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Causes of and Solutions for Ministry Burnout

Many pastors are at risk of ministry burnout. We surveyed pastors to learn why this is happening and what to do about it

Many have discussed the tragic results of the pandemic including the nation’s division on pastors’ wellbeing and ministry burnout. The tension caused by each event has made pastoring difficult for many in full-time ministry, and some have left to pursue other careers altogether.

Geneva Benefits Group is working to meet pastors in this moment of need, and has been doing so even before the tumultuous events of 2020 and beyond. In 2021, we launched a research project into the wellbeing of PCA pastors.

We found information both encouraging and alarming about the state of pastors in the PCA. Ultimately, we recommended a set of key practices, conditions, and choices that prevent ministerial burnout and promote wellbeing.

The Problem of Ministry Burnout

In our research, two statistics jumped out to us. Seventy percent of pastors told us the demands of ministry inhibit or challenge their spiritual growth. Half of the pastors said they struggle to experience intimacy with Jesus and rarely receive care from his body.

These challenges were articulated with candor by one pastor, who said, “It feels like it’s a matter of time before something tragic happens or I go out of ministry. It feels like half of the ministers that I’ve ever known are out, whether that’s a moral failure or they just burned out…And I want to know, do I have the longevity for this? Do I have the resilience? Because it doesn’t seem like most do.”

Pastors can feel like they have two options: leaving ministry or simply grin and bear it. Fortunately, most of the time, that is a false choice.

The Solution

“Over the course of a ministry, you realize, ‘I can’t give to the congregation what I don’t have.” That’s what a PCA pastor told us as he considered his need to steward himself so he could care for his congregation. Instead of carrying on in isolation from Jesus and others, pastors can embrace a set of practices that move them toward health.

We examined three tensions inherent in ministry life that pull pastors away from wholeness and into ministry burnout. First, they can be isolated, rather than connected, in relationships. Second, they can root their self-conception in their work, rather than resting in their identity in Christ. Third, they can live fragmented, rather than integrated lives, feeling like they cannot be fully themselves around anyone.

Many pastors related to those tensions but feel powerless to move themselves toward the healthy end of those spectrums. We proposed six wellbeing factors—spiritual maturity, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, marriage and family, leadership, and finances—and ways for pastors to move toward health in those areas. These factors can be found in the stories of over 70 pastoral couples and publish their findings in the book, Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving (Burns, Chapman and Guthrie. IVP 2013).

By helping pastors, sessions, and lay leaders understand the tensions in ministry and how pastors are doing in these six areas of wellbeing, we believe pastors can be better supported to remain in ministry and grow healthy.

Access our free eBook on State of PCA Pastors.

Geneva Benefits Group serves those who serve others, providing practical support for the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of people who work in full-time ministry.

Get your free eBook on State of PCA Pastors

The challenges of pastoring in the 21st century are significant. How are PCA pastors actually doing—spiritually, maritally, relationally, financially? Are they struggling or thriving? Download this free eBook to learn the concrete practices, conditions, and choices that prevent and promote wellbeing.

Geneva offers preparedness and peace of mind with solutions tailored to the needs of ministry leaders and staff.