I meet with pastors each week who are thriving spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Not every pastor is on the precipice of a breakdown, in fact, most are not. However, there are those who are hurting deeply and ready to quit.
In fact, my colleagues in Church Minister Relations and I, regularly minister to pastors who, like Elijah, have reached their limit. Not every pastor is facing burnout, but enough are to raise the question: Why?
From my personal experience of ministering to hundreds of pastors, I have found that burn-out often occurs for these reasons:
For most pastors there is a predictable rhythm for the week, and Sunday comes around very quickly. But added to the predictable week of meetings, visits, sermons, and administrative duties comes the extra pressure from the cell phone.
There is no escaping email, text messages, phone calls, and social media demands. God is omnipresent and indefatigable, but pastors are not. In Mark 6;31, Jesus taught us the importance of resting and de-stressing. “He said to [His disciples], ‘Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.’ For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
Every pastor should build off-time in his schedule as well as time for a hobby.
Constructive criticism can be extremely helpful for all believers (see Gal. 2:11), but mean-spirited, destructive criticism can be a key element in pastoral burnout.
There are many examples of such critics in the Bible but none more ominous than the super-critic Jezebel. In 1 Kings 19, this wicked queen not only criticized God’s man, Elijah, but she went so far as to threaten his life. As a result, Elijah (who had just called fire down from heaven) fell dispirited under a broom tree and longed to die.
Critics have a way of doing that to all of us.
The church at Ephesus was a hard-working church but somewhere along the line she became spiritually anemic. Pastoral burnout can occur when a minister fails to care for his spirit.
Like the Church at Ephesus, he needs to repent and return to a routine which includes quality prayer and devotional time with the Lord.
Some pastors think that the church will grow and be healthy if he just prays hard and preaches even harder. However, some great preachers are in dry places. Perhaps it was unrealistic expectations that led to both Elijah and John the Baptist’s low moments in ministry (cf. 1 Kings 19:4; and Matt. 11:3).
The excitement and optimism of seminary is oftentimes replaced by the stark reality of church decline. This can lead to pastor depression and burnout.
The Office of Church-Minister Relations deals in conflict mediation — but so does every pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Conflict and bickering can quickly drain the energy out of a pastor and the power out of a church.
There can be no doubt that dealing with excessive conflict can lead to pastor burnout.
Lack of support network
Every pastor needs a true friend. Loneliness and isolation can lead to burnout or worse — moral failure. For pastors, friends are accountability partners, prayer partners, and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on. A p astor without at least one close friend is more likely to burn out.
At the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, we believe that pastors are our heroes.
Most of our heroes are thriving under the intense pressure of life and ministry. But all are susceptible to burnout and some are experiencing it.
Please pray for your pastor and do not forget to recognize him in October as it is Pastor Appreciation Month. Publicly acknowledging his ministry might be just the encouragement that he and his family need to keep going.