I’ve noticed several cases of minister burnout recently. Maybe these cases are more common, or perhaps the nature of social media has caused me to see these cases more readily. But either way, it is cause for concern.
I’m concerned for a couple of reasons. One is because I am a pastor and I know something of that danger in my own life. I’d like to avoid this problem and be able to remain effective in God’s work. Another reason for concern is because I love the church and those who lead the church. They matter to God’s work in our world and they matter to God. I grieve to see my fellow ministry leaders sidelined no matter the reason.
Let me suggest some reasons for minister burnout and what can be done to help alleviate this problem.
1. Ministers are wearied by conflict and complaint. Ministers love people and want to help them. But their very love for people makes them vulnerable to complaint and to conflicts in their churches and ministries. Complaints directed their way- even those with merit- feel like hammer blows. The excessive frequency of those blows can leave them shell shocked. Conflict in the church can seem personal as ministers are giving their lives to their churches. Anything that damages the church can also damage the minister.
Be careful about complaining. Do so reluctantly. And, if you do at all, do so graciously and privately. Give your ministers the benefit of the doubt. Trust them until proven otherwise. Love them even in times of disagreement. And, be sure to encourage and support those who are leading ministry activities. A complaining spirit is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus Christ. That last sentence is worth a second read.
2. Ministers are inundated with advice and critique and comparisons. I have a son who is a software engineer. People outside his work don’t say to him, “I think you should program like this.” But ministers get advice, both helpful and unhelpful, every day. They are critiqued and compared with great frequency. “Why don’t you preach like… ” (Fill in the blank with any well known preacher on television or radio.) Advice from various church members is often contradictory. And, with enough constancy, it can begin to slip into complaint.
Be restrained when it comes to advice. Be gentle when it comes to critique. And be cautious when it comes to comparison. God did not give you ….. (Fill in the name of any famous pastor.) He gave you …. (Fill in the name of your pastor.) Let your pastor be himself. While always praying for your minister to be the best version of himself, love him as he is.
3. Ministers are sometimes discouraged by difficult challenges. It is not uncommon for ministers to counsel people with marriages in crisis or to deal with families grieving a sudden death. A teenager in their church might be facing a drug addiction. A man in their church might be struggling with an addiction to pornography. They deal with budgets in a difficult economy. They minister in a culture that seems to be sliding rapidly into moral lunacy. The sheer number and type of challenges they face can be daunting.
Assist your ministers in dealing with these challenges. Deacons and other laymen who will visit the sick and elderly can help. Partnerships with professional Christian counselors can allow ministers to refer those needing more help. And understanding the complexity of challenges faced by your minister can give you the empathy you need to encourage them in meaningful ways.
4. They are physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. Burnout happens when ministers feel drained. The enemy knows ministers who are tired and hurting are at their most vulnerable. This is when small problems appear large and every difficulty is amplified.
Ministers need vacations and time off and an occasional sabbatical. This allows recharging. I recently spoke with a couple of different pastors who had never been gone from their churches for more than a week in their long ministries. At the insistence of their church (and even with some financial assistance) they took an extended sabbatical. They found physical, emotional and spiritual renewal that benefited them and their congregations.
5. They are disappointed by circumstances. Ministers may have unrealistic expectations of themselves. They discover at some point that they are not superman after all. They may have unrealistic expectations placed on them by their congregations. The congregation will discover at some point that ministers can’t serve 25 hours a day or solve every problem known to mankind. Ministers may have expected to find greater satisfaction in ministry than they discovered.
Success is often an illusive concept. What does it look like and how is it defined? Will ministry be satisfying if we reach enough people? We see examples of burnout among some churches that have grown exponentially yet were disappointed in ministry. Satisfaction for ministers or for any believer will never be found by success. It can only be found in Jesus Christ. Be grateful for what your ministers do. But love them for who they are. Love them even though they are human and, therefore, frail. Love them when their ministry is doing well and love them when it struggles. Just love them.
Every minister, I suppose, has moments where they teeter towards burnout. But how blessed are those ministers who have godly people in their lives to encourage and love them through those times. Maybe you could be one of those people for someone in ministry. If so, what a great blessing you will be to the church!