Avoiding burnout in ministry. Recognizing the problem.

What if you saw this headline in tomorrow’s newspaper:

Doctors Discover Disease Affecting 1,500 Pastors A Month!

Would you read it?  Would you be concerned?  Would you take action in order to prevent contracting the disease yourself?

Of course you would.

Substitute the word burnout for disease.  Does the headline now seem as urgent or even newsworthy?  Maybe not so much.

Yet, burnout is a disease.  A disease that is taking a huge toll on leadership in the church.

So what, exactly, is burnout.  Is there a clear definition?  According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary burnout is exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

Stress or frustration in the church?  Seriously?  Yes, seriously!

Consider the following statistics:

40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.

45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.

Everyone who has been involved in ministry of some sort has experienced periods of stress or frustration.  That’s just how it is in life and in ministry.  However, feeling frustrated is a far cry from exhaustion.  Burnout involves not only physical and emotional exhaustion, but mental and spiritual exhaustion as well.  Exhaustion caused by prolonged stress or frustration.

What could possibly cause prolonged stress or frustration in the life of a pastor?  After all, he is getting paid to simply read his Bible and prepare for next Sunday’s sermon, right?


According to PastorBurnout.com, an entire website dedicated to the subject, there are at least 53 causes of pastor burnout.  These causes encompass administrative, family, expectations, financial, conflict, sin, self-perception, theological, psychological, spiritual, schedule, and health issues.  You can read the entire article here.

Even the New York Times has something to say about the subject of pastor burnout.

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”  (read the article here)

Now that we’ve established there is a pervasive problem, what are the symptoms?  How do you know if you are experiencing burnout?

Here is a list of a few common symptoms:




Weight gain or loss.

Family issues.

Marital issues.

Loss of creativity.

Negative attitude toward yourself and others.

Dread of going to work.

Feeling overwhelmed.


If you would like to read more, I suggest clicking on these two articles, Anorexia of the Soul: A Burnout Checklist for Pastors.

And  Symptoms of Burnout.

There is good news, however!  We can experience healing of burnout.  There are some very practical and concrete steps we can take to get back to a place of health and to avoid burnout in the future.  The first step is to acknowledge there is a problem.  I will discuss additional action steps in my next post.

I’ll leave you with these words from a beloved hymn that reminds us that we are not alone:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

(It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio G. Spafford, 1873)


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