“Pastors’ Burnout” seems to be the reason many pastors left the ministry. Dr Clark, who has been in the ministry for 49 years, since 1968, shares his insights on how to manage it.
Stress and burnout come from several sources. It’s not always just the weight, responsibilities and demands of ministry. Financial stress, family issues, marital tension, etc., can all contribute. The lack of good, healthy boundaries can give rise to unpleasant circumstances that steal time, resources and energy. Unbiblical and unrealistic expectation of those we minister to can also cause our plate to fill to unreasonable proportions. Sometimes we just need the divine wisdom to know when to say no!
My father was an evangelist when I was born. When I turned five, he became a pastor. I have known nothing but the ministry all my life. I watched my parents go through the horrific pain of betrayal and very cruel and contrived false accusation. I saw the weeping and pain.
My wife, Judy, and I and our four children, went through something very similar. I was so grateful for the example of my parents and how they managed through tough times and did not abandon their sacred call, when it was so tempting to do so! We went through a time where our family motto was “we will get better, not bitter”. The dagger of betrayal goes deep and the wounds, can be life-threatening to one’s ministry.
Wounds can and do heal. There are some in ministry who have become more comfortable keeping their wounds than forgiving and allowing God’s provision to heal. Without the wounds, their excuse for their behavior is removed.
But burnout comes more often from overwhelming schedules, carrying way too much responsibility and short nights followed by long days. Not taking time for personal refreshing, physically, mentally, relationally, emotionally, and of course spiritually. Also, as mentioned, sometimes what people expect from us and the tensions that follow when they are not met can feel like a pressure cooker.
Here are a few statistics from “expastors.com” that are gripping and very sobering to say the least! I have not substantiated them, but from everything I have read and heard on the subject, they are very representative of the facts. (All are US statistics, but are valid issues in most cultures for ministers) Here is what they claim:
Most pastors are overworked. 70% feel grossly underpaid. 90% feel they are unprepared. Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement. 80% of pastors say their families are negatively impacted. 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under-appreciated by church members. Pastors are lonely! 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend. 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
Then this: 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.
I think we should add to the list the pressure to perform! That church is growing, why is yours not growing?
Personally, while experiencing deep pain and wounds, the ministry has brought far more joy and pleasure than suffering, and is, in my opinion, the greatest privilege one could have on this earth!
So, how do we avoid burnout? While not by any means a full and exhaustive list, in 48 years of ministry, here are a few primary things I feel God’s Word, coupled with experience, has revealed about avoiding ministry burnout!
- Nothing can ever replace a consistent devotional life! Let time in God’s Word and prayer slip and everything becomes more vulnerable!
- Keep marriage and family where God has placed it. Nothing is more valuable and precious than your family! Do not let the ministry steal that priority! Yes, submitting to the call into the ministry will take you down a road that will require sacrifice. Just do not fall into the trap that makes your family the sacrifice!
- Equip God’s people! High on our biblical mandates is “making disciples”, equipping believers for the work of the ministry. Much of what pastors do should be done by others in the church. Train them, trust them and let them lead and serve! This must be intentional on the part of the pastor. As yes, in some degree, systematic! There must be a process. People in the church need to understand that process. The problem can be not embracing what the Word truly teaches.
Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (NKJV)
The problem with this version is the three times the word “for” is used in verse 12. The first time “for” is used, the Greek word “pros” is used. However, the second and third times, the Greek word “eis” is used, and it would be more accurate to interpret it as “unto” rather than “for”. The verse actually says: “Jesus gives to the church Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers for the purpose of equipping God’s people so they can accomplish doing the work of the ministry which will lead to the building up and maturation of the Body of Christ.” (So that the pastor is not overburdened and overworked and does not burn out!)
- As co-laborers in ministry, we should struggle against competitiveness, be supportive, care for one another and do what the apostle Paul told us to do: “Build each other up!”
My wife and I had arrived in Greenville, a small town in Ohio. Our first church, First Assembly of God (AG), Greenville, had 30 people, when they were all there. We were 25 miles away from any other AG church and felt isolated. Our salary was $100 per week. The church did grow, but Judy and I were doing everything. We also had two daughters, a newborn and a two-year-old. My hours were 60 to 70 per week!
One Sunday we had a family of four visit. I met them at the door and asked how they came to hear about our church. I will never forget their response.
“Oh, we have been attending Northwest Assembly (a church of about 1,200) and our pastor told us about you and the church and encouraged us to give it a try since it was 30 miles closer to where we live.” They became such a support. Mature believers, they started to take some of our heavy responsibilities.
The act of the other pastor encouraged us too. I called him to thank him. He invited me to speak at his men’s breakfast. I had a friend and confidant I could discuss our needs and issues with. We could have burned out very quickly.
We began to nurture new believers and disciple others. Soon people were serving in most of the places we were taking care of ourselves initially. Greenville and the ministry, became a joy!
Oh, there were still problems, but, we had: People serving; Time for family; Supportive friends; Discipleship in place!
About Dr Wayne Clark
Dr R Wayne Clark has served as Senior Pastor of First Assembly of God, San Antonio, Texas for 21 years. He has planted eight new churches from congregations he has pastored. He has traveled to 62 countries for ministry. His ministry is marked by discipleship and missions. He has pastored churches from 30 to 2,000 people. Married to Judy for 46 years, he has four children, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandson! Dr Clark also enjoys golf and fishing!