The Pastor - Burnout Part 1


Pastor Burnout 2


The Pastor - Burnout Part Two


As we saw in the first segment, in the last 30-40 years a very serious problem has arisen in the Church. Pastors are burning out at an unprecedented rate and the trend has no end in sight. I estimated last time that as much as 70-80% of the cause of this crisis comes from the condition of the Church in America. The Church in America has moved away from its first love, Christ and in the process has become like the Laodicean Church of Rev. 3:14-22. It is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. The idea John addresses here is a Church that professes to be committed to Christ and Christ likeness but in reality demonstrates in its activity that its true commitment is to this world. Paul describes it in the following way,

2 Timothy 3:1-6, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” NKJV

To phrase it another way, the Church in America is very sick and this illness has infected even its leadership and its pastors. Let me cite a few more recent statistics, this time in relationship to the Church itself.

“81% of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church.” 

“Only 25% of the church’s membership attended a Bible Study or small group at least twice a month. . . .This means over 75% of the people who are at a “good” evangelical church do not go to a Bible Study or small group (that is not just a book or curriculum study, but where the Bible is opened and read, as well as studied) . . . I suspect these numbers are actually lower in most evangelical and Reformed churches because the pastors that come to conferences tend to be more interested in the teaching and care of their flock than those who usually do not attend,” (

With this noted, let me share several ways the modern church contributes to a pastor’s burn out. Due to the nature of this article I do not plan to go into any great detail nor am I implying that the following are all things that I have personally experienced.

1) Church Politics: the change in the American church has created a generation or two of what I call immature Christians. These are believers who have placed their faith in Christ and have received His eternal redemption, however, they have never grown in their faith to become mature Christians (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim 3:16-17). They are like an adult who though he was born 25+ years ago yet he has not progressed to the point of walking, talking, feeding and dressing himself and therefore must still depend on others to do this for him. Now this is okay if the individual is born with some type of impediment that keeps him from growing, however if the adult remains a baby for no other reason than he just doesn’t care to grow up this is a serious problem! He is satisfied remaining just as he was born. 

Christians in such a condition are known as “carnal” Christians. Carnal Christians to put it simply are Christians who act like badly behaved children. They are overly critical of others, quick to start fights, demand to have their way, envy other Christians, do not get along with others, are quick to form cliques and factions and refuse the deeper truths of God. Paul and James address the real problem that “carnal” Christians posses to the Church and its leadership.

1 Corinthians 3:1-4, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” NKJV (In other words Paul is saying that if they were still unbelievers he could understand their behavior but as long time believers there was no excuse for their behavior.

James 4:1-5, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"? NKJV

Pastors are increasingly plagued with the problems carnal Christians cause as more and more of their congregations fall into this category. As pastors, we see the need of our flock to get into the meat of the Word and wean away from the bottle but getting the bottle away is becoming an ever more difficult task. So writes the writer of Hebrews,

Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” NKJV

Hebrews 6:1-3, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” NKJV

As pastors and the leadership of the Church seek to lead and feed their flock, opposition often begins to mount. The pastor’s leadership and authority are often brought into question (Heb. 13:7, 17). Carnal Christians are determined to have their own way and so they will frequently make false accusations concerning the pastor or threaten the pastor and the church with a law suit (1 Cor. 6:1-11). The pressure builds upon the pastor as all attempts to reconcile the situation at best only seems to placate the problem for awhile until once again it raises its ugly head. Before long the pastor can not take the pressure any longer and he resigns or even worse, a vote is called and the pastor is fired. Often the stress spills into the pastor’s home life resulting in affairs and the break up of the marriage. The following statistics illustrate this point. 

78% of the pastor’s surveyed said they were forced to resign from a church at least once. 63% said they had been fired from their pastoral position at least twice. In the survey, we asked why they were fired—from the reasons given by the church board versus what they felt the reason was. . . The following three reasons were the most common causes. 

1. 52% stated that the number one reason was organizational and control issues. A conflict arose that forced them out based on who was going to lead and manage the church—pastor, elder, key lay person, faction, ...

2. 24% stated that the number one reason was their church was already in such a significant degree of conflict, the pastor’s approach could not resolve it (over 80% of pastors stated this as number 2 if not already stated as number one, and for the rest, it was number 3!).

