Burnout (Of Pastors, Other Leaders, and their Spouses)

by Nov 4, 2011Professional Burnout

On Duty Twenty-seven Hours a Day
“During my early years as a pastor, I had a hard time balancing the demands of my job with the needs of my wife and family.  Putting in long hours, struggling to get organized, and trying to figure out if I was up to this, I considered leaving the ministry.  Eventually, the stress contributed to a divorce from my first wife.
During the difficult time when I was going through my divorce there was only one person from the church who called me daily, took me out for coffee to listen to me, and invited me to dinner.  He did not lecture, did not pry, and did not try to get my wife and me back together.  He was simply, steadfastly there for me.  I will never forget the strength that man gave me.
I have found help in disciplining my time and tending to my needs.  I meet with a weekly support group of half a dozen pastors and get together monthly with other fellow clergy.  I also take a two-day break each month, retreating to a lake up north for study, planning, fishing and playing the guitar.  That has become as important to me as breathing.”
-The pastor cited in this article wishes to remain anonymous.  Based on an interview by the authors of this book and on an article by Charles Honey, “That Dark Night of the Soul.” Grand Rapids Press (June 1, 1996), pp. B1-B2.
Wisdom for the Caregiver
Note: The following suggestions were taken from Wes Roberts, “37 Ways to Support Your Pastor,” Discipline Journal (no.92, 1996), pp. 27-31.

  • Give time.  Tell your pastor you have rearranged your personal schedule and have six free hours per month to give him or her in two three hour blocks.
  • Find out the vision your pastor has for your church, and if something also rings your bells, ask if you can help champion that particular cause.
  • Mobilize an army of volunteers.  If you can find people who will keep all the volunteer slots filled in your church, your pastor will nominate you for sainthood.
  • Give your pastor a call.  Limit your call to five minutes or less, focusing on your care and concern.  If he or she is busy, leave a message saying he or she was on your mind and you just called to say, “I care about what is happening in your life today.  You’re in my prayers.”  What a boost just that much would be!
  • Do not stand for gossip.  Whenever you hear people criticize your pastor, encourage them to go directly to the pastor with those comments.   Do not pass what you hear down the grapevine.  That’s gossip.  If you agree with what the other person is saying, make your own appointment with the pastor and get things settled between the two of you.
  • Stand up for your pastor when he or she is not present to defend him or herself.
  • Say it with a note.  My office files contain a folder with handwritten notes, and even printed e-mail messages, that I have kept to read on down days when I wonder if I’m fit to serve within the kingdom of God.  How about making a practice of sending your pastor a note of appreciation for something you’ve caught him or her doing very well.
  • Pray first.  Pray for your pastor first – not as a last resort.
  • Pray often.  Commit to praying for your pastor or pastors and their families regularly (every day if possible), and let them know you are doing that.  Invite them to give you specific prayer requests.
  • Allow your pastor to be human.  Pastors are regular folk, called and anointed by God for a particular purpose, just as you are.  They have struggles, even if they pretend they don’t, and they are often tempted in the same ways you are.  They get frustrated with the garbage disposal and have lawnmower problems just like everyone else.
  • Let the pastor’s family be free.  Don’t require your pastor’s spouse or children to fit into a certain mold. Do all that you can to let each of them be uniquely who they are.  Don’t judge.
  • Send each of your pastors and their spouses on a week long trip every three to five years.  Don’t count it as vacation time, study leave time, or a mini-sabbatical, but as a gift of love from the congregation.
  • Allow your pastor to play.  Find out your pastor’s recreational interests and give him or her a gift certificate to splurge a little.
  • Take your pastor to a fun place.  Most pastoral couples don’t laugh hard enough.  Think hard:  Where could you take your pastoral staff just to laugh and be silly?  Or what kind of party could you throw to get your church staff laughing?
  • Give your pastor professional perks.  What is your profession?  What skills do you have – tax preparation, medical or dental expertise, home repair, car repair, golf or skiing lessons, gardening?  Offer them free to your pastor in a one-time or lifetime deal.
  • Help around the house.  Offer to help your pastor’s family with some job that needs to be done, such as mowing their lawn or painting, to allow their family more time together.  On his or her day off, the last thing a pastor probably wants to do is prune trees, cut grass, trim hedges, and clean up.  Offer to bring in a crew to do it all so your pastor can select his or her “rest of choice” for the day of rest and leisure.
  • Respect your pastor’s privacy.  Give your pastoral families an undisturbed dinner hour between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m.  Don’t call before 7 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m., except in true emergencies.  Do not call the pastor on his or her day off.
  • Celebrate the pastor’s anniversary.  Creatively find some way to mark the anniversary of when your pastor came to your church, either on the very day or on the weekend closest to it.
  • Remember other special dates.  How about remembering in some manner the birthdays and wedding anniversaries of your pastors and their families?  Release your pastors from any “duty” on their kids’ birthdays and on their wedding anniversaries.
  • Be an encourager.  You have within you all you need to be of tremendous encouragement to your pastor and his or her spouse and family.  No one can do exactly what you can to love your pastor well.  Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for just how creative you can be.  Stretch yourself a bit and watch what happens with our pastors as they relax and come alive and come forward in their unique calling – ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  What an awesome calling.  What an awesome task!  -from Discipleship Journal, no. 92, 1996, copyright 1996 by Wes Roberts, Founder/CCO of Leadership Design Group/Life Enrichment Ministries, Parker, CO.  Used by permission.