The Pastor - Burnout Part 1



The Pastor - Burnout Part One


In the last 30-40 years a very serious problem has arisen in the Church. Sadly, this problem often goes unnoticed until it is too late to avoid serious consequences. The problem I am addressing is the epidemic rise in burn out among pastors. This can be well illustrated by a few of the many statistics from an article written by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, an expert in this field. (

“After over 18 years of researching pastoral trends and many of us being a pastor, we have found . . . that pastors are in a dangerous occupation! We are perhaps the single most stressful and frustrating working profession, more than medical doctors, lawyers, politicians or cat groomers (hey they have claws). We found that over 70% of pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry . . . Thirty-five to forty percent of pastors actually do leave the ministry, most after only five years. On a personal note, out of the 12 senior pastors that I have served under directly, two have passed away, and four have left the ministry totally—that is, not only are they no longer in the pulpit, but they no longer even attend a church. And, I run into ex-pastors on a regular basis at conferences and speaking engagements.”

o 90% of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).

o 89% of the pastors . . . considered leaving the ministry at one time.

o 77% of the pastors . . . felt they did not have a good marriage!

o 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.

o 50% of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.

o 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

o 59% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

o 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.

o 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.

o Almost 49% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

We should keep in mind that these are only a few of the many alarming statistics that can be shared. Some at this point might question if these statistics could possibly be accurate. Is the situation really that bad? Having been a full time pastor for 30 years I have seen and at times experienced the reality of these statistics. I daily live with many of scars of burn out that never totally go away.

What is causing this rise in burn out among pastors? The answer may surprise you. Though I can not give an exact figure, I would say as much as 70-80% of the cause comes from within the congregations to which pastors are called. Much of this is brought on unintentionally and can be traced to a lack of biblical instruction about the Church’s responsibility and relationship to their pastor. This lack of instructions falls often at the feet of the pastor for many pastors find it uncomfortable to preach on matters relating to their position and relationship to the church because they fear that some will see it as self promoting. Therefore the congregation functions without clear direction in this matter and the pastor’s needs often go unmet.

In our study today let me address the first of several contributing factors that lead to the burnout of pastors. In doing so, I hope some might re-evaluate their relationship to their pastor. 

Contributing factor #1: inadequate pay: Over the years it has been my observation that many churches do not know what they should pay a pastor. Often personal views and opinions get in the way of the clear directions of the Lord. It is hard for some members who struggle financially on a low income level to see their pastor making a salary better than their own. Others believe that whatever they are making should be sufficient for the pastor. Still others have picked up erroneous ideas about their biblical obligation to the pastor. A pastor friend of mind shared that in one of his churches they had written in the By-laws, “Lord it is Your job to keep the pastor humble and it is our job to keep him poor.” Another pastor shared the hurt he felt, many years ago, when he had to work almost full time to support his family. Though the church had grown significantly, they never offered him any additional income but they were quick to brag about their recent increase in missions support. That pastor felt as if the congregation did not feel his ministry was important to them.

These opinions sometimes spill over into an evaluation of how wisely the pastor spends his money. I knew a minister in Iowa who was given a new Mercedes Benz as a gift. As he would speak in various congregations seeking support for a ministry to believers in what was communist East Germany, many refused to support his ministry thinking if he could afford an expensive car than he did not need any financial assistance. This is an easy thing to do not just with pastors but with others we know especially when they are facing difficult times. It is easy for us to judge their motives or their practices even though we do not know all the details. 

Let me share one other false Idea that was shared with me recently. A pastor considering a church and what they could pay him was concerned whether they could pay enough for him to minister fulltime. One of the members told him that his problem was that he lacked faith. If a pastor does not have enough income he should trust the Lord to provide. I wonder how many lay people would approach their finances that way. The problem with this idea is that faith works both ways. If a church calls a pastor full time but is unsure they can pay him full time, should they not step out in faith and trust God to provide the offerings necessary to pay a full time salary? I know of a pastor who every time his salary was brought up, one man in the congregation shouted down all the other members in favor of a raise because the church could not afford it. One evening, the man was absent when the church held a business meeting and the church voted the pastor a raise. The man upon learning of this decision hit the rood, claiming it would bankrupt the church. However, God proved him wrong by blessing the church by increasing the offering every week following the decision. 

