficult year in ministry. At the end of that year, his wife served him divorce papers. At first, he was dumbfounded. He could not understand what was going on and why. However, during the mandatory separation period, after taking some time to assess honestly his part in the situation, he admitted that shortly after they got married, he began full-time ministry and slowly over the years had allowed his relationship with his spouse to weaken. The extremely difficult year of ministry that he had just emerged from served to unravel the last vestiges of his already crumbling marriage. He and his wife got some counseling, and now he makes it a priority to spend daily time with his wife and takes her out on dates weekly.

5. Learn to forgive. A pastor may have a blind spot about a certain issue and is not forgiving others and/or self. We all live in a sinful, fractured world and live in families that sometimes can hurt instead of help. One thing I have learned about human relations—even among Christians—is that people who are hurt actually turn around and hurt other people. Either way, a pastor’s lack of understanding of this issue can damage his or her spiritual sensitivity. Jesus has given us this powerful coun­sel regarding forgiveness: “ ‘For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins’ ” (Matt. 6:14, 15).

6. Make friends. Nobody makes it through life alone. Everyone needs someone with whom to connect, relate, and speak. In Paul’s words, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Unfortunately, in reality, a lot of pastors are lone wolves. They do not have friends to relate to on a personal basis. But a pastor’s life and ministry will be much easier and richer if a con­nection exists with other like-minded persons who can love and accept you unconditionally, without judgment, and you can do likewise.

7. Talk about it. Find someone with whom you can talk openly and honestly about your struggles, problems, and ups and downs. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). That person does not have to be a licensed counselor or therapist. Find a consistent and regular time to talk with that person about the deepest yearn­ings of your heart: those spiritual and/ or emotional wounds, unmet needs, and expectations.

8. Set boundaries. Learn to say No when you find it necessary to do soyour parishioners and friends may come up with so many requests, but you have your own limitations, and you cannot do it all. Do not neglect to have quality time with your spouse and children. Learn to delegate less important administrative tasks to your elders, deacons, and department heads.

Some years ago, a pastor whom I respect very deeply had this to say about his perceptions of God, his ministry, and his family: “Omar, if I’m going to burn out, I want to burn out for God!” I wanted to make sure that I heard him correctly, so I asked him to clarify his statement. He con­firmed that I had heard him correctly. After thinking about his statement for several minutes, I expressed my dis­agreement and let him know that God did not want anyone to burn out on anything—and especially not for Him.

9. Cultivate varied interests. Take time to find, develop, and establish a hobby or interest. Do something that fills you up emotionally, spiritually, or physically and restores you. This may be something as simple as reading a good, non-work-related book, listening to some beautiful music for several min­utes a day, or working in your garden. Take some time off regularly to cultivate these non-work-related interests, and you will reap exponentially positive results. Take Solomon’s counsel seri­ously: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God” (Eccles. 2:24–26).

Conclusion

The demands of ministry in the twenty-first century can truly be chal­lenging and exhausting even to the most dedicated and effective servant of God. However, discerning and wise use of strategies such as those men­tioned here can enable you to sidestep burnout and give God your best in ministry for and to Him for a lifetime. Our lives are open letters for others to read about who God truly is. Let us make sure that what people are read­ing magnifies, not minimizes, Him.

1 “About Us Information,” Standing Stone Ministry, accessed Dec. 29, 2013, www.standingstoneministry.org.

2 “Top 2 Causes for Pastors Leaving Ministry and More Statistics,” Standing Stone Ministry, accessed Dec. 29, 2013, www.standingstoneministry .org/top-2-causes-for-pastors-leaving-ministry-and-more-statistics/.

3 George Stahnke, “Dealing With Burnout (Part 1 of 2),” Thriving Pastor, accessed Dec. 29, 2013, thrivingpastor.org/dealing-with -burnout-part-1/.

4 Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture references are from the New International Version.


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Omar Miranda, MEd, serves as editor and director of Insight Ministries and lives in Plainville, Georgia, United States.

July 2014

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