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, http://thomrainer.com/2013/09/28/seven -reasons-pastors-burn-out/.