Leadership

7 Signs of Pastoral Burnout

Are you surprised to hear that more than one-third of pastors thought about quitting in 2021? Or maybe...you're surprised it wasn't more. Let's take a look at what pastoral burnout is, and how to prevent it.

H1 What’s a Rich Text element?

H2 What’s a Rich Text element?

H3 What’s a Rich Text element?

H4 What’s a Rich Text element?

H5 What’s a Rich Text element?
H6 What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

H4 Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

H4 How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

  • List Item 1
  • List Item 2
  • List Item 3

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Pastoral burnout is on the rise. The COVID-19 pandemic added stress and uncertainty to the already-challenging role of leading a church, and many pastors were driven to burnout. In fact, in 2021, 38% of pastors surveyed by research firm Barna said they had “thought about quitting in the last year.”

But burnout is not inevitable. Through experiencing this myself–and counseling others through it–I’ve learned how to identify burnout before it becomes destructive. I’ve also learned key skills for preventing burnout from happening in the first place. 

In the following article, I’ll talk about 7 signs of pastoral burnout, and how you can learn to prevent burnout with resilience and emotional buoyancy. 

What is Burnout?

In my late teens, burnout described an adrenaline-fueled moment in a car. The driver floored the accelerator, redlined the motor, dropped the clutch, the wheels spun, screamed and smoked. The vehicle would have no momentum. Eventually though, the tires would grab and the vehicle launch forward. Often the vehicle was then out of control. This was dangerous driving.

Burnout is like that in people. There is a great drain on resources, loss of connection and momentum.

Burnout in the Bible

Did you know that even Biblical prophets experienced burnout? 

The prophet Elijah suffered seriously after Jezebel had him chased into the wilderness. Alone and fearing for his life, Elijah found a cave to hide in. He was dissatisfied with his work and depressed. Elijah wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t being idle. Rather, he had been focused on a difficult assignment for a long time; he was just depleted. He called to God, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

He felt that he was the only one left doing God’s work and he couldn’t sustain himself.

During this time, God sent angels to minister to Elijah and bring him replenishment. He allowed Elijah to rest and recover before reminding him that he wasn’t alone. “Elijah, there are 700 others going through the same thing.” After encouragement and rest, Elijah returned to his work with his assignment clarified in his mind and a bigger sense of purpose. He went on to mentor Elisha to continue his work.

We can learn a few keys from this story of Biblical burnout. When Elijah faced burnout during enormous stress, he experienced emotional depletion and discouragement. After resting, he was able to return to his work. 

Though most of us are not being chased into the wilderness, many of us are facing significant stressors and life circumstances that are leading us on a dangerous path of burnout. In the next section, I’ll cover both causes and indicators of pastoral burnout. 

7 Signs That You May Be Burning Out

There are 7 signs or key indicators that you may be burning out as a pastor. The first 3 signs are causes and the next 4 signs are results of burnout. 

1. High Pace and Pressure

A motor burns out through excessive use. People are the same. It is the ones who want to make a difference, those with drive and determination, that are prone to burnout.

This certainly applies to my own life. I was running hard and life was humming along. The church we had founded moved into its own purpose-built facility on 6 acres of land. Multiple staff were caring for four congregations. I had completed a Doctor of Ministry, served as C3 Church State Director in South Australia and in Queensland. With a high sense of calling, as well as leading my own church, I worked two days a week as National Operations Manager. Our church celebrated its 20th anniversary. Having overcome many difficulties and still being on the journey, I felt I could face and do whatever was needed.

But the pace and pressure were not sustainable.

Once, I thought it was weak people who burn out. I am ashamed of my ignorance. Now I understand that success is the prelude to burnout.

2. High Complexity

A Senior Minister’s role is a complex one because of the great number of competencies required in running a church. This complexity, as well as pace and pressure, contributed to the sustained high stress over a long period of time. 

3. Rapid Switching Between Tasks 

One moment there is news of an amazing financial miracle, but then the phone rings, bringing news of a family who has just lost a loved one. You may be in the big picture of raising significant funds and someone comes in saying the toilet is blocked. Or, you are working with the team on a child protection policy and you receive a call from parents who have a son that has attempted suicide. 

Rapidly switching between tasks involving emotional highs and lows is fairly unique to the role of a pastor. I didn’t always manage this well myself. For example, I would respond to disappointing news by thinking through what I could have done to avoid it, with an underlying thought that it was my fault. After a day, I would be back on point, leading and rallying people to the cause. 

This response was setting me up for even more difficulty. The healthy response I choose now is to write in a journal about how this impacts me and how it makes me feel. I didn’t see that my response was from an over-realised sense of responsibility.

