Dear Burned Out Pastor,

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I want to quit, but I don’t know how to do anything else and, with the stigma attached to being a “former minister”, I wonder if anyone will hire me for anything at all. Frustrating! – Respondent #6

Dear Burned Out Pastor,

Thank you for participating in our survey. I am burdened by your struggle. You have been a senior pastor for 16 years. That is an incredible accomplishment. You state that you have no concern about losing your job. This tells me that your congregation probably loves you and that you are doing great work. I am grateful for your ministry.

But the rest of your responses in the survey cause me significant concern. You said that your work is characterized by intense pressure, and that no matter what you do, things just do not seem to get better. You frequently experience conflicting demands and no longer have time for your family and personal needs. You feel isolated and emotionally drained. Your health has faded.

You are tired of trying.

You want to quit.

I wish that I could write some incredibly inspiring words that immediately removes all exhaustion, loneliness, and frustration. But my words are just not that good. Your experience is real, and is, unfortunately, shared by many pastors. Recovery often takes time.

Here are some steps that I recommend. It is my hope that others will join me in encouraging you and making suggestions for some next steps.

First, tell somebody. Make sure that you are not walking through this alone. You may not feel comfortable telling anyone on your staff or your church right now. You will need to do that, but not immediately. Tell your wife. Let her be the support mechanism in your life that she was meant to be. Tell another senior pastor. You will be surprised at how much they can relate to your experience. Commit to praying for one another as you walk through this.

Second, talk to two key church leaders, one staff, one layperson. Make sure that you pick ones that have always been supportive of you. You are going to need to make some changes or, at least, take a break from some responsibilities. Let them suggest some next steps for you.

Third, take those next steps. Let your leaders be advocates for you. Don’t unnecessarily sacrifice your love for the ministry. Your church needs a pastor who is passionate about shepherding, not considering quitting. Take a break from some of your current responsibilities. Mobilize others to take on those responsibilities. You might find that others enjoy some of the tasks that burden you. You might find that you can accomplish more ministry through others.

As you walk through this, I will commit to praying for you. I know others will as well.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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9 thoughts on “Dear Burned Out Pastor,

  1. I’ll pray for you and ask the Lord to encourage you in the spirit. May you see through new eyes in the days ahead, watch for and take advantage of opportunities to step back and see things that God will bring to your attention.

    Enjoy empowering others and watching them use the gifts the Lord has placed in them. Know you are surrounded by faith and love, allow it to work and bless you and through you others.We know God is listening and answering, He said He would do that. (I Jn 5:14-15)

    • Although each individual’s situation is unique, here’s a couple thoughts that might be helpful.

      Consider a break, not just a couple days, but a sabbatical time of 3 months or longer. If you do this, it is helpful to have a plan of action for your sabbatical. Don’t just try to relax (that can make a type A personality go bonkers). You need a point of accountability–someone you can trust to help you keep with the plan. Your accountability partner can help you make adjustments to the plan as the Lord begins to reveal things and healing takes place.

      If your church truly loves and values you, a sabbatical is a blessing they can and should provide. You may need to help your leaders understand the pressures and conflict you are living under. Many times they don’t see it because of the “face” we let others see.

      When you step back, pray and then go back and review your original call. In most ministry roles, it is very easy to lose sight of the original vision and mission God gave you. In doing that you get sucked into a tangled mess of busyness that isn’t part of the call He gave you.

      Talk to God about your call, what has changed, what you need to do to align with HIS purposes. Ask Him to make you sensitive to direction He gives. I often say, “Lord, please make it so clear, that I cannot miss it!” Then trust that He will do that.

      Involve your spouse and family in the process. What are their needs? How can you balance the ministry and life responsibilities to be more mindful of each? Listen very closely to your wife! Often we men “hear but not hear” what she is actually saying. God will often use our spouse to confirm our direction and she is an essential partner in your ministry. “Let him that has ears, hear!”

      Above all, make time with the Lord and family a priority. Then we can begin to hear His voice above all the other noise of the world that constantly surrounds us.

      Blessings as you walk out your brush with burnout!

  2. 12 years ago I burned out and walked away. Oh, mind you I didn’t “burn out” cause that was never going to happen to me. Oh but it did! And I turned to virtually no one. And after I quit I seemed to drift further and still with no one and seemingly no where to turn. Why? Pride I’m sure. I was to proud to admit I was burned out. Now 12 years later “I’m coming back”. I so miss the ministry God called me to 33 years ago. I am seeking His next appointment. It has been a long 12 years but He has been faithful and I am so grateful! Any suggested readings for the “returning pastor”? I do now seek to surround myself with a band of brothers to walk out this wLk with. Blessings! And pastor who’s about to quit. PLEASE reconsider. He is able to keep you.

    • Hi Mark! Good comment and advice! You’re not alone in your experience with burnout. Your sense of things you are now sensing lines up well with THE BOOK.
      Rom 11:29 NKJV For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. and in the MSG
      Rom 11:29 MSG God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty–never canceled, never rescinded. ( Love the way it says that!)
      And your time of transition was not wasted, God has used it to prepare you for what is ahead.
      Rom 8:28 NKJV And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

      A good book on Transitions is by Dr. Terry Walling and titled STUCK!: Navigating the Transitions of Life & Leadership. Dr. Walling says, “God uses transitions to move us from where we are to where HE wants us to be.” It helps you understand how God uses transition to shape us and prepare us for the next assignment.

      Another couple to check out would be:
      Career Crossover by Tom R. Harper which might be helpful to getting your call back into perspective and creating a plan to get back into ministry.
      Moving On Moving Forward by Michael J. Anthony and Mick Boersma has some helpful advice though a good bit of focus is on moving from one ministry to another.
      Before You Move” A Guide to Making Transitions in Ministry by John R. Cionca is another good one that covers a wide range of ministry moves and time related life changes.

      Praise the Lord for your heart for other ministers that have experienced or brushed up against burnout. We all need to help one another through prayer and friendship. All of us must take heed lest we fall.Staying close to the Lord, communicating with spouse and trusted peers, praying and seeking God’s grace and Christ’s light yoke as we walk out the call on our lives. Be blessed!

  3. Our pastor went through the same thing. Our church sent him to Care for Pastors (check out careforpastors.org). They helped him tremendously. It was not easy, but well worth it. Please don’t let anything be an obstacle to your getting help. I was the staff member my pastor chose to confide in. It was heartbreaking to see the struggle between his passion for ministry and his fatigue. He is doing much better now and still has contact with folks at Care for Pastors when he needs some support. He still has me too.