Burnout can appear in many aspects of our lives, but it’s particularly pervasive among those who serve the Church. ‘Ministry burnout’ refers to the exhaustion and diminishing passion that many church leaders experience after prolonged and excessive stress from the work they’ve been called to do.
The statistics around ministry burnout are startling. One common estimate claims that some 1,500 people leave their pastoral duties every month. A study from 2013 claims that over 90% of pastors work upwards of 55 hours per week, and that more than half of them feel unable to meet the demands of their job. This phenomenon is so well documented that an internet search for ‘ministry burnout’ will return over five million results.
All this is to say, ministry burnout is a very real, very prevalent problem in the Church. When those called to serve spread themselves too thin and lose their passion for their work, they often find themselves incapable of doing any work on behalf of His Kingdom.
Fortunately, through understanding the problem and recognizing the warning signs, you can identify when you or another leader in your church may be heading down this slippery slope.
Causes of Ministry Burnout
No church leader serves the Church without feeling a strong call and deep passion for advancing His ministry. But the road toward tangible results isn’t always straightforward, and success doesn’t happen overnight.
When pastors and church leaders don’t see their mission advancing as quickly as they’d hoped, enthusiasm can quickly wane. Combine that with the external expectations placed upon you by congregants and your team, it’s easy to become discouraged. And if not addressed, ministry burnout can also lead to spiritual burnout.
Church leadership is an inherently lonely task. To be charged with heading a church and shouldering all the hopes, duties, and expectations that go along with the position, it’s natural to feel isolated—not just from others on the administrative team, but from the congregation you serve, and even the family you’re forced to spend time away from.
What’s more, when leaders are struggling, they often have no one to turn to for advice or counseling—everyone depends on you for guidance, but most don’t consider that you may need guidance and support as well. This estrangement within your own church can wear down even the most devout church leaders.
Those first two factors are inevitably tied to the desire—and unwarranted obligation—to take on more than you can handle. Many of those called to serve are too willing to take on excessive work, often at the expense of their relationships and their own well being.
You may tell yourself that the next hump will be the last, but there will always be a new challenge, another hurdle for your ministry to conquer. Tackling it all yourself simply isn’t sustainable.
Lack of Delegation
Once again, these topics overlap, and the inability to spread the burden is a particular issue among pastors, church leaders, and members who volunteer. Because accomplishing work on behalf of the church comes from a service mindset, there are mental blocks to handing off responsibilities. Which, unfortunately, is the quickest way to reach the end of one’s rope and start experiencing the tell-tale signs of ministry burnout.
Signs & Symptoms of Ministry Burnout
No one shows up on their first day to serve their church without motivation. After all, it’s more than a job—it’s a calling.
So when that enthusiasm fades, the leader suffering from burnout obviously loses, but the community they serve takes a hit as well. Exhaustion can manifest physically, mentally, or emotionally. Either way, if someone who was once radiating positivity can’t muster the energy to fully contribute any longer, then ministry burnout may be just around the corner.
So many people depend on you to lead, deliver, and be “on” at all times. It’s natural to occasionally move past exhaustion and start thinking or acting negatively toward those you’ve been entrusted to serve.
But not all negativity is external. Ministry leaders who can feel themselves slipping toward burnout often worsen the situation by beating themselves up for not feeling as enthusiastic or motivated as they once were. This can spiral rapidly; once you recognize your lack of enthusiasm, you in turn become upset at that lack of enthusiasm, which compounds the burnout.
This doesn’t necessarily mean staying up all night. Any loss of sleep—waking up a few too many times, staying awake for large stretches in the middle of the night, failing to get to sleep in the first place—will negatively affect important aspects of your life.
As other aspects of burnout become apparent and compound on one another, so too can insomnia, which will only exacerbate the other effects you may be experiencing, and in turn negatively affect your attitude toward ministry.
Even if you don’t recognize that you’re feeling more exhausted than normal, more negative, or possibly sleeping less, reduced productivity is a good barometer that ministry burnout is creeping in.
If tasks that usually take ten minutes start regularly taking an hour, don’t dismiss this warning bell. Your church, team, and congregation need you to avoid burnout so that together you can succeed.
How to Prevent Ministry Burnout
You’re serving the Church because you want to do everything possible to support your community and build His Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
In every organization, the ability to wisely and fairly share the workload is paramount. Start by empowering those around you to share their skills and strengths—especially those traits that you recognize may not be your own strong suits. If you’re feeling guilty about delegating responsibilities you find menial or dull, consider rotating these necessary tasks so that no one else suffers from burnout. This should be addressed during a church meeting.
Leading your ministry and elevating His mission would be much easier if you had infinite time, energy, and resources. Unfortunately that’s not the case, so prioritizing needs becomes paramount.
Be realistic about what you and your team can accomplish on certain timelines. Stay on top of your finances, manpower, calendars, etc, to set attainable goals. And don’t set your team up for disappointment by being overly ambitious—setting attainable goals and reaching them is the best way to keep yourself and everyone around you engaged.
Rest and Recharge
If one of the biggest symptoms of ministry burnout is exhaustion, then resting and recharging should be an obvious antidote. Yet many church leaders are so driven to serve that they forget to tend to their own well-being.
Think of it this way: Your church and congregation count on you to lead them effectively and passionately. You can’t do that if you’re suffering from burnout. Even if that means taking time away from certain events you’re passionate about, or entrusting your leadership team to manage everything while you take an extended vacation to recalibrate, your church and community will be so much better off in the long run.
Know Your Role
Ministry burnout inevitably starts with overextending yourself. You’re so eager to serve and do the work of the Church, you may end up taking on tasks that are outside your skillset or expertise. While noble, that’s not always efficient, and can leave you more stressed than fulfilled at the day’s end.
Focus on the tasks that fit your role and strengths. Trust those around you who’ve also been called to serve to execute tasks that are more suited to them.
And if your team has recognized a gap in your processes, or you simply need a little more support to achieve your church’s goals, Pushpay is here to help.
Whenever someone called to serve is lost to ministry burnout, the Church as a whole loses. To help prevent that from happening, every aspect of our software was intentionally designed to simplify processes for your team and your congregation. From online giving for churches, to church management software, custom apps for churches and more, we’re dedicated to providing the tools that churches like yours need to stay enthusiastic, motivated, and passionate about accomplishing the Church’s good work.
Reach out to one of our Pushpay experts today, and let’s explore how we can work together to prevent burnout in your church and realize your vision.