A Chilling Reality
How do today’s pastors avoid burnout with their demanding jobs? Pastor firings, congregational conflicts, and society’s expectations of religious institutions are placing today’s pastors at a disadvantage. In fact, 1056 pastors were being terminated annually, according to a 1984 study on forced terminations in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The high demands of church members and little respect by society at large place heavy burdens on these religious leaders. Therefore, church pastors are now finding themselves in no win situations. Over the years, many churchgoers have forgotten or ignored the respect due to today’s shepherd. Hebrew 13:7 states, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” Unfortunately, there’s a diminishing supply of ordained clergy, and the job satisfaction of this group may be changing. The demands are surprising to many observers.
According to PastorCare Network, 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours per week, and 75% of pastors surveyed report a significant stress-related crisis at least once a month. Burnout is a major contributor. Richard S. Brown Jr., pastor of the Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, has seen what burnout can do to a minister. Being a son of a prominent pastor in his area, Brown sees how the demands of shepherding a flock can frustrate a pastor.
Brown explains, “We [pastors] don’t take care of ourselves. Our ministries can lose energy. If we are not focused, we can lose sight of the Lord.” Christian Maslach and Michael Leiter, authors of The Truth about Burn-out, describe burnout as the disconnection between what people are and what they have to do. While many Americans could use a rest strategy to address these unsettling demands of today’s organizations, today’s pastors could use a rest strategy, too. This article focuses on how pastors can prevent burnout by changing their personal strategies in order to secure more rest and relaxation.
Pastoral Strategies for Burnout
Today’s pastors need winning strategies to prevent burnout from their church duties. Many followers do not understand or care about the physical, mental, and spiritual demands of shepherding a congregation as long as their spiritual welfare is addressed. In many organizations, conflict is a big factor for burnout. Former pastor Robert McGee of Foster Chapel Church maintains burnout is just part of the job. McGee has the distinction of being at the same church for over 40 years. McGee says, “All pastors at some point get burned out because of the nature of the work spiritually.”
Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger, authors of Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry, found five reasons for pastors leaving their churches. This includes pastoral leadership style, church finances, changes in worship style, staff relationships, and building projects. Joseph Tolbert, the current pastor of Foster Chapel Church, has been in the ministry since 1997 and has shepherded over three years. He maintains that some burnout is due to a lack of clear focus: “We need to understand that the ministry is bigger than us. Some people lose focus and get burned out.”
Sound renewal strategies are needed. Pastor Brown makes an effort to stay refreshed in his ministry. He offers the following advice: (a) take vacations, (b) eat right and exercise, (c) break up the routine, (d) pray and study God’s Word, and (e) do not take things personal. Tolbert takes a different strategy of preventative maintenance. He believes obtaining a strong staff to which you can delegate tasks is a good deterrent.
McGee, the elder statesmen of the pastors interviewed, explains that pastors should be proactive in dealing with burnout. McGee explains, “Jesus had to go away in the mountains for peace. Pastors also need to do the same thing.” He adds that it is important that pastors get encouragement from their helpers. Stress will continue to plaque pastors. Therefore, pastors cannot afford to be victims of burnout. They can be to become champions of their own well-being.
A Step Forward
Today’s pastors must rethink how they care for their physical and spiritual welfare. This article highlighted that today’s pastors face sever challenges, but they can prevent burnout by implementing personal strategies for securing rest and renewal. If pastors want to survive the hectic pace of today’s living, then something must change. Can churches move ahead without good shepherds? There is biblical wisdom.
Hebrews 10:14 states, “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Pastors have a divine mission to carry out their calling. Therefore, they must be both diligent and careful as it relates to avoiding burnout by developing proactive strategies that promote their healthy body, mind, and spirit.
Faith of My Fathers: Conversations with Three Generations of Pastors about Church, Ministry, and Culture (Emergentys) by Chris Seay
Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers by Michael Wilson and Brad Hoffman
Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry by Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger
The Truth about Burn-out by Christian Maslach and Michael Leiter