Christian Ministry Burnout: Prevention, Signs, Statistics, and Recovery

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What is Ministry Burnout?

In Finishing Well in Life & Ministry, Bill Mills & Craig Parro define burnout this way,

The point at which a pastor, church leader, or missionary gives up, unable or unwilling to continue in the ministry.¹

The daily pressures of ministry can sometimes overwhelm a Christian leader and leave them feeling worn out  and without energy to carry on. With the pressures of ministerial leadership, all Christian workers are susceptible to burnout. This is true across the board for pastoral ministry, music ministry, media ministry, and youth ministry.

A Few Signs and Symptoms of Burnout in Ministry

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Insufficient sleep and rest
  • Spiritual dryness
  • Loss of motivation for ministry
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Susceptibility to temptation
  • Disengaged and a lack of love with those you serve

Types of Burnout

Burnout can be experienced in a variety of ways. Because our bodies, souls, minds, and spirits are integrated parts of a greater whole, the following types of burnout often come together and have a compounding effect on each other:

  • Physical burnout can be triggered by a lack of exercise, physical effects of stress and sleeplessness. The overloaded schedule and stressful lives of many pastors drive them to forget exercise, eat unhealthy foods, and sleep less. When speaking on burnout from ministry, John Piper said, “Nothing brought me closer to quitting than sleeplessness.”² If left unchecked, physical burnout can cause a weakened immune system, aches and pains, a change in appetite, and feeling tired all the time.
  • Relational burnout is related to emotional burnout and can be caused by strained relationships with other church leaders and patrons. Day-after-day interactions with energy draining people make the role of a pastor or ministry leader unusually susceptible for this type of burnout. Physical exhaustion and drama between church members can make pastors isolate themselves to get a break from relationships that drain their energy.
  • Emotional burnout can be felt when a shepherd feels that they have no one to shepherd them. This type of burnout can wreak havoc on a minister’s marriage family life due to the feelings of isolation common in ministry. Emotional burnout can numb your ability have normal emotions and have a sense of failure and self-doubt.
  • Spiritual burnout felt when pastors neglect their own spiritual lives while trying to pour into the lives of others. Many pastors do not have anybody pouring into their lives and do not seek the life and strength of God for spiritual refreshment. If you don’t desire to encounter God through prayer or Scripture reading, you may be suffering from spiritual burnout!

Ministry Burnout Statistics¹³

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors
  • 50% are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years
  • 90% of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job preparing them for ministry
  • Pastors are 35% more likely to be terminated if they work less than 50 hours weekly
  • 80% of pastors believe their ministry negatively affects their families
  • 80% of pastors say they do not have sufficient time to spend with their spouse
  • 55% of pastors receive support and accountability from a small group
  • 45.5% of pastors have experienced burnout/depression and had to take a break from ministry
  • 57% of pastors do not have a regularly scheduled and implemented exercise routine

Burnout Prevention and Recovery Tips

Thom Rainer recently surveyed a group of pastors who had experienced burnout or symptoms of burnout. He asked what helped them avoid burnout and rebound from the dark feelings associated with burnout. The results shared twelve typical responses, shown below from most common to least:4

  1. Spend more time in prayer and the Word
  2. Regain lost vision for ministry
  3. Stop comparing yourself to others
  4. Develop relationships with non-Christians
  5. Focus on the positive
  6. Have fun
  7. Cut off draining relationships
  8. Express gratitude
  9. Do activities that energize you
  10. Get in better physical shape
  11. Commit to have the spirit of a servant
  12. Pray for your community

Like any sickness or condition, ministry burnout is easier to prevent than to treat. Realigning your life and ministry to follow the twelve above ideas will greatly help you persevere and feel refreshed. Another option that will refresh your heart and strengthen your handling of the Scriptures is the Fellowship of the Word program, which is a fellowship of pastors centered around God’s Word. Learn more about fellowship opportunities by visiting our Fellowship of the Word FAQ page.

Scriptures to Meditate on to Remedy Burnout

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.
2 Corinthians 4:1

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:1-5

…but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
Matthew 14:13

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
Psalm 46:1-3

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:10

Ministry Burnout Book and Resource Recommendation:

Finishing_Well_I_4cdd87b7eb0b6

Finishing Well in Life & Ministry by Bill Mills & Craig Parro (buy on Amazon)

Burnout is inevitable. Apart from the sustaining presence of God, the pressures of ministry are more than any man or woman can bear. Learn from Elijah, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul and the Lord Jesus. This book will help you, so that, like Jesus, you will be able to declare to the Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”

278 pages
Also available in Spanish and Chinese

 

New-Cover_Finish-Well-300x300How to Flourish Now and Finish Well by Bill Mills (4 CD Set)

(Based on the book Finishing Well in Life & Ministry)
Burnout is a terrible and multifaceted battle for each one of us. Unless God meets us in the ministry with a sense of His sustaining presence, none of us will be able to endure.

Listen to session one on YouTube.

By Kevin Halloran. Follow Kevin on Twitter.

Related Resources:

1 Finishing Well in Life & Ministry by Bill Mills & Craig Parro
2 John Piper Ask Pastor John Ministry Burnout https://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/avoiding-ministry-burnout
3 “Burnout for Pastors” by Scot McKnight. https://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2007/08/burnout-for-pastors.html
4 Twelve Ways Pastors Went from Burnout to Vision by Thom Rainer. https://thomrainer.com/2013/05/27/twelve-ways-pastors-went-from-burnout-to-vision/

What steps do you take to avoid burnout?

Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.

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