Pastor Burnout Causes

Why Pastors Are Under So Much Stress

Many authors condense pastor burnout causes down to four or five. I'm afraid I can't even get close to that. I started writing and all I could simplify causes of burnout to was 53.

Some time ago I was sharing about pastor burnout causes in a sunday school class and a man interjected a few comments. He said, "What makes pastors different from everyone else? Everyone wants to quit their jobs sometimes, everyone would like a better job, what makes pastors so different?"

My answer is this: it's true that everyone endures stressful jobs that at times they'd like to quit. But few - if any - other jobs endure as much constant stress as pastors. The sheer volume of daily stress placed on pastors is so overwhelming that pastors are all but assured of getting burned out unless they take precautionary measures to prevent it. They have to watch for these burnout causes.

There are more specific and detailed causes of burnout in my ebook, "The Pastor Burnout Workbook."

As a more extensive answer to my sunday school answer (above), I offer these 53 pastor burnout causes. Looking to overcome burnout? Read this page for answers.

Burned Out Pastor

Administration Burnout Causes

  • Pastors generally spend too much time on low-reward activities.
  • Pastors have to do to much administration - correspondence, bulletins, newsletters, web site, organizing activities, attending unnecessary meetings, ensuring that things get done, buying graduation and baptism gifts, purchasing janitorial supplies, making sure rooms are set up for meetings, etc.
  • Pastors often have to deal with many distractions such as, mail, email, sales people, phone calls, text messages, etc.
  • In many churches, pastors are given a lot of responsibilities, but very little authority.
  • Because churches are organizations, pastors sometimes feel like they are constantly attending endless - and often meaningless - meetings.

Family Burnout Causes

  • There is tremendous pressure to have a perfect family.
  • Marital strife is common with pastors and their spouses. The constent stress caused by unrealistic expectations, inadequate finances, little time spent alone together all wear on a marriage.
  • Pressure to be an effective parent when your exhausted, overworked, overwhelmed, and spend too much time away from home at night strains the parent-child relationship. This also adds pressure to the pastor's spouse.
  • A pastor's spouse and kids are often criticized.

Expectations Burnout Causes

  • People who don't understand and are not sympathetic. I had one friend ask me, "Isn't paying our pastor enough appreciation?"
  • A pastor's work is never done. It goes with you through phone calls, reading books, discussions with his spouse about church; and now with email and cell phones, people have immediate access to their pastor.
  • Every church has it's politics. Various groups have different agendas and expectations. The pastor finds himself right in the middle of it all.
  • There is a strong expectation for a pastor to be equally as effective with every age group.
  • Pastors bear the burden of unfulfilled expectations. This disheartens, confuses, and can create a "blame game." It may also lead to bitterness or resentment against people or God.
  • Because of perfectionistic expectations, denial, pride, and fear of telling anyone about their real weaknesses, failures, fears, stresses, and discouragements, pastors are some of the least likely to seek help - from counselors, doctors, friends, co-workers, or even from ministries like PastorCare.
  • It's difficult to establish boundaries. How do you say, "No," if something really needs to be done? How do you say, "No," when someone drops by your house? Can you say, "No," if someone stops by the office while you are studying? Or, if someone needs you to unlock the church, or turn up the heat, or close the church windows?
  • In a sense, pastors preach and teach as hypocrites - and this causes significant stress. They call for holiness that they struggle to achieve themselves. This duality challenges a pastor and causes him to keep his own struggles secret.
  • People often expect their pastor to be a spiritual giant. They assume that pastors all rise before dawn to pray, study for hours, and visit the sick and shut ins.
  • Pastors are expected to be able to preach, teach, and pray at a moment's notice.
  • Pastors are expected to have all the answers - know off the top of their head where any verse is, answer any bible question.
  • Appreciation is rare. People just expect him to do his job. After all, "We pay him, isn't that appreciation enough?"
  • Consumerism permeats the church. People want the church to serve their needs, but are less willing to help meet other's needs.
  • People expect the pastor to be everyting to everyone. Though no single group says that, each group believes that the pastor needs to spend more time with them. One man said to me, you are an excellent preacher/teacher but a horrible pastor. So we are going to leave the church. A couple said to me, I know that Monday is your day off, but you could at least attend our Monday youth meetings. Some people love topical sermons while others demand expository sermons. Another elderly woman got mad at me because I did't offer to pick her up for an activity. The janitor's wife hollered at my wife because the ladies group forgot to take a caserol out of the church oven. Everyone thinks the pastor needs to be everyting.
  • Many churches harness pastors with legalistic expectations. Don't go to movies, drink no alcohol, don't play cards, etc.
  • Congregations often pressure pastors to always be at the top of their game. They want their pastors to be happy, strong in faith - not burnt out or discouraged.

