I recently have had conversations with three pastor friends of mine that are in completely different church settings (denomination, size, demographics, style, etc) but yet all three of them over the course of our meal/coffee shared the same feelings with me: they were headed towards or were burned out. They were tired. They were worn. They were feeling abandoned. I heard in seminary the statistic that 60% of pastors will leave the church in the first 5 years out of seminary. 60 out of 100 pastors are leaving the church predominantly because they are tired, worn and get burned out quickly. Why is this? Why are so many pastors getting out of the church and pastorate so quickly?
During one of the conversations with one of these pastor friends we begun to talk about burn out and specifically for him where he was feeling tired, worn and lost the most. Our conversation led down the road of he felt on an island in many ways. His pastoring was one directional but he didn’t feel that he was being fed, led or shepherded himself. While he prayed with people, counseled, shepherded, and preached each week (amongst many other responsibilities) he in his short time pastoring has never felt that back towards himself. I ultimately asked him the question who is pastoring the pastor?
While these feelings were specific to this friend of mine, I do not believe that they fit just him. I believe that these feelings and emotions can be very common in all pastors whether early in their ministry or late in it. If the pastor does not feel supported, loved or cared for they will eventually feel tired and burned out, and their ministry and church will show this. The problem is that many pastors want to put all their attention and focus on their church and little focus on themselves or their family. Often times what happens with pastors is the church becomes their first ministry and the other two (self and family) get left behind. Church demands, ministry numbers, people shepherding takes a lot out of a person, but if it becomes their sole ministry their personal relationship will suffer and their family will suffer. Much has been written on this topic but yet it continues to happen over and over.
So who pastors the pastor? Here is what I believe. The pastor and the church must pastor the pastor. First and foremost a pastor must be spending time with God in His Word, must find accountability and community to share in life with through the highs and the lows (whether personally or work/ministry-wise). This is challenging for many pastors because they are held to a higher standard than others. Here is the reality: pastors are human. Humans are fallen, sinful, depraved people. We are redeemed through Christ alone. As we become more like Christ and pursue Him we grow in our sanctification. Pastors are no different than anyone sitting their the congregation. Pastors go through the same emotions, feelings, temptations, struggles, etc. that any person may go through. If a pastor is expected to bottle all this up because they must be held to a higher standard, that pastor will explode eventually. I believe that this is why 60% leave the pastorate/church in the first 5 years. They have no outlet. They have no community/accountability. They have no partner in ministry. If a pastor shared with you what they were really struggling would you pray for and love on that person or sit there with judgment? Pastors need shepherding too. A pastor must make sure that his/her personal ministry to God, to family and to the church are in that order or else all will suffer.
I believe, just like any regular person, it is their responsibility to pursue God through Scripture reading and prayer, but all people need community too. No pastor is any different. This is where the responsibility of the church to pastor the pastor comes in. A church must support, care for and help to shepherd their pastor. When was the last time you prayed for your pastor(s)? When was the last time that you asked them how they were doing, really? When was the last time you ask them out for lunch or coffee to help to walk alongside of them in support? Pastors do all these things for their flock, the flock must also do them back.
Pastoral burn out is all too common in the church today, and I believe it is due to a pastor only pastoring their church and never pastoring themselves or their family. Pastors must feed themselves on God’s Word, must spend time in prayer and must have actual community and accountability that is walking alongside of them in the trenches, whether through elders or through small group/accountability group. When 60% of pastors are burning out from shepherding God’s people and sharing the grace of Christ with others it is time for churches to see how they can come alongside of their pastor and support him/her better and let them know that they are there for them as well.
Here are some resources to consider if you are a pastor who is feeling worn out/burned out or if you want understand church burnout and the hardship of ministry better in order to support your pastor(s) better:
- Dangerous Calling – Paul David Tripp
- The Pastor’s Justification – Jared Wilson
- Brothers, We are Not Professionals – John Piper
- The Dark Side of Leadership – Sam Rima
If you’re a pastor who is feeling burned out, tired or worn out please email me at chrisjhennessey@gmail(dot)com. I would love to set up a time to talk, have the opportunity to pray with and for you, and walk alongside of you the best that I can to support you and your church.