Marty Sawyers—Pastor burnout & holistic wellbeing

September 30, 2022

What’s it like to be a pastor right now, and what might need to change about discipleship and ministry models to support their wellbeing?

President and CEO of Full Strength Network, Marty Sawyers, recently joined the Subsplash podcast to discuss what it’s like to be a church leader in today’s ever-changing climate. He also shares the six key facets of well-being that make for healthier pastors and, ultimately, healthier churches.

Episode at a glance

[0:00–7:23] Can you tell us how Full Strength Network came into existence and how, as a former pastor yourself, you came to lead the team?

Host Justin Tarsiuk introduces and welcomes Marty Sawyers—former pastor and current president and CEO of Full Strength Network (FSN).

FSN is a nonprofit ministry focused on strengthening and supporting church leaders and their families through coaching, counseling, and more. 

“Healthy pastors lead healthy churches and healthy churches change the world.” —Full Strength Network

Marty joined the team after pastoring a growing congregation in Arizona. His background in ministry combined with his passion for supporting support the local church aligned perfectly with Full Strength’s mission to “change the world” for God’s glory.

[7:24–11:45] What’s it like to be a pastor right now? Paint us a picture of the average pastor’s experience in 2022.

Justin and Marty share their experiences in ministry. Both note how it’s common for pastors to forget to take care of themselves since their work puts others at the forefront. 

From the impact of the pandemic to divisive politics, today’s complex climate has left many church leaders exhausted. However, Marty emphasizes how leading a church was already difficult before the pandemic.

“Leading is hard. Leading in a church is harder.” —Marty Sawyers

[11:46–13:55] FSN looks at pastoral wellbeing in terms of 6 unique facets. Which of these facets, if any, is the most foundational? Is there a particular place that someone should start when it comes to investing in their well-being?

Full Strength focuses on six main domains of well-being during their work with church leaders. 

Here are the six unique facets of pastoral wellbeing that Marty lays out:

  1. Emotional
  2. Relational
  3. Mental
  4. Spiritual
  5. Physical
  6. Financial

While all six are holistically needed, Marty notes the the needs vary from person to person. Full Strength works to address those specific needs in a church leader's life—whether they need to eat healthier or learn some financial best practices.

[13:56–18:31] What are the qualities of pastors who will overcome the present challenges of ministry and flourish into the future?

Justin and Marty have worked with hundreds of churches and ministries over their careers. They both discuss the recent Barna study that revealed 42% of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year.

How can church leaders overcome the present challenges of ministry and prevent burnout? Marty suggests being honest and self-aware about not "having it together" plays a big part. He encourages church leaders to not let the stigma of asking for help affect the health of themselves and their community. Justin highlights how humility plays a big part in that and in great leadership in general.

[18:32–21:52] What about typical models for ministry and discipleship—is there anything that needs to change?

Marty explains that ministry and discipleship should not be left to the individual. We were designed for community, and community is where the Church can thrive.

“Discipleship is not an individual sport. The Church is not an individual sport. It’s a team sport.” —Marty Sawyers

The mission of the Church and the gospel message hasn't changed—but the tools have. Taking time every now and then to assess your ministry models is a great way to open your leadership up to change, learn new things, and hopefully reach even more people with the truth of Jesus.

[21:53–23:33] Why is FSN’s vision so important in our current cultural moment? What’s at stake if we don’t pursue this vision?

Let’s circle back to the vision of Full Strength Network: “Healthy pastors lead healthy churches and healthy churches change the world.”

Marty explains how local churches are often the "moral center" of a community. If the local church is healthy and doing good works, the community, too, will flourish. That is the gospel in action. Marty then goes on to say that if pastors and church staff are not healthy, the greater community will also suffer.

[23:34–27:30] As we consider the way forward for pastors’ wellbeing, what’s one mistake we just can’t afford to make? What’s the biggest opportunity?

Marty encourages church leaders to not make the mistake of "going at it alone." Speak up when you are struggling—raise your hand and ask for help. Similarly, Christians should avoid putting their pastor on a pedestal. We must remember that they are humans with limits and struggles as well. It's unfair to place that impossible responsibility on their shoulders.

[27:31–30:30] Conclusion: as we wrap this up, what are you most excited about for the future of the Church?

Scripture can center leaders in this current moment. It tells us that we'll go through hard times, and with Jesus we know we will overcome. Marty notes how we will be better people, Christians, and church leaders for having overcome difficult seasons. Marty is excited for the positive changes that will come from these last few years.

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