How to Prevent Pastoral Burnout

Pastoral burnout is real. Many pastors leave the ministry every year. Don't be a statistic. Learn how you can prevent pastoral burnout.

How to Prevent Pastoral Burnout

Dean Sweetman

Let's talk about burnout and how you can prevent burnout as a pastor. 

I first want to start wisdom to statistics.

Barna found the following, and this is kind of shocking: 100% of those surveyed had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout or conflict in the church. 1,500 pastors a month in the US are leaving the ministry because of burnout. 80% of the pastors admit to feeling unqualified or discouraged. 50% want to leave the ministry, but they have nowhere else to go. 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates will leave the ministry within the first five years, and on and on it goes.

Burnout is real.

As someone who has planted churches, grown churches, been in some form of ministry for nearly 30 years, I've experienced the gamut of the highs and the lows of ministry. Ministry can be one of the most fulfilling and most awesome feelings you can ever have—when you're serving God, helping people find Jesus, helping people discover their mission and then the ministry in life. That's phenomenal.

When church isn't going great, when you have problems, you have gossip, you have drama, you have people leaving, you have money issues, pressure comes on. It's going to outwardly work in a few different ways. I've got a couple thoughts on burnout. 

1. Keep your anchor in God

You've got to get your meaning and self-worth from God and not how big your church is, not how many people turned up for Sunday, not how big the offering was. All of those external pressures don't matter a hill of beans if you've got a real relationship with Jesus. And that comes back to your prayer life. It comes back to that quiet time with the Lord. It comes back to staying in the word of God and not just a sermon preparation, but actually feeding your own soul. Having your relationship with God is absolutely key in preventing burnout.

2. Regularly fellowship with other pastors

Iron sharpens iron. Like any relationship, pastor friendships can be toxic. And sometimes if you're around some pastor friends who are always talking about how great their church is, let me give you a little secret tip. Pastors only tell you how good everything is going—they never tell you how bad things are going. So anything they're saying is a description of what it was like when they're on top of the world. Everybody's Instagram post as a pastor shows the best shot with the most hands up, with the most people, with the best wide angle.

No one wants to really talk about what's not working and what's failing. The key to burn out is being honest and having those pastor friends that you can actually confide in. Sometimes when you're talking to a friend, you're not looking for an answer—you're just looking for a shoulder. You just want to dump stuff. You don't want to do it on your wife, if you're a guy. You don't do want to do it on your husband if you're a woman in ministry. You simply need someone to let it all out to. I have had that person—only one or two, you don't need a lot. Have that person with whom you can just let it go and let it all hang out knowing that you won't be judged.

3. Keep a clear work/life distinction

Having run churches and run a business with around 80 employees, people often ask me: "What's easier, doing the church thing of doing the business thing?" Hands-down, church is harder. There are so many intangibles and ministry is not nine-to-five job. We know that you're essentially on call 24/7, especially in the early years. You don't have a staff. You don't have associate pastor. You don't have someone that can do the hospital visits, the weddings, the funerals. I remember my first year of church planning, I had to do two funerals. I think I did one day of funeral study in seminary. That was it. Then I was thrust into these grieving parents and kids and I thought: “How do I deal with this?" It was very stressful.

Drawing those boundaries between what's important and what's not becomes a really critical, especially as you grow. Don't think that as you get bigger as a church, you're going to have less stress. More stress, more money, more problems, more buildings, more staff, more everything—it doesn't go away. You've got to be able to manage it.

Vacations become critical, so make sure to take that time off. I know some guys that turn their phone off, they don't care how many emails that come back to, they switch it off. They switch social media off. They go to be with their family. This is absolutely critical. 

The other thing you can do is go to your board, depending on how your structure is, to get a raise. Most pastors I've found are not paid enough. Hands down, 90% are not paid enough. Make sure you've got a board that's for you, that's really interested in making sure your family is strong. And don't be afraid to ask for a raise when you need it. That way, you can do those extracurricular activities with your family and not always worry about money personally.

Over to you

You can prevent burnout.

You have to be serious.

To prevent it, you've got to be very, very intentional, but you can do it.

Ministry can be fun if you keep your eye on the ball.

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How to Prevent Pastoral Burnout