The Challenge of Pastoral Burnout
A recent blog post has been circulating, entitled “Departure: Why I Left the Church.” The author Alexander Lang accurately addresses many of the challenges of being a pastor. Many of his insights resonated with me, and they illustrate the challenge of pastoral burnout.
Quitting the Ministry
For example, Lang cites a survey from Barna, which shows why 42% of pastors have considered quitting the ministry:
The reasons for this are myriad, but the top five reasons given are as follows:
The immense stress of the job: 56%
I feel lonely and isolated: 43%
Current political divisions: 38%
I am unhappy with the effect this role has had on my family: 29%
I am not optimistic about the future of my church: 29%
You Don’t Just Have One Boss
Lang provides another insight: the fact is that although you are the pastor, you are not really the boss:
Another aspect of being a pastor is that you don’t just have one boss. Sure, as a pastor, you are ultimately responsible to a board or governing body that oversees your ministry. However, in practice, your boss is every person who walks through the door of your community. When everyone likes what you’re doing, it may not feel that way, but the moment a group of people become discontent with your messages or decisions, then you feel the weight of their leverage over your life.
In this way, the pastorate is similar to politics. A politician is elected by the people and is only as safe as the voters who approve of their work. The moment the tides shift, that same beloved politician can quickly become a pariah. One would think such dynamics would not be present in the church, but what many people do not realize is that it’s often worse.
The last insight that Lang presents is the idea of unrealistic expectations. He spends time sharing how many roles that a pastor has in the church. When he puts it all together he creates the following list:
1. Professional Speaker
5. Human Resources Director
6. Master of Ceremonies
7. Pillar of Virtue
In the end, one cannot fulfill all of these roles. As Lang states, these should be done from a different person. Ultimately, as Lang notes, he had a hard time continually changing the mindset of the church that he led. I suspect that out of this frustration (which Lang does not openly state), Lang has moved on out of the pastorate.
As a pastor who has been in ministry for years, I can totally connect these challenges. Without balance and help, a pastor can easily burn out. The pastorate is not for everyone. However, it can be a great experience for those who are willing to adjust to the challenges that ministry brings.
Here are some resources to help a pastor deal with burnout: