The first sentence of Scott Peck’s best seller, The Road Less Traveled, is, “Life is difficult.” Any manual for ministers should begin, “Ministry is difficult squared.” In addition to being human beings with the normal struggles, trials and dysfunctions of life a pastor is asked by God to carry, “the weight of the churches” as Paul expresses it. Sometimes ministry and life ollide inside faithful pastors with destructive force. When this happens once eager souls gradually find it exceedingly difficult to take even the first step in the morning.
Have the difficulties of life and the weight of the ministry burned you to a crisp? Do you feel used, used up, wasted or numb? Has the spring vanished from your step and the joy from your soul? Is the shiny all worn off the apple and all that is left of you is worn out, wasted weariness?
One pastor who entered recovery was so worn he described himself as, “one step shy of catatonic”. If you are ministering more and enjoying it less, trying harder and covering less bases you may be burned out or approaching it. If you are a struggling leader sliding down the awful spiral of a crumbling soul with no hope or change in sight it is time to seek help. If you are repeatedly telling a concerned spouse, “well, honey when I get through this” you are no doubt headed for or already in burnout. Burnout is the state one reaches when he is physically and emotionally exhausted. Spent. Once you reach this state, it feels like you are running on a treadmill you cannot escape and nothing helps. Mayo Clinic’s on-line resource speaks with clarity on the issue. We invite you to consult this resource directly by clicking on Mayo Clinic.
In this article, Mayo Clinic highlights who may be at risk. They contend individuals in the helping professions, those who seek to be everything to everyone and those who are not balancing the demands of their personal lives and work are at risk. To add to the peril, ministers face all of the above and have the additional pressure of being totally dedicated and sacrificial in their service, “as unto the Lord”. It is worse.
Ministry Professionals also face godless expectations. They educate themselves, prepare, study foreign languages, sense the call of God, go through the daunting process of ordination and being chosen by denominational leaders or congregations and receive job reviews every time they stand to speak. How they live, what their children do or don’t do, how they lead and what they say is constantly under the scrutiny of comparison to the most gifted and anointed speakers in the world. The stars of Christianity through edited messages and powerful charismas teach on radio, television and other media venues and unintentionally create the pressure in every pastor’s life and ministry to be as good as the stars. Pastors are not just compared to the former pastor or the one down the street but to the best of the best. The ones their congregants just heard on the radio on the way to church.
Extreme expectations push every mortal toward burnout and one’s own expectations can be the most lethal. Wanting so desperately to be godly some ministers assume if they are godly they will be honored, loved, more able to serve with skill and build great big churches. Of course this is not reality but ministers regularly fail to realistically evaluate themselves. Pastors stuck in declining communities and congregations far too often assume the problems are about them. A pastor’s internal standards can hurl him into the fire of burnout.
If you are wondering whether or not you are burned out please review the questions below. These are from Mayo Clinic’s Web Site. If you answer yes to any of them you may be burned out.
- Do you find yourself being more cynical, critical and sarcastic at work?
- Have you lost the ability to experience joy?
- Do you drag yourself into work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
- Have you become more irritable and less patient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you feel that you face insurmountable barriers at work?
- Do you feel that you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you no longer feel satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you have a hard time laughing at yourself?
- Are you tired of your co-workers asking if you’re OK?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you self-medicating-using food, drugs or alcohol-to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
- Are you troubled by headaches, neck pain or lower back pain?
To whom do burned out pastors turn? Who can they tell? How severely are they fried? What are the next steps? For answers to these and other questions go to Finding Help. You may also wish to email someone who has Been There, Done That, someone just like you who burned out serving the Lord and is on the courageous journey of recovery. You may also contact Dale Wolery by clicking here. You will also find hope, insight and encouragement by reading “Working for God”, an article on this web site. Click here to read it.
Jim Darcy says
This was a blessing to see your recovery site, we have been searching for internet help and are trying to build a web site for those who have been wounded by the sheep that bite. May you continue in your ministry and I know the hurt, anger and frustration my wife was in ministry for 20 years and then the clergy killers came and well you know what is the result. She had to go but it was terrible.
Love in Christ
If you are able to compassionately express your concern directly to your pastor and point him to helpful resources like ours you might be surprised by his willingness to seek help.
I am a lay person, but so concerned for our pastor who seems less and less able to meet the demands of ministry. People are leaving the church, the majority who come are in their 50’s and older and have been there a long time, the sermons are short and based mostly on the pastor’s personal experiences and contain a lot of advice we could get at any well-intentioned community organization, the decline in giving has caused the budget to be reduced nearly every year causing the pastor to do more and more duties that take her away from teaching and preaching. I could go on…
The pastor is a gracious and loving person that we care for deeply. The family has had several extreme health, financial and personal crises over the past few years that we know have added to the burden.
We are praying. We don’t know what would help other than finding ways we can use our gifts in a place we can minister, and finding opportunities to offer her encouragement. Other than that it seems like we just wait for something to happen one way or another.
I ache for you. Your description of your pain and the problems which have produced it are common but when any one of us is experiencing what you are the alone feelings exacerbate the pain. The kind of “common” pain you feel makes anyone feel like his issues are uncommon and cannot be adequately shared but this is not true. It would be a privilege to interact personally with you. You are not alone. I will do my best to stand with you. I will email you privately to see if we can talk.
