I recently posted two articles on Facebook about the difficulties of pastoral ministry. The first article was titled Statistics On Pastors. The second was titled, Clergy at Higher Risk of Depression and Anxiety. I meet weekly with a group of pastors and these articles were part of our discussions recently. All of this got me thinking about a chapter I wrote in a book a few years ago. The title of the book was, Nelson’s Church Leader’s Manual. My chapter title was “Dealing with Burnout.” Please take the time to read this and pass it on to all of your pastor friends (and enemies).
One Sunday morning a pastor friend of mine stepped behind the pulpit to delivery his weekly homily. Up to that point it had been a normal Sunday. The choir sang, announcements were made, and an offering was taken. My friend stood poised and opened his Bible to begin his sermon when something happened that shocked the entire congregation. He paused, as if searching for his prepared remarks, and then said, “I have had enough. I can’t take it anymore. I quit.” He then walked down the center aisle and out the building, never to pastor again.
When I first heard about my friend, I felt sad and a little sorry. However, I must admit, there was a part of me that also felt admiration. I small part of me thought, “Wow. I wish I had the courage to do that!” I dare say I am not alone. I bet a lot of church leaders have fantasized about telling the congregation how they really feel and then exiting the building.
I have no doubt that what caused my friend to do what he did, and what caused me to think what I thought, was burnout. Burnout is when you are emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted as a result of prolonged stress from feeling overwhelmed, under-capable, and unappreciated. Burnout is the job hazard of pastoral ministry. Burnout reduces your productivity, saps your energy, and robs you of the joy and motivation that led you into ministry in the first place. Everyone has a bad day now and then; and everyone periodically feels overwhelmed and under-appreciated. But burnout is when you feel that way for a prolonged period of time. Continue reading