Stress and Addiction

Stress and Addiction January 18, 2022

Pastoral Ministry can be quite stressful. If you have been or currently are a Pastor in ministry, you know this to be true. Week in and week out, you go through the motions to make sure that your church is well cared for, that the weekly gatherings are thought through and planned, and that all that are involved are as happy as they can be. You worry about money, resource, staff, programs, success and failure, and may find yourself daydreaming about how to get out.

writes in his Soul Shepherding blog:

  • 75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed”
  • 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week
  • 90% feel fatigued and worn out every week
  • 70% say they’re grossly underpaid
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 78% were forced to resign from their church (63% at least twice), most commonly because of church conflict
  • 80% will not be in ministry ten years later and only a fraction make it a lifelong career . On average, seminary trained pastors last only five years in church ministry
  • 100% of 1,050 Reformed and Evangelical pastors had a colleague who had left the ministry because of burnout, church conflict, or moral failure
  • 91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry and 18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now”

There a many different reasons that a Pastor feels stress under the workload of a church environment. These stressful markers make up a significant part of any Pastors thought life and may consume them over time. It is imperative that you, the Pastor finds a way to properly deal with the stress that is induced by leading at a church. If they do not, stress will ultimately end their career and force their hand at a different church, job, or career.

Addiction and stress often go hand in hand. Extremely stressful conditions can often invite a person to begin ‘coping’ using unhealthy techniques. For me personally, I begin to drink regularly. At first, I would have one or two beers to ‘take the edge off’ but at the end of my drinking career, I was drinking hard liquor, straight, if only for the effect that it had on my ability to process stress. When I was inebriated, I didn’t have to deal with life’s harshest realities that seemed to big to be dealt with sober.

I can remember the first inklings of ‘stress’ that I began to experience as a Pastor in a local church. A Youth Pastor of just a few years, I was in the middle of a church direction change and this caused conflict amongst the leaders of the church that I was at. The elders that were leading at our church and our Lead Pastor didn’t see eye to eye, and for whatever reason, I saw it my job to convince the elders that they were ‘wrong’ about the way that they viewed the Lead Pastor’s role in the direction change. I attempted to control outcomes, rather than controlling only what I could control.

It was during this time that I found alcohol to be a great soothing agent at night time, when I just wanted to fall asleep and try to find some peace for the day. I’m not naturally a conflict generator by nature, but these experiences seemed to bring out the deep conflict that was already present in those around me. In a very real way, daily living became much harder and more complex than it really needed to be, and the level of stress in my life increased to levels that were not healthy for me or those around me. I can remember drinking more and more, with the effect of alcohol becoming less and less the more I drank, until I wondered in my own mind if I had a problem with alcohol. I did and I recovered from the abuse and misuse, but it was a long road.

If you are a Pastor you may be struggling to properly cope with the stress that leading a church brings. May I encourage you with three thoughts today?

God Loves You and wants the best for You, whether you are a Pastor or not.

My identity for many years was found in being a leader in a local church. If someone questioned my ability to be a Pastor, my very core was shaken. I was self protective around the identity that I had developed. Being a Pastor was not something that I did, but who I was at my very core. I forgot my first love, God, in the process of trying to save my image and identity (being a Pastor) and in the middle of it, lost my identity to alcohol abuse. I now identify myself as an alcoholic who is loved by God. Sure, I get to be a Pastor in different ways with the groups that I am involved with. I get to Pastor my kids and family day in and day out. All of these “Pastoral interactions” are made possible because I know that God loves me and wants the best for me. I am not deserving of the title or the responsibility but have been given a great gift to be able to do these things daily.

I had to learn that whether or not I was a Professionally Paid Pastor, I was a child of God first and if I gave that up, I would lose out on all that came along with leading at a church. Think about it, if today, your title of Pastor was stripped away from you, would you be okay with who you were as a child of God and the responsibilities that you have as part of that identity?

There is help available.

Silence was golden in my active addiction. I didn’t tell anyone of my need for help. I didn’t even really let myself know that I needed help. I had many moments where I wondered internally if I was an alcoholic but would not allow myself to go there, because it was really fear inducing. If you are afraid to let someone in on what is happening in your own private world, the ways that you are coping with stress, or the addictions that have you knotted up inside, let me encourage you, there is help available. Pastors are too often operating on an island of loneliness that they don’t have to be. There are other Pastors in your community, people in your church, professional counselors, and a myriad of other resources available to you to seek the help that you need to sustain in your job. Reach out today. Get help before you have to lose what you desperately want to maintain.

Dealing with Life on Life’s terms is hard. But rewarding.

After it was discovered that I was drinking heavily and I was fired from my job, I went to rehab. It was great training for the issues that I was experiencing. During my recovery, there have been some life situations that would have previously knocked me right back into drinking habits. My daughter received a Leukemia diagnosis. One of the bosses that I worked for was stealing money from the company. I have been low on money multiple times. But as I look back through these difficult life circumstances, I am grateful to have experienced them sober and moving forward. It has been incredibly rewarding to be able to work through these issues without any coping crutches.


You can lose the unhealthy coping mechanism. You may need help to do it. Today is the day!

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