Our computers are mostly down as you can see on our home page but I will do my best to interact with you none the less.
Dr. Ken Beres says
I have read this article this evening (New Years Day 2013) and am crying because I can identify with a lot of what this article has to say. Much of the past 6 years in this present ministry has been a struggle (backbiting, personal attack, gossip, manipulation, etc…) and the biggest blow came earlier this fall when my board informed me that (for the foreseeable future) they could only afford half of my salary. While the salary issue was resolved three weeks ago (lasting 4 months), this tour of duty has left me bitter, bitchy (sorry), crabby, and emotionally scarred. I would very much like to “pull up stakes” and go somewhere else, but I am trapped by other extenuating circumstances. I’ve been in Ordained Ministry for over 26 years, and have served in some wonderful, far-reaching places… but I have never felt as alone as I feel here.
Yes, yes, I am burned to a crisp. While I still have insurance, is there a place for me to go to regain some equilibrium?
As I have read on this site, I quickly realize how serious being burned out truly is. My husband and I pastor a new and small ministry. 2 years old to b exact and we’ve already experienced being underminded and attacked by the people. This is supposed to be celebration time for us and after so much turmoil and heartache, we cancelled our anniversary celebration. We’ve been in ministry service for over 20 yrs, shepherding at this point has already began to take its toll more so on me.’
I have experienced clergy related burn out 2.5 times during my seminary and called and ordained years. The first was during my internship with a spiritually and emotionally abusive supervising pastor. He not only did not want me as his intern, he did not want an intern, period. However, the congregation thought he should so there I was. It was also a time of intense conflict within my denomination. I was struggling with what was happening within my church body and hoping for some spiritual direction, I had a very negative self-image (now better described as self definition,) I was convinced God called me to be a pastor, yet I was unsure of my ability to be an effective pastor.
My supervisor made it clear he was not one to go to for guidance, as he thought anyone who did not take his position were ungodly and condemned to hell (or at least his understanding.)
That became the defining moment of my ministry.
That and other factors lead to my 2 total burn out experiences. Now, as a result, I am no longer competent to serve in parish ministry, not because of professional incompetence, but emotional and, in my mind, spiritual.
I love Scott Peck, in fact his book the Road less travelled helped me immensely in my first burn out recovery. I highly recommend it.
Nicola H. says
Beyond Burned to a Crisp. What now?
I don’t even know how to write what I think or feel in this comment box! So tired and feel so guilty because I just can’t pull my boot straps up any longer. It’s been a long downward slide and I just don’t have the energy or strength to keep trying. Help!
Dale W says
Yes, Tom, what you describe is really hard stuff. Grace works. It is hard work but necessary life-changing work. Every human being needs grace from God and those around him or her. The most celebrated, sought after pastor and the lonely rural pastor, the full time pastor and the bi-vocational pastor, the extremely gifted and the less gifted share something in common with every person in the pew. No matter what our ideas, expectations or misconceptions, every pastor is a human being. He is just a guy. She is just a gal. We share the common humanity of every other human. We need grace. Grace which is amazing yet.
Dale W says
Chris, I am sorry for your experience and your pain. I would love to talk with you. You and your wife deserve to heal. I pray this terrible chapter in the story of your life will ultimately serve to inspire pastors and the Church to be more sensitive to this issue.
Chris Townsend says
Being burnt out is a scary place to be. I sought help from my congregation but it was thrown back in my face and I was told that I had “an attitude problem.” My wife and I were beaten up verbally at one meeting and at the beginning of 2010 had my backside handed to me at another. I hung on for a few more months…and then with my family’s support, resigned my ministry.
I feel lost.
TOM K says
I find so sad that the Grace that is offered to those in the pews does not get offered to the Pastor. It is as “IF” they perceive us as indestructible, and those “attacking” believe that by tearing us down, they are building up Christ Church.
Dale W says
Please let me know if you wish to talk about this. I am so sorry for your journey.
Dale W says
I am so sorry. If there is anything we could yet do for you please let us know. Perhaps we could learn together.
Bob Craig says
I am so burnt, I lost my church due to gossip, instead of help!
We came out of a bad situation a couple of years ago and I am still burned to a crisp. I’m terrified of people and returning to *any* church. I pray, read the Bible and talk to my husband, but I know I need to be in church. I just don’t feel like I can trust anyone.
David K says
Thanks, Dale…I am, after 22 years in the ministry I’ve built up quite a bit of emotional garbage that’s clogging the flow of grace into me and out through me…I don’t want to spend the years I have remaining like this….what are some options that we can explore?
Dale W says
Let’s discuss the possibilities. Sounds like you are determined to be on a good path and are moving dramatically in the right direction. Way to go!
David K says
I’m there…have been for several years now…finally giving myself permission to take a six week renewal leave this summer to work through the accumulated stuff that’s got me all clogged up….I’m wanting to work through The Twelve Steps for Christians workbook but need someone to partner with or to be my sponsor/mentor. Can you help?
If I can be of any help please contact me. Ben
L McPherson II says
Boy do I feel this.
Dale W says
Patty, Dale and I have appreciate your comments to the articles he has written. If I could be of help please do not hesitate to let me know. Your brother in Christ, Ben Baker
Patty Beckham says
I identify completely.
John Sala says
To cut to the chase I am experiencing it all