Preventing Pastoral Burnout

Without at doubt anybody who is involved in any sort of pastoral ministry is liable to “burn out.” Pastors, chaplains, and pastoral counselors are all at risk for burning out. In fact some studies have shown that…

“protestant clergy had the highest overall work-related stress and were next to the lowest in personal resources to cope with the occupational strain.”

That is pretty shocking considering the fact that we have the power of the Holy Spirit to rely on, nevertheless people in ministry are very likely to burn out.

Only you can prevent pastoral burnout!

What are some signs that you might be experiencing burnout?

  • Making more mistakes
  • Lacking energy
  • Becoming anxious or afraid
  • Losing the wonder doing ministry
  • Leaning on alcohol, food, or porn to manage one’s emotions

Burnout is likely to happen when self-care is not a priority. It is likely to happen when there is a lack of balance in your life. But you might say, “oh I’m giving so out with taking little time to be refilled because I care so much for these people and I just don’t have time for “self-care.” Well the problem with that is that if you don’t pay attention to yourself and if you don’t care of yourself it will not only be to the detriment of yourself but also to the detriment of others.

In her book on suicide prevention, Preventing Suicide: A Handbook for Pastors, Chaplains, and Counselors, author and psychologist Karen Mason points out the fact that consistently working with suicidal people can lead to burnout even quicker. She writes “the self is limited. It has only so much energy. If it is not renewed, then depletion will take place.” She follows that up with several ways in which she has seen pastors replenishing the energy necessary to minister effectively to God’s people:

1-Practicing your faith (prayer, scripture reading, retreats, meditating on the gospel, etc.)

2-Reducing Isolation through supportive relationships

3-Maintaining your health (exercise, sleep, diet)

4-Relaxing through recreation, leisure, or hobbies

5-Remembering your call into your vocation

6-Reducing your load by setting boundaries; saying no

7-Regular self-debriefing i.e. processing through your stress

8-Regular debriefing with peers

9-Managing your thoughts about your perceived failures

10-Seeing a counselor

Self-care is vital if you are going to prevent burnout. For the sake of the people that you minister to make sure that you are taking care of yourself or else you won’t be able to care for them well!


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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