Pastor burnout: Causes, symptoms & how your church can help

January 14, 2022

Preaching the gospel, making disciples, and seeing people’s lives transformed—for pastors, these are the moments that motivate them to keep going. Yet a pastor’s work can also be emotionally draining and mentally taxing, and the risk of “pastor burnout” (or “ministry burnout”) is real. 

Broadly speaking, career burnout is the ongoing state of physical and emotional exhaustion due to work-related stress. Church leaders that experience burnout often feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and ineffective in their work. This can lead to depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and other more harmful emotional and physical symptoms.

Pastor burnout statistics show that this is not a new phenomenon, but recent studies suggest it’s on the rise. For example, in 2017 Barna Research found that 30% of pastors were facing the risk of burnout, but by November 2021, that number had increased to 38%. Certain groups were even more susceptible to burnout, including those under 45 years old and those pastoring in mainline denominations. 

       

Source: Barna                  

   

Let’s take a closer look at what causes pastor burnout and how to identify its symptoms, as well as practical ways to support and care for your pastor’s wellbeing.

       

3 major causes of pastor burnout

What might cause a pastor to resign from their work in ministry? Burnout is usually a mix of multiple factors, such as: 

1. Responsibility overload

Most pastors work 40–60 hours a week and are responsible for a wide range of roles—preachers, teachers, counselors, accountants, chaplains, janitors, and so on. They're also responsible for multiple practical duties like fundraising, budgeting, and managing staff and volunteers. These various roles and responsibilities can add up to extremely busy activities and higher levels of work-related stress. 

2. Blurred boundaries

As spiritual leaders deeply involved in their local communities, the lines between a pastor’s ministry and their personal life can easily become blurred. Many pastors have trouble setting limits to their work weeks, and spend their “free time” counseling, ministering, and participating in church events. This creates work-life imbalance, causing them to feel overwhelmed and unable to disconnect from work. 

3. Cultural shifts

Our culture is changing at lightning-fast speeds, creating increasingly complex roles that also take a toll on pastors' mental health and wellbeing. Joe Jensen, Barna’s Vice President of Church Engagement, told Christianity Today that a more recent contributor to burnout is cultural change. “All the chaos, all the pressure, the magnifying glass of social media, the pandemic, the politics, the hyper-digital context, it makes sense that you have a lot of pastors saying, ‘Is this really what I signed up for? Is this what I was called into?’”

Left unattended, occasional job stress can evolve into something more serious, taking a serious toll on a pastor’s job effectiveness and mental wellbeing.

       

                                   

10 questions to identify ministry burnout

Most people occasionally feel stressed by their work. However, burnout is a prolonged period of higher levels of stress. It’s important to recognize ministry burnout symptoms that signal a pastor may be at risk. 

Here’s a simple test to identify symptoms of pastor burnout.

  1. Do you feel physically and emotionally exhausted?
  2. Have you experienced a loss of joy or fulfillment from your work?
  3. Has it become more difficult to engage in your ministerial responsibilities?
  4. Are you experiencing a constant feeling of stress while at work?
  5. Do you often feel irritable, angry, or depressed? 
  6. Are you having trouble sleeping or struggling with insomnia?
  7. Is it hard to focus or concentrate while at work?
  8. Are you frequently inclined to withdraw from social situations and events?
  9. Do you feel a nagging sense of inadequacy or impostor syndrome?
  10. Are you constantly daydreaming about quitting your job in ministry? 

If your pastor or other church leaders answered “yes” to most of these questions, they may be experiencing ministry burnout.

       

                                   

6 practical ways to help your pastor avoid burnout

The good news is that burnout does not need to be a permanent state for pastors. There are simple ways for your church to support your pastor’s mental health and wellbeing in both the short and long term. 

  1. Raise awareness: Educate your staff and small group leaders about mental health issues. Teach them how to spot the signs of issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress, and create an action plan designed to help people in those situations. 
  2. Talk & listen to your pastor: Take time to ask insightful questions in order to understand how well they are (or are not) coping with stress. 
  3. Make sure they know to ask for help: 27% of pastors see counselors each year. If your pastor is trying to go it alone, help them seek counseling. Let them know it’s okay not to be okay, and that there are people waiting to help them.
  4. Encourage them to prioritize their health: While it might seem obvious, many pastors feel stressed at work due to a lack of exercise, unhealthy diets, and poor sleep habits. Making intentional choices to improve their overall health can also provide a natural means of self-care for pastors and stress prevention. 
  5. Provide rest opportunities: Rally your congregation in an effort to provide some much-needed vacation time, or simply time to disconnect from their pastoral duties to rest.
  6. Encourage positive coping mechanisms. Does your pastor love fishing, going to museums, hiking, exercising, or watching movies? Look for opportunities to encourage these healthy activities. Get creative with movie tickets, vouchers, gym memberships, or simply babysitting opportunities for the pastor and their family to have some fun!

Reignite passion for ministry

Our team at Subsplash is honored to partner with thousands of pastors to make the truth of Jesus incredibly accessible. We know that pastors play a vital role in sharing the gospel and making disciples. They’re essential to completing the Great Commission and making an impact for the Kingdom.

We also know that ministry is not easy. It’s important for pastors to remember that throughout history church leaders—like Moses, Peter, and King David—have struggled with doubt and experienced feelings of inadequacy to fulfill the work that God had called them to do. Yet each of them learned to give their burdens to God and lean on people around them for support. 

Pastor burnout should not be ignored or worked through alone. When our pastors are hurting, struggling, or feeling hopeless, we must rally around them with prayer and offer real support that helps them to rediscover the joy of their calling. 

Are you using the best tools possible to support your pastor and your ministry? The Subsplash Platform is built to help churches stay efficient, making it simple for pastors to do more with less so they can focus on what’s important—real-life ministry, sharing the gospel, and making disciples. To learn how Subsplash can help your church, let’s chat.

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