Pastor in a coffee shop lost in thought.

Pastors are facing burnout. What can we do about it?

Pastors take on the big task as primary helpers, listeners, and leaders in the church, extending mercy to their congregation. But what happens when caring for your ministry becomes overwhelming? What happens when you forget to care for yourself?

Sooner or later, the stress turns into pastoral burnout. However, you’re not alone in your burden. In fact, there are tangible solutions to the heaviness pastor’s often endure. 

This article will cover what burnout looks like, what you can do about burnout in the church, and resources to help pastors seek restorative peace.

The State of Burnout in Ministry 

With the constant rise of stress and pressure to show up for their congregation, pastors have second-guessed whether this work is truly what they wish to continue doing. In a recent article, Christianity Today stated that 38% of pastors seriously consider leaving full-time ministry.

Combined with the challenging situations pastors face day-to-day, it is not long before these circumstances deplete the pastor’s emotional, spiritual, and even mental resources. Pastors begin to feel drained and discouraged. A pastor’s ability to process and their ability to spiritually see a rising concern becomes nonexistent. Sadly, it’s then that pastors hit a stopping point. 

Pastors take on a much larger role than expected because of the load of needs that people have that they feel they are supposed to fix. With these extra responsibilities, one source states that 30% of pastors face the risk of burnout. 

How do I know if I am burnt out?

To prevent the growing loss of pastors, it’s best to first identify some symptoms of burnout. 

Keep in mind: burnout can look different for everyone, but these are some common signs you may experience. 

Depleted and Overwhelmed

Diminished energy and lack of sleep are some of the overarching symptoms of burnout. When overwhelming issues in one’s personal life or with the church occur, pastors no longer have the capacity to serve as they are called to. This exhaustion can even show up beyond the church’s leaders, such as in a church’s care ministry. 

Physical symptoms of stress 

This can range from panic attacks to heart racing to high blood pressure. It is not unusual to feel these effects because of the stress and pressure to answer the cries of the congregation. 

Physical indifference to the people you are serving 

Physical indifference and pastoral care simply don’t mix and can be concerning to many in ministry who are used to feeling hyper-connected to their congregation. 

For some, frustration and disconnection occur. Pastors may even feel ineffective in the role. Sooner or later, signs can begin to reveal themselves from the pulpit. 

Brain fog

Soon, pastors begin to feel disengaged from the world around them and the needs of the people. Zoning out on a phone call or meeting, forgetting a task at hand, or lack of clarity and focus from time to time are all signs of brain fog. 

Out-of-character behaviors

Lastly, pastors begin seeking something that will comfort their souls that may be out of the blue for them. What looks like a good “cure” may actually be the need to seek an escape. Even more so, pastors ultimately feel a growing sense of fear and isolation.

So, what can the church do about burnout?

We don’t have to feel doom and gloom about burnout in the church. In fact, there’s hope in recovering from burnout. Pastors should consider the following solutions to tackle the issue before it spreads. 

Don’t be afraid to seek help

While pastors take on a merciful role, it requires more than one person to “disciple, guard, protect, and stir others toward faith and good deeds.” The shepherd needs other shepherds to guide and pour into. Yes, there is the fear of what people will think when they see their pastor seeking outside help. However, taking care of your mental health will open up space to take care of the people of the church.

Be honest about the struggles you are facing

Even pastors shouldn’t have to pretend to have it all together. It’s easy to bury and minimize the hardships that arise. But, soon, it may project toward the people you lead. 

In the New Testament, Paul knew he could not spread the gospel alone in his confined circumstances. He accepted his suffering, surrendered his need to be self-reliant, and sought out what he needed most – a supportive community and an even stronger God. 

Take a sabbatical

As one source suggests for a long-term care solution, sabbaticals are a great way to step away and find peace in solitude. This takes trust in other leaders of the church to fill the prominent role of a lead pastor, but it can and has been done. 

Sabbaticals renew the soul, provide a space for deeper thoughts and prayer, and allow the opportunity to face the church with a stronger presence of the Lord. 

Implement chaplains in your church

Chaplains and pastors can have different roles in the church.

Chaplains are extensively trained to deal with real-life issues and engage on the spiritual side of things. Pastors try to take responsibility for people rather than just being responsible for them. In turn, pastors can take on their issues themselves, and they carry the people’s burdens for them.

Chaplains are trained in crisis response, emotional support, grief support, and so much more. They can listen and support when the congregation needs help that the pastor may not be able to handle. That way, the ministry team can continue to support everyone in their church without being stretched thin and exhausted.

How We Can Fight Burnout in the Church

Burnout shouldn’t be normal. However, pastoral burnout will occur without seeking the proper help and can affect more than just pastors. The congregation and the rest of the church body will also start to feel its effects. Be one step ahead of burnout by

  • Identifying symptoms (exhaustion, brain fog, out-of-character behaviors, and physical indifference)
  • Be honest with what you are facing and feeling 
  • Seek the help you need (schedule a sabbatical, seek outside help, chaplaincy)

We are here to help. If you’d like to learn more about chaplaincy in your church, set up a call with our team.