Newspaper:  Pastors Often Succumb to Job Burnout Due to Stress, Low Pay

Orginally published on Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 4:18 AM
by Todd Rhoades

In light of the Ted Haggard thing, many things are being written about pastors... here's an article from the Honolulu Advertiser talking about stress among pastors. My question... do you think it's true that pastors have it worse than most other professions; say maybe a stock broker on the trading floor of Wall Street, or an air traffic controller? Read and see what you think...

Forty-eight percent of them think their work is hazardous to their family well-being. Another 45.5 percent will experience a burnout or a depression that will make them leave their jobs. And 70 percent say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position. They have the second-highest divorce rate among professions.

They are pastors.

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and ... a pastor.

I have just returned from New Life Church, the home of founding pastor Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Haggard was recently fired for sexual immorality, deception and drug use. I spoke with some of the staff. What Haggard did is reprehensible and unique. However, we need to know the pressures that the average pastor faces that often precede a preventable breakdown.

For more than 23 years my wife, Pam, and I through Hawaiian Islands Ministries have ministered to hundreds of pastors and to most of the churches of our state through retreats, conferences and counseling.

A shocking statistic of Jimmy Lee Draper, former president of Lifeways Ministries, is that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate only one retires from the ministry.

Pastors don’t make it to retirement because they are either burned out, fired, have a moral breakdown or just quit. I don’t know of any other profession where there is a 95 percent drop-off rate!

Yet, without healthy churches, Hawai’i is in trouble. Churches help the poor, have schools and daycare, offer therapeutic services to their attendees. The key to all of this is the pastors.

Pastors need encouragement (see sidebar as to why). And if no one in the church is assigned to nurture, affirm and prevent burnout for the pastor, then no one will. When they get in trouble, who can they turn to?

Most churches do not give sabbaticals to their pastors even though, unlike college professors and high school teachers, they cannot use the same talk twice.

Most pastors are underpaid. They did not take a vow of poverty. Few have personnel committees who are geared to being their advocate in terms of salary, study leave, bonuses, vacations and remembering their anniversary work date, birthdays or special celebrations, or finding ways to affirm the spouses of whom 25 percent claim the pastorate is a major source of family conflict.

Congregations expect pastors to wear too many hats: CEO, therapist, scholar, teacher, administrator, accountant, fund-raiser, friend of children, preacher, spiritual leader, wedding/funeral presider and house blesser.

Church members expect their pastor to be on call seven days a week; few churches give their pastor two full days off, thereby losing 52 days of rest that most people relish. They work on holidays — Christmas Eve, Easter and Thanksgiving — and never have a three-day weekend.

People expect them to have perfect marriages and kids and drive cars and live in homes that are acceptable.

The startling fact is that most pastors are lonely and feel their self-esteem has been lessened, not increased, the longer they are pastors.

I am fortunate. The church I pastor is one of the healthiest. They affirm me in all ways, from salary to sabbatical to thank you dinners, gifted weekends at hotels, Auntie Rose’s lilikoi pie and Auntie Fran’s mango bread. But I am the exception, not the rule.

So give your pastors a hug, a big salary increase, more time off, a pat on the back, and help them. They need it.

Link to full article...

FOR DISCUSSION: What do you think?

This post has been viewed 4413 times so far.

  There are 13 Comments:

  • Posted by kent

    Okay first off, stress and Honolulu really do not go together. Newark and stress, Gary Indiana and stress, Chicago and stress, not Honolulu.

    Here is also a place where being in a staff led environment may be more healthy that being in the congrgationally led environment. With staff led there is a clear line of responsiblity and authority and accountibility. Not so in the congregational situation. You a multitude of people who believe they can tell you what to do.  In smaller churches a clear description of what the job often has not been written so the job becomes whatever whenever however that is needed.

    in terms of stress if the salary is not enough to provide the basics and necessities or is so much lower then the congregation it beocmes a huge issue.

    Finally if the statistic by the gentlemen from Lifeay is true, then God is not pleased with his church.

    P.s. what’s with the box at the bottom?

  • Posted by Leonard

    It would be interesting to see other factors measured, such as the size of church, education of the pastor, denominational affiliation and polity of the church and family history. 

    Not only are we supposed to be experts on everything, as we have seen here even at MMI many people feel they are experts at what we do even though they never do it, or have done it for a short time.  In one week just last month, three people in my church lost family members, one began chemo, 2 marriages split and another suffered the worst offense a marriage can take.  A couple key families left our church, one really well and the other poorly.  I find many people love my preaching when they agree with it and love my leadership if they were going that direction anyway.  I also find that many people think they know how I should do my job. 

    Being a pastor is the most fun I have ever had too.  I love being with people who grieve, walking with them and praying with them.  I love seeing marriages healed and lives mended.  I love studying the word, preparing over 100 speeches (that is what my folks call them) a year plus dozens upon dozens of smaller lessons, bible studies, small groups and discipling men.  I love mentoring other pastors, my staff, engaging in the community, visionering the church, working with a board and financial oversight team, calling on sick people and the list goes on and on… I have the best job in the world!  I was chosen by God to do it, I am empowered by God to do it, I am sustained by God in the midst of it and I am in partnership with God for its accomplishment. 

    What helps keeps me fresh is I don’t need this job to affirm my life or my value, my friendship with Christ does that.

