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My-Pastor Minute, Issue #027 - Ministry Burnout
August 01, 2011

1,500 pastors leave their churches every month in the United States because of conflict, burnout, or moral failure. Help keep your pastor from becoming part of that statistic. Use every available resource to encourage, support, and partner with your pastor. This ezine and give you a good start toward effectively ministering to your minister.

Date: August 1, 2011

Issue Number 027


In May we introduced the concept of clergy burnout. We noted that burnout is not simply being exhausted. Burnout actually has three elements - each of them must be present to truly qualify as burnout. The three are as follows:

  • Exhaustion - the feeling of being emotionally overextended and completely worn out by his or her ministry.
  • Cynicism - a withdrawal from people to whom the pastor ministers. He or she may become cynical about people ("They will never get it!"). He holds back emotional attachment from congregation members and just goes through the motions.
  • Ineffectiveness - An overwhelming sense of personal failure. Depending on the circumstances, he may actually be quite effective and successful in ministry. However, he feels like a failure.

That's what burnout is. But what causes burnout? There are six elements in a ministry position that can be causes of burnout. A person usually experiences more than one when they are getting burned out. But depending on the situation, one of these areas will haunt a person more than the others. We will look at the final set of two today.

But first, a little review from the last two months. The first four potential causes of burnout are...

  • Work overload - There are two ways that ministry can produce work overload. First, there just might be too much work that any one person can accomplish. Any pastor will tell you that the work is never finished. No matter how many hours a pastor spends ministering, there is always something else that he or she can or could have done. This becomes an issue with pastors when they can't walk away and leave the work at the church. Second, the work may be too intense. I've had periods in my ministry where I was dealing with severe conflict, peoples' emotional scars from abuse, and church financial difficulties. A pastor doesn't have to work 60 hours a week to experience work overload. The intensity of the ministry may just be too much for one person to handle.
  • Lack of control - Pastors often find themselves in a strange predicament: they are given the responsibility for leading a congregation but not given enough control to actually lead effectively. He is charged with moving the congregation forward but then is criticized for doing just that.
  • Insufficient reward - rewards come in all shapes and sizes. A congregation rewards a pastor with ample vacation time, adequate salary, showing appreciation, not criticizing, and providing emotional support. Rewards may also include enjoyable ministry, the ability to learn new skills at seminars and conferences, and the respect of other leaders. Unfortunately, many congregations don't know how to give rewards to their pastor. In fact, most congregations believe that it is the pastor's job to give them rewards - he should be ministering to people rather than worrying about his own situation.
  • Unfairness - It is my experience that many congregations do not treat their pastor fairly. Fairness exists when there is trust, openness, and respect. It amazes me to see how many congregations don't trust their pastors! Respect is often lacking, and instead of openness there is criticism.

Today, let's take a look at the final two causes of burnout. Remember, your pastor will not be experiencing all of these causes. He may only be seeing one or two of them. Each one can be the primary culprit for pastor burnout.

  • Broken community - This is one of the most frequent causes of pastor burnout: division and conflict in the congregation. When unity is broken a pastor becomes disillusioned. Why? Because Christians, of all people, should be living in unity (Philippians 2:5-8; Ephesians 4:1-3; John 17:11). Pastors just can't understand why people can't forgive and can't work differences out in a Godly way.
  • Values conflict - The second most likely candidate for causing burnout is a clash of values. What is most important in your church? What is most important to your pastor? Are seniors or the youth prioritized? Is visitation more important than evangelism? Is preaching more important than counseling? Every congregation and every pastor has a hierarchy of values. Each has a list of priorities from most important to least important. It's great when the pastor's list perfectly matches the congregation's list. But when they don't match, conflict is sure to follow.

What Can You Do to Help?

There are two things you can do to help.

  1. Forgive each other for small sins. Seek unity when there is conflict between yourself and someone else. Let love cover sins (1 Peter 4:8).
  2. The church leadership should discuss with your pastor what each one expects of the other. Talk about what is most important and what is least important. If there are differences, work out a compromise.

Practicing these two recommendations will go a long way to helping your pastor avoid or defeat burnout.

Pastor burnout is more of a problem than most people realize. But when you arm yourself with an understanding of the problem and knowledge about how to defeat the foe of ministry, you will be better equipped to help your pastor in his time of need.


What's New?

I now have a new eBook that discusses in greater detail the issues of pastor burnout. It is the Pastor Burnout Workbook. Whether you are a pastor or a person in the congregation, this workbook will help you understand and defeat burnout. Get yours now!

Thanks for ministering to your minister!

Dan Sherman

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