So what should a pastor receive for a salary? What does the Bible say? What does the Bible say is the congregation’s responsibility to meet the needs of the pastor?

Paul taught that not only is it the right for the pastor to receive material things in return for spiritual things but that right carried over to his whole family. Paul indicates this when he includes the “believing wife” in his exhortation on this subject. 

1 Corinthians 9:1-14, “Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” NKJV

Some would say that this was given to apostles only and has no bearing on the pastor. Eph. 4:11 would argue differently as God declares the four gifts given to the local body of believers are the Apostles and Prophets (Scriptures), evangelist, and pastor/teacher. In essence God equates all four of these callings on the same plain. What therefore applies to the Apostle in the First Century applies to the evangelist and pastor/teacher today. 

At this point let me make some observations. 

First of all, what is the need of a pastor and his family? That is something that will vary from pastor to pastor. The pastor who is married but has no children will need less. The pastor who has 5 children will need more. Some pastors and their wives have medical conditions and others do not and so this is also a factor. The pastor who has to buy a home is going to need more than the one living in a parsonage. Occasionally a pastor is fortunate enough to have additional income coming in through veteran benefits, inheritance, Social Security, and etc and may need less than one who has no other means of support.

Secondly, a pastor’s needs goes beyond what his needs to pay for the usual everyday necessities of life. He should also be given money for retirement and some for non-necessities such as vacations and personal hobbies and interests. 

Thirdly, the pastor should not live higher than everyone else in the congregation. God tells pastors and leaders not to be Lord’s over their congregations (1 Pet 5:2-3) but rather use what the congregation gives them to better serve the members of Christ’s body. The pastor who desires too much to spend on personal interests and hobbies will eventually neglect the body of Christ. However, the pastor who never has the money or time to pursue some of his interests will not receive the needed rest and relaxation necessary for a healthy body and mind to properly minister.

Fourthly, some congregations do not have the resources to meet the needs of their pastor. This is a fact of life especially in a time of recession. When a congregation finds itself in such a position, it should do two things. First, it should pray in faith asking God to enable them to grow and meet their pastor’s needs. Secondly, as the pastor works part time, they should pick up some of the regular duties of the pastor until he is able to go full time. A pastor who works 60-70 hours a week trying to make ends meet will not be able to properly serve the needs of the congregation! 

Paul add to his teaching on concerning the pastor salary when he writes to the Galatians “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (6:6) NKJV. In writing to Timothy, Paul takes this matter of meeting the pastor’s needs a step further. In 1 Tim. 5:17 Paul declares,

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,"* and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." NKJV 

Paul’s point is that the work done by those who rule and labor in the Word and doctrine are deserving of twice as much as they need. This does not mean that they are to be paid double. He is only indicating the value God puts on the work of the pastor/teacher. A congregation should not worry about paying their pastor too much. Chances are in most cases the pastor will not ever receive what he is really worth to the church. The people should at least appreciate this fact and make it known in the way they care for all the needs of the pastor and his family.

Finally, when talking about meeting the needs of the pastor and his family, this goes beyond just financial needs. The pastor and his wife have other needs that are just as important. The need of regular encouragement, the need of fellowship, the need of rest and relaxation, the need of faithful support for his ministry and even the need of close friends.

At this point I will close and I will pick up some other causes of burn out in the following segments. Let me sum this up by drawing your attention to some of the consequences of a pastor who does not have sufficient income. Just some food for thought.

A pastor’s standard of living is a reflection on the Church he represents.

A pastor who falls behind in bills is a poor testimony to the cause of Christ in the community.

A pastor who is struggling financially may be forced to work part time adding additional stress upon him and his family. It is said that one of the leading causes of the break up of a marriage is financial problems.

A pastor who works part time will not be as available to minister as the man who is able to be fulltime.