Pastoral Burn Out: Why Your Pastor Needs You

burn out

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out-and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself.” -Jesse, Moses’ father-in-law in Exodus 18:17-18.

Even though Jesse was talking to Moses, he could have just as easily been talking to any number of pastors out there in the world today, including me.

You see, I used to pastor a church. That’s right! I used to pastor a church. You are looking at a  former pastor right here.

Why is it that I don’t pastor anymore? It’s plain and simple: I burned out. I’m one of those statistics you read about all the time. I’m one of “those guys” who made the brave decision to step down from the pastorate because they just couldn’t take it anymore. Notice how I used the word “brave” to describe my decision. It certainly was one of the bravest decisions that I have ever made in my whole life. It took a lot of courage and I had to overcome a lot of fear to move forward.

Afraid of Failing God

Many pastors want to quit, but don’t. They’re afraid that they won’t be able to support their family or find work with another ministry. They are afraid of what other people might think of them. They don’t want to disappoint anyone or let anyone down. Most of all, they’re afraid of failing God.

While statistics vary from study to study, here are some alarming statistics about pastoral burn out:

  • At any given time, 75% of pastors in America want to quit.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burn out, conflict, or moral failure.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burn out to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.

We could go on  about all the studies and statistics out there on pastors, but the fact of the matter is this: Pastoral burn out does happen. And it happens more than you think.

So why did it happen to me? Was I one of those prideful pastors who was afraid to ask for help—who was afraid of looking weak? No, I wasn’t, even though there are some out there like that.

I asked for help. I was constantly asking for help, and even begging for help at times.

The Painfully Easy Road to Burn Out

I was a bi-vocational pastor who worked 40 hours a week in a call center, and then, I would be working 25 to 30 hours per week at the church. As many other of you fellow pastors in a similar situation, not only was I the pastor, but I was also the worship leader, church administrator, and bookkeeper. I put together the cleaning schedule. I was on the cleaning schedule. If someone wasn’t able to come to the church to clean, I did the cleaning. I did all the marketing/advertising. I planned events. Kept the website going and published our email newsletter every month.

I was the first one there on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I turned the lights on, cranked the heat up or turned the A/C on, got the coffee going, and made sure that there was worship music playing as people came in.

Many times I had to run sound while I sang and preached. Sometimes I would have usher—greeting people as they came into church, taking up the offering, and doing the little tasks like making sure everyone had tissues!

After service, I would also be the last one to leave, locking the doors as I hurried off to the bank to drop off the deposit.

Needless to mention, but by the time it was all said and done, I was exhausted.

Where was the church? Where was the congregation? To answer your questions, they were there. They just didn’t want to do anything.

Help! I Need Somebody

As I mentioned before, I would ask and beg for help. People were willing to preach if I wanted to take a Sunday off, but outside of that I couldn’t get any help anywhere else.

So a typical pastoral conversation between us would go like this:

Pastor: There’s a need in the church and I was wondering if you would be willing to step up and help out with _______?
Congregant: I would love to, Pastor, but I just don’t feel like God has called me to that. But I will pray about it…
Pastor: Well, what do you feel like the Lord is calling you to?
Congregant: Full-time ministry!
Pastor: That’s awesome! What do you feel like the Lord’s calling you to do in full-time ministry?
Congregant: I don’t know. I’m still praying about it.
Pastor: I totally understand. Been there before myself. Well, how about this? Until the Lord reveals to you what it is that he wants you to do in full-time ministry, could you step up and help out with ______?
Congregant: Well, you see, Pastor, I would really love to. Honestly, I would. But when I get home from work, I’m so tired. I have so much stuff to do around the house, and, you know, my wife/husband/kids, school…

I know many of you pastors identify with this. You get what I’m saying and how I feel. So while this conversation is playing out, I’m sitting there, half-listening, but thinking to myself, “You’re telling me God’s calling you into full-time ministry, yet you can’t even step up to serve him part-time right now? You get the option to rest when you get home from work. You actually have the luxury of getting things accomplished around your house. You’re getting to see your family/friends, eating dinner with them, watching TV, etc. Meanwhile, I’m busting my butt just so you can come here, stare at me blankly for two hours while you sip your coffee, fight to stay awake, and not connect with my message?”

Keeping Your Pastor from Burn Out


You bet.

When I stepped down, I let the denomination know my decision six weeks in advance. The council found out the following week, and then I announced it to the church the following Sunday. The denomination was going to bring in an Interim Pastor while they worked with the council to fill my position. The district supervisor explained to the council that everything I had been doing, an what they were now going to have to do until there was another full time pastor installed. Ten minutes after the district supervisor was out the door, the council members of the council started talking about closing the church. Two weeks later, they voted to do just that. My last service there as pastor was also the last service of the church. A church that had been in the community for 75 years closed the doors. Why? Simply because nobody wanted to do any work.

If you want to know what’s one thing that you can do to help keep your pastor from experiencing burn out, here are some things you can do:

Help out around the church. There are so many ways in which you can ease the pastor’s burden, even if it’s just a quick note to say, “Hey, thanks! I very much appreciate what you are doing for the church and me.”

Pray for your pastor faithfully:  Yes, encourage them with a card, email, Facebook post! Let them know you’re connecting with the 20-45 minute message that they spent 10 hours studying for, praying over, prepping, and preparing. Come Octobers, make sure you’re aware of Pastor Appreciation Month. Please join with the congregation to honor them and to show them your appreciation. All of this is great, awesome, and it’s vitally needed and appreciated. A little certainly goes along way.

How to be a true blessing to your pastor: If you really want to bless your pastors’ lives, encourage them, and do all you can to keep them from burning out. Roll up your sleeves, get in there, and get busy working beside them and defending them from their antagonists. Your pastor desperately needs you!

As for me, I’m not completely out of the game, yet! God’s given me an amazing vision for a home church and I love what he is doing in my life right now.

Praying for you as you seek to serve honor God in all that you do.

Photo via No Laughing Matter Ministries

Eric Johnson
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