4. Detachment

When we are physically sick, it is hard to pay attention to the needs of others. Depending on the severity, we focus on getting ourselves well. Similarly, when we are not well emotionally, we lose awareness of what is happening in us and in those around us. At these times our emotional sight is impaired. I didn’t see burnout coming. My self-awareness dulled. Nor did I see the increasing detrimental effect it was having on others around me.

5. Low Satisfaction

Low satisfaction with life and work further compounds the depletion and detachment. Self-esteem takes a battering and the gap widens between values and actions. Health issues often show because the physical body and the emotional life are connected.

6. High Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion occurs when the emotional tank feels empty. Often the phrases are “I have nothing in the tank” or “I feel flat”. 

When I experienced burnout, colour faded from life. Everything turned gray. It was as if the tune had become the constant hum of a sole note. I became numb to the good things of life, physically, emotionally and relationally. This made me look for greater stimulation. Nothing seemed to satisfy. I put on weight as I constantly felt hungry. I drank more, as one glass of wine left me thirsty. Temptations seemed stronger and I felt weaker. I lost my ability to bounce back from the difficulties encountered in leadership, when it had been one of my strengths. 

7. Loss of Relationship Management

As my sickness deepened, I retreated from relationships. I avoided tough conversations rather than managing conflict and seeking to have positive relationships. Relationship management was not on my radar. Healthy emotional intelligence or good emotional well-being is seen in an ability to be assertive and at times confrontational. Not me. I wanted to avoid the pain. But thankfully, that is ancient history.

What To Do About Pastoral Burnout

Ministry is complex, and our major threat is burnout. Something can be done about that.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself as a pastor. 

  • Who is helping me with the complexities of ministry?
  • What is my unique role?
  • What decisions can only I make? What decisions am I making that others could make?

Ultimately, the most important tool for resisting burnout is resilience. But resilience is a self-regulating capacity.

Ask someone close to you whom you trust, if they see a change in your resilience. This is one of the key indicators of burnout. The body has incredible healing capacity. As do our emotions. With rest and care, they can heal. Yes, you can bounce back and respond positively to life’s challenges.

Your emotional tank can refill. Relationships can be deep with a strong attachment. You can rediscover purpose. At the end of a day, as you think about all that you were and did, you will smile with satisfaction.

To read more about preventing and healing from burnout as a pastor, check out Don’s book–Burnout and Beyond. It’s now available for free on Kindle!

podcast transcript

(Scroll for more)

H1 What’s a Rich Text element?

H2 What’s a Rich Text element?

H3 What’s a Rich Text element?

H4 What’s a Rich Text element?

H5 What’s a Rich Text element?
H6 What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

H4 Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

H4 How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

  • List Item 1
  • List Item 2
  • List Item 3

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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7 Signs of Pastoral Burnout

7 Signs of Pastoral Burnout

Are you surprised to hear that more than one-third of pastors thought about quitting in 2021? Or maybe...you're surprised it wasn't more. Let's take a look at what pastoral burnout is, and how to prevent it.

Show notes

Pastoral burnout is on the rise. The COVID-19 pandemic added stress and uncertainty to the already-challenging role of leading a church, and many pastors were driven to burnout. In fact, in 2021, 38% of pastors surveyed by research firm Barna said they had “thought about quitting in the last year.”

But burnout is not inevitable. Through experiencing this myself–and counseling others through it–I’ve learned how to identify burnout before it becomes destructive. I’ve also learned key skills for preventing burnout from happening in the first place. 

In the following article, I’ll talk about 7 signs of pastoral burnout, and how you can learn to prevent burnout with resilience and emotional buoyancy. 

What is Burnout?

In my late teens, burnout described an adrenaline-fueled moment in a car. The driver floored the accelerator, redlined the motor, dropped the clutch, the wheels spun, screamed and smoked. The vehicle would have no momentum. Eventually though, the tires would grab and the vehicle launch forward. Often the vehicle was then out of control. This was dangerous driving.

Burnout is like that in people. There is a great drain on resources, loss of connection and momentum.

Burnout in the Bible

Did you know that even Biblical prophets experienced burnout? 

The prophet Elijah suffered seriously after Jezebel had him chased into the wilderness. Alone and fearing for his life, Elijah found a cave to hide in. He was dissatisfied with his work and depressed. Elijah wasn’t doing anything wrong and he wasn’t being idle. Rather, he had been focused on a difficult assignment for a long time; he was just depleted. He called to God, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

He felt that he was the only one left doing God’s work and he couldn’t sustain himself.

During this time, God sent angels to minister to Elijah and bring him replenishment. He allowed Elijah to rest and recover before reminding him that he wasn’t alone. “Elijah, there are 700 others going through the same thing.” After encouragement and rest, Elijah returned to his work with his assignment clarified in his mind and a bigger sense of purpose. He went on to mentor Elisha to continue his work.