  • Posted by

    Yup, stress and Honolulu go together.  Ever worked with Hawaiian ministry?  Love the people to death, but getting anything done, was quite a challenge!

    I totally relate to this article.  I’m the pastor’s wife and the pastor is doing okay with this so far, but for me its been a bad two weeks.  I honestly thought I was going to pack it all in on Monday.

    Underpaid, Check.

    Under-encouraged (if ever), Check. 

    Stress and Ministry Conflict, Check.

    Over-worked, Yup

    I am working as a full time staff person with zero pay (and yes, I’ve been on staff of churches for the last 25 years) in a struggling blue collar re-start in an upwardly mobile white collar community.

    Are we gonna make it?  Yeah, probably with sheer determiniation and only the strength of the Lord.  But honestly, right now I want to move on.  People who think that it’s difficult serving in ministry in a large church, have absolutely no idea how hard it is to be the one and only couple.

    And I have no problem believing that being a pastor is as stressful as being the CEO or the president!

  • Posted by kent

    “Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and ... a pastor.”

    If Peter Drucker thinks this, it is probably 100 on target. Not only is he brilliant but he has faith and has focused muhc of his energies on the non-profit sector of our culture.

  • Posted by Chris Ferguson

    I have to agree the staff lead church is an easier environment to work in. My last role as an Associate Pastor was in a great church, with awesome people...both above and around me. The parts of the job that make it totally different from anything else is no other job do you wonder nearly as much, I am doing what Christ would have me do. No other Job follows you around as much because its not just the expectactions of the people it is your own expectations. Its your faith and its how you earn a living.

    The staff lead model reduces some of the tension but it does not remove the pedestal are the expectation that you make a 2 a.m. hospital visit...never mind that you’ve been nursing a sick child of your own. Or that your family is sick. 

    I think somethings have to change in the western church. Luther’s reformation was doctrinal. We need a leadership reformation in the church...one where the body truly serves the body. Where those with titles and gifts are humble enough to serve and those who are served realize they must “Pay it forward.” I don’t think the model we are operating on is exactly what Jesus, Peter, or Paul had in mind. It might not be the model God has in mind. He is famous for letting us do our own thing until we crash and then ask if He has any ideas.

    Paul had it tougher than most American Pastors and he called it “momentary light afflictions.” Oh, to be able to say momentary light afflictions. http://www.prayershake.blogspot.com

  • Posted by Steve

    At the risk of sounding naive and a little corny I feel it all depends on your relationship with Jesus.  He said He is the vine and we are the branches.  The branch cannot exist without abiding in the vine.  Too many in ministry today are so involved in the logistics of ministry that they neglect time with Jesus.  I may be a little old fashion (I guess God is too) but nothing can take the place of time spent in His presence.  Prayer, praise and worhsip, and meditation of the scripture are key ingredients to living and walking in the newness of life given to us in Christ.  It is impossible to be successful according to His plan and destiny for us without our abiding in Him.  For me that means I must work on my relationship daily with Him.  He doesn’t just abide in me, I must daily abide in Him!

    I think another crucial factor involved in burn-out is calling (or lack of it).  Many ministers are taught from the beginning that being a pastor is a profession.  We are even considered professionals by some because of the nature of what we do.  But the Bible never speaks of serving Him as a profession.  The Bible speaks of our calling.  Professionals are viewed as experts.  They must provide all the anwsers.  This brings a burden we are not designed to carry.  Ministers are servants who know nothing and are nothing without His calling, anointing and leading.  Serving Christ in any area is one of being a servant.  Yes, we need the proper training and equipping.  But without the calling, and without a vibrant relationship (that must be worked at every day), we simply become professionals (of which the world is full).

    It all comes down to the fact that it is about the harvest of souls and bringing those souls to maturity in Chirst.  Jesus said that we cannot save ourselves and we cannot save others.  “But”, He said, “With God ALL things are possible!” That’s what it is all about!

  • Posted by Steve

    Hey Leonard!

    Thanks for your post man!  Sounds like you are called!!  God bless!

  • Posted by

    Thanks Steve, I totally agree.

    Our relationship with God and His calling, gives us a passion for the kingdom’s purposes to His glory alone.  And that’s why we keep hanging in there.

    Our community is going to double in the next 3 years and we are the only church.  How can we walk away from that, knowing that no one is reaching them?  That’s the call and gives us the determination to hang in there and move forward despite the obstacles.

    Leonard, I appreciated your sharing too.

  • Posted by Steve

    Thanks Jan!  God bless and Happy Thanksgiving!!

  • Posted by

    This article, along with “Exit Interview:  Why pastors are leaving the ministry” are disturbing to me, especailly since I’m waiting to hear whether or not I’ll be accepted into Seminary in the next few weeks.

    Is there not an outlet for Pastors to receive some type of consult?  Maybe a website where Pastors can anonymously post questions with these real life issues that they are going through?

    Thank you & God Bless!

  • A good friend of mine Dr. Fred Lehr quoted these statistics in his book “Clergy Burnout” (sold on Amazon) and we came up with a creative way to be a blessing to Pastors. We are hosting a clergy retreat in Colonial Williamsburg in August and Dr. Lehr will be speaking each evening on practical ways to avoid burnout. It’s suitable for any clergy, seminary student and their spouses and details can be found at http://www.reformationtours.com (our travel company).

  • Posted by Herpes Remedy

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