In a new three-part series, we take a close look at the growing problem of pastoral burnout. We’ll examine its signs, how to heal from it, and how to prevent it in the first place.
By Bill Shepson
When we think of the forces that pose the biggest threat to effective ministry, we tend to imagine the dangers coming from the outside, such as changing worldviews or hostility toward the Christian belief system. However, if the many studies conducted in recent years are accurate, the biggest threat to successful ministry doesn’t appear to be coming from without, but from within.
An article published in August by The New York Times highlighted this problem that seems to be perennial—namely, pastoral burnout. Journalist Paul Vitello noted that rates of obesity, hypertension and depression are now higher among clergy than most Americans. In fact, Vitello reported, a recent internal study by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America uncovered that 64 percent of the denomination’s ministers had high blood pressure, and 13 percent were taking antidepressants.
Add to this that approximately 1,500 U.S. pastors leave vocational ministry each month, as Focus on the Family reported in 1998, and clearly, Houston, we’ve got a major problem on our hands. But perhaps it’s no surprise—various reports in recent years have indicated that many pastors routinely work more than 40 hours a week, often at the expense of their families.
In response to this crisis, as the Times noted, several church organizations have developed initiatives to address the spiritual, physical, psychological and relational health of their clergy. Foursquare is no exception. As General Supervisor Tammy Dunahoo shared in a recent article published by Foursquare.org, one of the main points of focus for the National Church Office is leadership care.
Chuck Shoemake and Robby Booth, Tammy pointed out, are heading up the leadership care initiative; both provide pastoral counseling and resources for Foursquare pastors and their families. Chuck facilitates Foursquare’s Center for Spiritual Renewal (CSR) East, located in Christiansburg, Va., on the campus of CrossPointe Conference Center. Robby facilitates CSR West, located at the denomination’s House on the Hill in Los Angeles.
Pastoral burnout is not an issue we can afford to ignore. The toll it is taking is exorbitant, and lives are at stake, literally. To know that individual ministers are suffering in private pain—even in the midst of a loving church family—is unthinkable. To watch health deteriorate, marriages fall apart and children become demoralized is unconscionable. To see members of the body of Christ so defeated that they can’t effectively extend His arms of love to the surrounding world—sitting by and doing nothing to help would be unfathomable.
Rod Koop, national facilitator of Church Health and Multiplication for The Foursquare Church, explains why we must deal with the issue of pastoral burnout.
“There isn’t anything noble about living a life in ministry out of balance where your spouse, family and health suffer harm,” Rod asserts. “Far from bringing glory to God, burnout is a sign that our primary relationship with Him is in bad shape. The cure is to discover, in God, what it takes to live a sustainable life. Involving your key relationships in this conversation is essential, humbling—and worth it.”
Our hope is that this article series will be the beginning of this important conversation for pastors who are reading this and know, deep down, they can’t go on living in private turmoil. We pray it inspires those who feel they’re at the end of their rope to reach out for help, to believe there is a way out, and that a better future is possible.
Those suffering from burnout are sometimes in denial regarding the issue, while others are so overwhelmed they have no idea how to take the first step to get out of it. So, in Part 2 of this feature series, we will take a look at the signs that one might be in burnout, as well as the “first steps” to take to address it. Chuck, Robby and Rod will share practical thoughts on what one can do to start climbing out of the quagmire. They’ll also discuss what their respective ministries do to provide help.
Then, in Part 3, we’ll cover what can be done to prevent burnout in the first place; it takes courage, initiative and honesty, but it can be done, and certainly prevention is desirable over intervention too late in the game.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles
You are reading Part 1 of a three-part series.