Pastor's Pastor

Avoiding pastoral burnout

What is your greatest challenge in ministry? I am sure we could find numerous answers to that question, but let me suggest one that is mentioned more and more frequently: exhaustion.

Derek J. Morris is editor of Ministry

What is your greatest challenge in ministry? I am sure we could find numerous answers to that question, but let me suggest one that is mentioned more and more frequently: exhaustion.

Pastors are tired, drained, depleted. Pastoral burnout can occur at any time and in any location. Burnout happens for pastors early in their ministry and for pastors with just a few years left before retirement. Pastors experienc­ing a fruitful ministry get burned out. So do pastors who see minimal fruit for their labors.

What are some of the major causes of pastoral burnout? Thom Rainer suggests seven reasons:*

1. The 24/7 mentality. Many pastors feel driven to work 24/7. After all, there is a world to save, and the needs are great. Unfortunately, such an attitude will inevitably lead to exhaustion and put you at risk of breakdown and burnout.

2. Conflict. Experiencing ongoing conflict in a church congregation is draining both for the pastor and for the congregation. Conflict not handled in a healthy way results in a physical and emotional toll.

3. Expectations. Pastors who try to meet everyone’s expectations all of the time will inevitably fail and burn out.

4. Unwillingness to let go. Have you ever found yourself doing something at the church that you know you should have delegated to someone else? Failure to delegate to others will both stifle your min­istry and put you at risk of burnout.

5. No friends. Pastors tend to move several times during their career. If you are not careful and intentional, you can become isolated and sepa­rated from meaningful friendships.

6. Not suited for some tasks. If the majority of your time is spent on tasks for which you are not suited, you will feel drained and depleted.

7. No life outside the church. Pastoral ministry can swallow you up like quicksand. If you have no life outside of your church work, you will become unbalanced and unhealthy.

Some proactive strategies to avoid pastoral burnout:

1. Set realistic work goals. You are not expected to work 24/7. Emergencies may occur, but you do not have to live your whole life in emergency mode. Schedule quality time for your family, and make sure that you get an adequate amount of rest.

2. Learn to manage conflict in a healthy way. Conflict is unavoid­able. If the situation seems unmanageable, seek counsel. If the environment is toxic, you always have the option to leave in order to stay healthy. Do not allow burnout to be one of your options for deal­ing with conflict.

3. Clarify expectations with church leaders. Clear expectations lead to stability. Learn what your church leaders expect of you as their pas­tor. Engage the assistance of key leaders in clarifying those expecta­tions, and make sure that they are doable and realistic.

4. Delegate responsibility wisely. Do not try to do everything yourself. Follow the counsel of Scripture and delegate to those who are of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, and full of wisdom. Release authority to those leaders and devote your time to equipping and nurturing them.

5. Recognize your need for social support. You may be acquainted with a multitude of people and yet lack any meaningful friendships. Be honest about your need for social support, and allocate time in your schedule to nurture significant friendships.

6. Know your strengths. Some pas­tors try to excel in every area of ministry. That is an unrealistic expectation. If special gifts are needed for a particular season in your congregation’s journey and those gifts are not your strengths, seek to delegate those responsi­bilities to other capable leaders or consider a move to a setting where your strengths are needed at the present time.

7. Develop outside interests. A lifelong commitment to pastoral ministry does not mean that you have no life outside of your church responsibilities. Find hobbies and recreational activities that replen­ish you. Allocate an appropriate amount of time in your daily and weekly schedule to enjoy these meaningful activities.

What are some other reasons for pastoral burnout, and what choices have you made that help you to stay healthy in your ministry? We would like to hear from you.

* Thom Rainer, “7 Reasons Pastors Burn Out, ” Thom Rainer, accessed November 25, 2014, -reasons-pastors-burn-out/.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Derek J. Morris is editor of Ministry

January 2015

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Sabbath: A day of rest and gladness

What is it about the seventh-day Sabbath that is so arresting, so compelling, that it beds down in your heart with a power and conviction that cannot be shaken?

The Sabbath: A sanctuary in time

The author of this article claims that the intimate link between the Sabbath and holiness is what makes the Sabbath the testing truth in the final battle between good and evil.

No “rest” for the “Sabbath” of Colossians 2:16: A structural-syntactical- semantic study

Read how the ceremonial Sabbaths ended with Jesus’ death on the cross, but the seventh-day Sabbath should still be kept holy to the glory of God.

The Sabbath: A celebration of God’s work

This essay argues that the fourth commandment Sabbath sanctity is not only about a day’s rest but also about total commitment to God seven days a week.

A pastor among rabbis: Learning Sabbath from the religious other

What can we learn from Jews about the Sabbath as a practice?

The Sabbath experience

What is the evidence found in the Scriptures regarding Creation and the Sabbath? And if indeed the gift of a weekly Sabbath was given in Eden, how did our Creator intend for His creation to experience Sabbath?

Naming the days of the week: Overlooked evidence into early Christian Sabbatarian practice

This article focuses on one aspect: the names of weekdays in the New Testament and other early Christian literature and how these names inform.

Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life— Including Yourself

The author draws upon his experience as a pastor, seminary professor, therapist, and church leader to challenge the reader to think differently about very difficult people and to explore new ways of relating to them.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - SermonView - Small Rect (180x150)

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)