Confessions of a Ministry Burnout

How many competencies are required for pastors to do their jobs well? Think specifically about a (solo) senior pastor or maybe a church planter. Take a guess. (Price is Right rules: closest without going over.) A recent research project determined that pastors in particular roles are expected to be proficient in 64 competencies. I can’t think of another job on earth where a person is expected to do so many things and do them well. Especially not a job that involves such complicated spiritual, mental, emotional, and relational dynamics. If you have trouble believing 64 competencies, then consider this abbreviated list.

As a church planter, at one point or another, my responsibilities included: preaching, teaching, pastoral counseling, crisis management, leadership development, moderating the elder board, custodial duties, public relations, building management, curriculum writing, policy development, assimilation, worship planning, communicating with city officials, outreach, evangelism, event coordinating, strategizing, small group leading, paperwork filing, hosting meals, spackling, painting, tiling…that’s not a comprehensive list! And we are doing these tasks in a rapidly-changing cultural context which includes more confusion and conflict than at any point in human history. It’s an impossible job done by imperfect people.

Is there any wonder that so many pastors burn out? I did. The demands of the job and the pressure to be adept in so many categories…it’s exhausting. Pastors are public figures who are frequently criticized and too rarely commended. Even though many of us have advanced degrees in theology and Bibilical studies, we are simply unprepared for the unique challenges of leading organizations comprised of sinful, hurting, and broken people.

Now, the title of this series of blogs is a bit misleading. In August of 2020, I stepped down from my role as Senior Pastor in the church we’d planted 10 years prior. The main reason for my resignation was because the Lord had been preparing me for a new call to the field of Christian mental health and the care of pastors. However, in the initial days and weeks of the transition, I realized that my level of burnout was extensive.

I WAS FRIED. I had been for quite a while. For years, I experienced cycles of burnout. Each time, I thought I reemerged from the ashes like a Phoenix rising from Arizona (Seinfeld reference; thanks Frank Costanza). That wasn’t the case. Truth is: had God not called me away, I would have quit. I haven’t quit ministry, but I had to quit church ministry. My approach was unhealthy. It wasn’t sustainable.

My fellow pastors, you are not alone. You likely feel lonely and isolated. Pastors and their spouses commonly report having few, if any, close friends and confidants. If you follow along with this series, I hope that my story might offer some insight and encouragement. Not only am I a pastor, but I also coach and care for other pastors. Since stepping away from my role in the church, I have learned a tremendous amount about the key elements that build resilience and improve well-being.

My problem was not ministry, in-and-of-itself. My issue was the tendency to do ministry in a manner that included both flawed personal and professional patterns. Follow along with me as we explore the various factors, aspects, and ideas. In the weeks and months to to come, I will post about topics like: the fear of failures, shame, dual relationships, transactional relationships, narcissism, mental/emotional health concerns, trauma, heart wounds, the perils of being a pastoral family, safeguarding against burnout, finding safe and trusted confidants, managing stress, rhythms of rest and so on…it will be fun.

For real, we will have fun along the way. In an attempt to maintain my sanity while church-planting, I began creating stuffed burger recipes. The best is the gyro burger which is filled with lamb and feta. Meat lovers will come away with some helpful culinary tips! 🙂

The goal is not to complain or unburden myself. We want visitors to the Fresh Hope for Pastors site to interact. Our desire is to provoke thought and promote conversation. In a setting of mutual love and support, we can learn together how to flourish in spite of the unique challenges of pastoral ministry.



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