Financial Causes of Burnout

  • Pastors generally stress about finances. As a profession, pastors are some of the most educated people and some of the lowest paid as well.
  • Feeling pressure to watch what he/she spends. No new car. A feeling that he has to explain the deal or coupon used to buy something.
  • Do you like to write? Do you enjoy working on the web? Here is a practical way to increase your salary.

Conflict Reasons for Burnout

  • Constantly dealing with critics. Someone is always unhappy about something.
  • The pastor is constantly putting out little fires... petty conflict wears on a pastor.
  • When a pastor makes himself vulnerable and open, the information is often turned into a weapon.
  • People in church aren't willing to move out of their comfort zones and get beyond the "come to us" mentality. My wife and I have endured several periods of severe pain in our lives. We needed the ministry of the church body. But it never came because we didn't attend enough services.

Sin Burnout Causes

  • There are tremendous temptations to moral compromise. The overwhelming amount of stress on a pastor causes him to seek temporary relief, distractions. Food, TV, computer games, and such can become over used distractions. But greater temptations to pornography, laziness, a flirtatious lifestyle, secret fantasies, and even affairs, are all lurking, ready to pounce on a pastor at a moment's notice. All of these things increase a pastor's stress as they pull a pastor into a cycle of sin, confession, sin again, guilt that it's getting out of control, a sense of failure, a search for something to make him feel better, more sin, guilt, etc.
  • Pressure and stress push pastors to find escapes - some are good, like golf. Others can be destructive, like alcohol, prescription drugs, pornography, suicide, mental fantasies, TV, food, etc.

Self-Perception Causes

  • Ambiguity of success or failure. It's very difficult to know if he/she is succeeding.This causes significant stress.
  • In every church there are people who think too highly of the pastor and those who think too lowly of the pastor.

Theological Pastor Burnout Causes

  • Theologically we find ourselves living in between periods... between the now and not yet. Pastors see the worst of humanity and yet constantly read, study, and teach about the rule of a perfect, righteous, sovereign, good King.
  • Pastors have to explain life to their congregants. "Why did my baby die?" "Why did my husband leave me?" Earthquakes, hurricanes, traffic accidents, and terrorism. How can a pastor have all the answers?

Psychological Reasons for Burnout

  • Counseling people's problems. If people knew what pastors knew about others in the church, they'd be amazed and discouraged too.
  • Most pastors feel unprepared and/or unable to do their job well.
  • It's difficult to balance leadership and servanthood at the same time.
  • People seek their pastor for counseling - but rarely follow through on advice.
  • Most pastors are lonely. They spend time with ment in the church but as a pastor. He occassionally meets with other pastors but expectations are so high, it's difficult to be real.
  • Pastors are tempted to overestimate their importance. People look up to us, respect us, ask us for advice. That elevates our own feelings of authority.
  • Pastors are some of the quickest people to identify depression, stress and burnout in other people. But they are also very slow to identify it in themselves.

Spiritual Burnout Causes

  • A constant cycle of preaching that seems to accomplish little. So much preaching feels like you're on a treadmill and dries a pastor out spiritually.
  • Preaching and teaching so frequently leaves the pastor spiritually dry.

Schedule Burnout Causes

  • Every person in the congregation is the pastor's boss. They assume it is ok to stop by, call, or ask for something whenever they want.
  • Unmanageable schedules. Most pastors work more than 50 hours a week.
  • Pastors generally don't get enough time away. They need at least three weeks of vacation and one week of retreat each year. And I prefer four weeks of vacation plus a week retreat each year. A pastor in S. Africa told me that he receives 10 weeks vacation each year! I'm not sure we'll ever see that in the USA.
  • There are people who simply suck the life out of pastors. There is a saying among pastors: "Beware the person who picks you up at the airport." This is not to be taken literally. It simply means that there are people who will try to take up too much of the pastor's time and try to become the best friend of the pastor.
  • Because of all of the other stresses mentioned here, pastor's lives often seem out of control.

Health Clergy Burnout Causes

  • Pastors are notorious for being in poor health. I'm envious of those pastors who run five miles a day. But those pastors are rare. Too many potlucks and too much sitting at a desk primes a pastor for health problems.
  • People lean on pastors for strength and encouragement but pastors have few if any people they can lean on.

Burnout Causes Conclusion

These 53 burnout causes are really stressors that lead to burnout. In and of themselves, they are not symptoms of burnout. But they certainly lead to burnout. After a list of these burnout causes, you might need a little humor.

Read this page for answers to overcoming burnout.

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Pastor Burnout