5 Ways for a Pastor to Avoid Burnout

by Rick Whitter

Burnout—the word is so overused, but the reality is so underestimated. The number of frustrated pastors seems to be on the rise. Even worse, the statistics of pastors leaving the ministry in less-than-desirable ways are overwhelming. Too many leaders are suffering the results of ministry fatigue and the apathy that accompanies it. Continued stress over long periods of time can have devastating consequences.

What are the telltale signs of burnout in ministry?

We get angry quickly. We become overly defensive. We get irritable with our spouse. We find ourselves spending less time preparing; we are OK “winging it.” Passion wanes. You want to quit. These are signs of leadership atrophy and burnout.

Many pastors are frustrated because they don’t know what to do. How do we avoid burnout? Well, rather than ducking burnout like a prizefighter who is getting pummeled by his opponent, I think we should go on the offensive. With purpose, let’s pursue the things that help us to conquer burnout before it conquers us!

Here are five methods to avoid burnout:

Pursue family. It has been said that family is first ministry–and it’s true. You must put your family before your church work. That does not mean that you always get to hang with your spouse and kids, but they need to know, without a doubt, that they are more important to you than is the church. You need your family in order to stay balanced. Even when the marriage isn’t as healthy as you would like or the kids are annoying, they are your personal sanctuary. Delineate clear lines of demarcation between family and work. It’s worth your effort to be there for your family.

Pursue a day off (sabbath). I recently Tweeted, “Anyone who thinks that Sunday is the pastor’s sabbath has never been a pastor.” You need a day of rest, and Sunday isn’t it. If you don’t commit to one day a week, it will not happen. When someone asks you for an appointment on that day, it is acceptable to say, “Sorry, but I’m committed all day.” Don’t try to fulfill the demands of everyone in the church. Something that will help? Get a hobby. Fish, bike, run—whatever works. Just commit to something that will force you to unplug. Take a break. Take a vacation or sabbatical. You must be accountable to work a reasonable amount of hours. It’s up to you to pursue that.

Pursue life-giving relationships. Every pastor needs a confidant. You’re not weak because you need a shoulder to cry on. You should have people in your life with whom you can talk out your frustrations. This shouldn’t be your spouse or a church member, but it should be someone who understands ministry. They will allow you to dump the aggravation and move on without judgment. You may gain encouragement from a fellowship or accountability group. Whoever it is and however it’s structured, you must have people in your life that build you up, listen to you, and pray for you. It’s up to you to seek out those relationships.

Pursue training. Sometimes frustrations stem from a lack of proficiencies in our abilities. We don’t know how to handle a particular situation and irritation sets in. When we do not improve our competencies, we get stuck. If you set realistic goals for yourself and grow into the skills required to accomplish those goals, you will succeed and help avoid burnout. Read a book, take a class, join an online discussion group. Conferences, seminars, and podcasts are also good sources of training. It’s up to you to stay current with the training you need to do your job well.

Pursue God. It may sound like a given, but it’s not. Many pastors admit to not having a personal time of prayer and Bible study outside of preaching preparation. A life without personal spiritual disciplines is headed for burnout. Put God first. He will feed you and lead you and prepare you to fulfill the call He has placed on your life.

If you feel yourself edging toward burning out–take corrective action now. Even if you are going full speed ahead with no signs of wearing down, put these ideas into practice. Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Do these things and you should be able to enjoy a long and satisfying ministry and avoid burnout.


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Posted in Church  |  Leadership