Posted by: Susan Gaddis | October 22, 2009

Burnout and Ministry

1092230_burnoutBurnout is common among ministry leaders. Self care is not something taught in Bible college.

A pastor works 24/7. He cannot refuse to minister to his congregation, nor can he refer people to another church when he feels over extended. Other professions often limit clients and refer folks to other providers, but not a pastor. Most emergencies require a pastor to be in attendance right away regardless of his office hours.

Folks in ministry cannot afford to get out-of-town on the weekend because their work involves their attendance at weekend services. Many have spouses who work in other fields and cannot take time off in the middle of the week. Plus, escaping the pressure usually involves finances that may be minimal on a pastor’s salary.

In her book, Mad Church Disease, Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic, Anne Jackson points out that burnout happens to Christians all over the world regardless of their age or position in leadership. In surveying over 900 people serving in churches, Anne found that “almost every person who completed the questionnaire said the stress form ministry had affected them either emotionally (most common were feelings of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness) or physically (most common problems were insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, heart issues, weight gain, or inflammation).”

When stress is not addressed in a healthy manner, it leads to burnout. Unattended, the buildup of stress in our lives can destroy us, our families, and our ministries. “I would rather burn out than rust out,” may have sounded wise to the preachers of the 20th century, but neither burning out or rusting out is a wise prescription for the 21st century.

A sabbatical can provide needed rest, reflection, and counseling. Most of all, a sabbatical allows a ministry leader to reconnect with the God who called him or her into ministry in the first place–the God who calls us to come to him and find rest.

We found the God of Rest during our sabbatical on a cruise ship, in coffee shops, in days that had no agenda, in the laughter of family and friends, and in the quiet hours discussing our thoughts with him alone.

Are you in some form of ministry? What are you doing to provide self care for yourself and for those who serve with you in ministry? How might a church consider a sabbatical as part of a self care package for those who serve among them?



  1. HA HA! I used to quote that “burn out or rust out” quip often. Yeah – I nearly burned out. Poof! All that’s left is a puff of smoke and some ashes. Not much of a legacy, is it? Neither is the rusted out old heap in the weeds. I agree that self care creates vital regeneration of body, soul and spirit. All Christians are ministers–whether by vocation or avocation. We all need God’s rest.

  2. This is such a vital topic and one which many probably don’t understand. I hope that your messages reach many – both people in ministry, and the people that receive ministry. Our culture puts so much emphasis on the doing and not enough on the being.
    We called Pastor Tom in the wee hours of the morning when we found out our son was in a fatal motorcycle accident. He came over and sat with us much of that horrific night. In our state of shock, he made sure certain calls were made as well as cried with us.
    So, yes please, take care of yourselves too!!

  3. Thank you for your comments, ladies. There is so much truth in them. Perhaps it is by experience that we learn best.

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