We can learn a few keys from this story of Biblical burnout. When Elijah faced burnout during enormous stress, he experienced emotional depletion and discouragement. After resting, he was able to return to his work. 

Though most of us are not being chased into the wilderness, many of us are facing significant stressors and life circumstances that are leading us on a dangerous path of burnout. In the next section, I’ll cover both causes and indicators of pastoral burnout. 

7 Signs That You May Be Burning Out

There are 7 signs or key indicators that you may be burning out as a pastor. The first 3 signs are causes and the next 4 signs are results of burnout. 

1. High Pace and Pressure

A motor burns out through excessive use. People are the same. It is the ones who want to make a difference, those with drive and determination, that are prone to burnout.

This certainly applies to my own life. I was running hard and life was humming along. The church we had founded moved into its own purpose-built facility on 6 acres of land. Multiple staff were caring for four congregations. I had completed a Doctor of Ministry, served as C3 Church State Director in South Australia and in Queensland. With a high sense of calling, as well as leading my own church, I worked two days a week as National Operations Manager. Our church celebrated its 20th anniversary. Having overcome many difficulties and still being on the journey, I felt I could face and do whatever was needed.

But the pace and pressure were not sustainable.

Once, I thought it was weak people who burn out. I am ashamed of my ignorance. Now I understand that success is the prelude to burnout.

2. High Complexity

A Senior Minister’s role is a complex one because of the great number of competencies required in running a church. This complexity, as well as pace and pressure, contributed to the sustained high stress over a long period of time. 

3. Rapid Switching Between Tasks 

One moment there is news of an amazing financial miracle, but then the phone rings, bringing news of a family who has just lost a loved one. You may be in the big picture of raising significant funds and someone comes in saying the toilet is blocked. Or, you are working with the team on a child protection policy and you receive a call from parents who have a son that has attempted suicide. 

Rapidly switching between tasks involving emotional highs and lows is fairly unique to the role of a pastor. I didn’t always manage this well myself. For example, I would respond to disappointing news by thinking through what I could have done to avoid it, with an underlying thought that it was my fault. After a day, I would be back on point, leading and rallying people to the cause. 

This response was setting me up for even more difficulty. The healthy response I choose now is to write in a journal about how this impacts me and how it makes me feel. I didn’t see that my response was from an over-realised sense of responsibility.

4. Detachment

When we are physically sick, it is hard to pay attention to the needs of others. Depending on the severity, we focus on getting ourselves well. Similarly, when we are not well emotionally, we lose awareness of what is happening in us and in those around us. At these times our emotional sight is impaired. I didn’t see burnout coming. My self-awareness dulled. Nor did I see the increasing detrimental effect it was having on others around me.

5. Low Satisfaction

Low satisfaction with life and work further compounds the depletion and detachment. Self-esteem takes a battering and the gap widens between values and actions. Health issues often show because the physical body and the emotional life are connected.

6. High Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion occurs when the emotional tank feels empty. Often the phrases are “I have nothing in the tank” or “I feel flat”. 

When I experienced burnout, colour faded from life. Everything turned gray. It was as if the tune had become the constant hum of a sole note. I became numb to the good things of life, physically, emotionally and relationally. This made me look for greater stimulation. Nothing seemed to satisfy. I put on weight as I constantly felt hungry. I drank more, as one glass of wine left me thirsty. Temptations seemed stronger and I felt weaker. I lost my ability to bounce back from the difficulties encountered in leadership, when it had been one of my strengths. 

7. Loss of Relationship Management

As my sickness deepened, I retreated from relationships. I avoided tough conversations rather than managing conflict and seeking to have positive relationships. Relationship management was not on my radar. Healthy emotional intelligence or good emotional well-being is seen in an ability to be assertive and at times confrontational. Not me. I wanted to avoid the pain. But thankfully, that is ancient history.

What To Do About Pastoral Burnout

Ministry is complex, and our major threat is burnout. Something can be done about that.

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself as a pastor. 

  • Who is helping me with the complexities of ministry?
  • What is my unique role?
  • What decisions can only I make? What decisions am I making that others could make?

Ultimately, the most important tool for resisting burnout is resilience. But resilience is a self-regulating capacity.

Ask someone close to you whom you trust, if they see a change in your resilience. This is one of the key indicators of burnout. The body has incredible healing capacity. As do our emotions. With rest and care, they can heal. Yes, you can bounce back and respond positively to life’s challenges.

Your emotional tank can refill. Relationships can be deep with a strong attachment. You can rediscover purpose. At the end of a day, as you think about all that you were and did, you will smile with satisfaction.

To read more about preventing and healing from burnout as a pastor, check out Don’s book–Burnout and Beyond. It’s now available for free on Kindle!

video transcript

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