3. 14% stated the number one reason to be that the church was resistance to their leadership, vision, teaching, or to change, or that their leadership was too strong or too fast. (

2) Overwork: in talking with my father who entered the pastorate in 1951 and who, though retired, is still pastoring, he made the following observation. It is his and many of his peer’s opinion that far more is expected of the pastor today than at any time in their ministry. There are several reasons for the escalation of the pastor’s responsibilities.

a. The church has adopted a Business model: I am amazed at the number of churches that have moved from a biblical model of a church to a business model. In such a model, the pastor becomes the “CEO” of the church. It is now his responsibility to not only set a vision for the church but also to produce tangible results of church growth. By tangible results I mean that the church expects physical proof that growth is taking place. This is usually measured by factors such as an increase in attendance and offerings, the addition of new buildings, the startup of new ministries, or the number of new members. Like a CEO in a corporation, he is also given oversight over all the ministries and staff which is a large responsibility especially in a church of several hundred with multiple-staff. Therefore he is required to work long hours. For example, one church recently was looking for a senior pastor who would be expected to work no less than a minimum of 60+ hours a week.

b. The church has less workers: gone are the days of the nuclear family where the father goes to work and the mother stays at home to care for her family. With both fathers and mothers working and trying to keep up with all their children’s activities there is little time to serve in the church. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that more is expected in the way of church programs and ministries. Attendees expect that there will be a youth program, a junior church, a college age group, a young adult class, a senior’s ministry, small group studies, and the list goes on. If there are fewer workers to care for these programs and the programs are expected to continue, someone has to pick up the slack. That person often is the pastor. When my father pastored his second church of 250, he was the only pastor. There was no discussion of hiring a youth pastor or associate pastor. The people carried out the work (Eph. 4:11-17). Now days as soon as a church reaches 125 suddenly the cry goes out for an associate.

c. The church does not understand of the call of a pastor: A close look at the books of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and the fourth chapter of Ephesians lays out what the pastor is supposed to be doing. It is main responsibility to be spending quality time in the study of the Word and prayer. The problem in many churches is they expect the pastor to do this along with attending all the youth functions, all the church events, all the work days, visit regularly in the members home, visit the sick, visit new people, do evangelism, counsel the troubled, bury the dead as well as many other tasks associated with the church. Many pastors seek to keep up with the load including part time work when necessary and in the process burn the candle at both ends resulting in either a mental and emotion meltdown or the serious neglect of his responsibilities to his family and marriage.

3) The Annual Vote: I do not intend to speak much on this other than to say that some churches have an annual vote of confidence on the pastor. If the pastor does not get a certain percentage of the congregation’s approval, he suddenly finds himself with only 30 days to find a new home and a new job. I am not opposed to a pastor being held accountable by the congregation. However, as every pastor knows there will be times when he must the lead the congregation in a direction that God directs that may be unpopular with many in the membership. The pastor is thus faced with a dilemma, do I seek to follow God and risk getting fired or do I do what the people want and disobey God. No pastor should be put into this position. In one church I know every year the congregation submits anonymous evaluations of the pastor which often have a mean spirited tone. I wonder how many of the members would be willing to subject themselves to the same type of evaluation regarding their spiritual growth, their faithfulness, their service, their obedience and etc.

4) Other matters: Congregations often impact the spirit and commitment of a pastor without realizing it. When a pastor works hard during the week to prepare three messages that he believes will feed the flock, nothing is any more disheartening than to show up for church and many from the congregation are missing and he has no clue why. This is especially felt in churches under a hundred. If you normally have say 70 and 40 show up to church, you begin to wonder what you are doing wrong and or where you are falling short. 

Critical remarks are also harmful to a pastor’s confidence and ministry. Often the pastor does not hear the criticism first hand but is blindsided after it has circulated throughout most of the congregation. Members do not realize that when they do not come to the pastor in love with their concerns, the pastor feels as if the individual has serious questions whether he is doing what God has called him too. Likewise, what may appear as a harmless criticism can often plant negative thoughts in the minds of others that they otherwise would never have considered.

One of the lessons I had to learn was that just because someone criticized something I did was not necessarily an indication they no longer wanted me as their pastor. I remember a pastor who eventually left a wonderful ministry because one lady in his church kept saying that in her mind a pastor should not stay more than eight years. It was in his eighth year, though he was happy where he was at and wanted to stay on, in light of the woman’s comments he decided to move on to another congregation. About 30 years later as the pastor was celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary, the woman from his previous church came quite a distance to join in the festive occasion. As she was talking to the pastor, she asked him why he left their church? After all, everyone liked him and did not want to see him go. The pastor told her that he thought his time was up because she kept saying that a pastor should stay no more than 8 years in a church. She quickly responded, “Oh, I didn’t mean you!” Her husband looked at her and said, “I told you so!” The damaged had been done and it was too late to repair it.

I am writing this in the month of October which is pastor appreciation month. If you happen to be a lay person, take the time to evaluate how you and your congregation is treating your pastor. Recognize that he is called of God to be a gift to your local congregation (Eph. 4:11). His work is some of the most stressful work there is and in most cases, if it was not for the calling of God, he would have left the ministry a long time ago. Encourage him with your words. Encourage him with your gifts. Encourage him with your attendance. Most importantly, encourage him with your spiritual growth. God will bless you in this endeavor.