Warning Signs of Leadership Burnout and 2 Ways to Recover

Burnout is almost an epidemic among church leaders today.

In Barna’s most recent research on The State of Pastors, a comprehensive, whole-life assessment of U.S. pastors was accomplished. The study on risk of burnout, relational breakdown or spiritual problems shown through these statistics reveals the staggering reality.

  • 1,500 pastors walk away from ministry each month
  • 1 of out ever 10 ministers who start in ministry retire in ministry
  • 27  % of pastors admitted that caring less about the opinions of others would have helped prevent burnout.
  • 50% of pastors’ wives say that their husband entering ministry was destructive to their family
  • 70% of pastors say that they don’t have a real, close friend
  • 75% of pastors report that they either sometimes or frequently struggle with mental and emotional exhaustion

The reality is this; The majority of people who start in ministry don’t finish in ministry. Too often, ministry leaders are simply on autopilot. If you’re on a leadership position and your goal is to just to survive you’re facing a burnout. The goal of leadership is not to survive. The goal of leadership is to help you thrive.

We are too busy to pray, and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity, but we accomplish little; many services but few conversions; much machinery but few results. – R. A. Torrey

I don’t know where you’re at, but my heart is for every leader to get out of the trap of being busy but not productive, of working long hours but producing less than hoped for.


How do you avoid burnout in ministry?

“Burn out” too often by many’s definition in context of ministry is, “You hit a dead-end and don’t have a heart for ministry.” 

The truth of the reality is any given day we may burn out, in fact if we work hard in ministry, we will feel like the candle is extinguish at the end of most days. That’s not what we mean by “Burn out” because that’s a pretty satisfy feeling of exhaustion. We feel like we have made a difference, we feel like our calling is important, we feel like we have done something important that day, though perhaps it didn’t necessarily felt like it was something important that was done that specific day. The many phone call to the hospital, call to the funeral home, call to the counseling situation was worthy! You recognize that this is the calling that’s the reason it was important.

For many pastors, the success of their church defines their value.

In scripture there is a reference to the “First love” that we understand that our responsibility is that we want that love of Christ to always be fresh and new. We know that there is a time and place where we have to block everything else in our lives and concentrate what Christ has done in our lives and find our identity in Christ, and having done so be renewed in the Spirit.

That is the same thing true in ministry. We are incarnate human beings. We are psychosomatic-unity, when our body is tired, our soul can be distressed.

Here are two ways pastors can recover from their Burnout.


1. Get away somewhere. 

Proximity is a matter of this as well. There are times that we have to get away. This doesn’t mean that we have to get far in ministry. If you are married or even single in the ministry, you need to get away; even if that means to the other side of the town. It may mean just going into the woods and taking a walk.

If you are really called to ministry, we must ask one fundamental question, “What in the world can nullify that call? If we define our joy in Christ, what in the world can nullify that joy?” Sometimes we need to remind ourselves, NOTHING can nullify that joy.

Nothing can put and end to that calling. Circumstances can really bring us down, but this is the reason we have put those circumstances in the context.


2. Go help someone. 

I mean just literally, “Go help someone.” Not to preach at them, I mean go help someone put dry walls, go help someone dig a ditch, go help a child make a model airplane! You will discover in that process your heart is reset.

If you need a recharge in ministry, don’t talk to the people who can help you with that. Go to children and teach Sunday school and catch the infectious joy and you will take it into the pulpit. Though separated by time, distance, age and geography, there is a genuine sense of relatedness to the understanding of what we have been called to do which is the greatest benefit we find there. The sweetness of Spirit we find in the midst of our discouragement. Discouragement then gives into encouragement.

The worst thing a person can do emotionally is go into the ditch and remind ourselves how miserable we are and go down in the downward spiral of misery.


“Burn out” at the end of the day is a matter of the heart.

Where you end up, the amount of encouraging feedback you get is ultimately a matter of God’s provision.

Burn out is a matter of the heart. It’s always really not about the body, usually not the matter of the mind, our hearts need attention. Just so happens that our Savior is right there to give that attention to us.

“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5)

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