Burnout One Reason Why Pastors Quit, Says Survey

An online survey identified burnout as one of the reasons why pastors leave the ministry.
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An online survey identified burnout as one of the reasons why pastors leave the ministry.

The survey, conducted through the ExPastors website from February to April 2015, was participated in by 275 pastors. Of these, 170 (62 percent) were presently serving as pastors, 89 (32 percent) used to be pastors but were no longer serving in the ministry and 16 (6 percent) left the ministry but have come back to serve as pastors again.

More than half of the respondents (55 percent) led small churches of 40 to 200 people. Only 15 percent were from bigger churches of 200 to 450 people, and 10 percent had a church size of 400 to 800 people.

An overwhelming 85 percent of the total respondents said they have considered leaving the ministry. More than half of the respondents (60 percent) also admitted going through a crisis of doubt regarding their call to serve as pastors.

Most notable among the survey results is that an overwhelming 82 percent felt like the ministry had “unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations” on them and on their family. In addition, 82 percent of them felt they were unable to satisfy what was demanded of them.

Three-quarters (77 percent) of the survey participants reported experiencing burnout while serving in the ministry, while 60 percent said they were “overworked.”

Loneliness was also one of the problems that pastors faced. In the survey, 63 percent said they were lonely, and 53 percent admitted they were constantly fighting depression. However, 75 percent of the respondents said they had a close friend that they could talk to about their problems or struggles.

Many of these findings are in line with the Statistics on Pastors released this year by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development.

According to this report, 54 percent of pastors work more than 55 hours each week, and 18 percent work more than 70 hours a week. It is therefore not surprising that 54 percent of the respondents felt “overworked,” 43 percent felt “overstressed” and 26 percent felt “overly fatigued.”

In spite of working long hours, 57 percent of them still don’t earn enough to pay their bills.

Half of the respondents (53 percent) felt they were not equipped enough for the ministry and seminary school did not prepared them for the task of being a pastor, and 28 percent of them felt they were “spiritually undernourished.”

A third (35 percent) of the pastors who took part in the survey struggled with depression, while 9 percent suffered from burnout.

Marty Duren, teaching pastor and social media manager based in Nashville, Tenn., wrote an article published in Lifeway about the reasons why pastors quit the ministry. He said many pastors quit for one simple reason: they are tired.

“Sometimes that is all there is to it, and this is what church members need to realize,” Duren said.

He clarified that not all pastors who step down do so because of moral failure or because they have some kind of addiction problem.

“Fatigue, weariness in well doing, and burnout are all real possibilities even for those who are doing things right,” he added.

Although pastors need to be aware of the condition of their flock, knowing the details about the church members’ lives can also become a burden if not handled well.

“One of the heaviest burdens of ministry is the burden of knowing: knowing who’s hurting, knowing whose marriage is about to implode, knowing whose kid is heading to rehab, knowing who really sent that anonymous note,” Duren wrote. “The burden of knowing cannot be delegated. Nor can your pastor easily offload it when turning into the driveway each evening.”

Duren concluded that quitting the ministry is not always the wrong move for some pastors.

“Many pastors who quit find secular employment and volunteer or part-time ministry a better fit,” he said. “Others who quit take some time to learn, retool, rest, and then re-enter the ministry better equipped to avoid burnout.”

The Statistics on Pastors report revealed that churches have made great strides in recent years in terms of caring for their pastors. A whopping 88 percent of the respondents said their churches are treating them better, while 79 percent of evangelical and reformed pastors said they felt “happier personally.”

And while 12 percent of the pastors said they had been belittled, 90 percent said they “feel honored to be a pastor,” and more than half of the respondents (55 percent) felt satisifed in their calling.

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