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