How to recognize and treat ministry burnout
What is your preacher’s state of mind? Does he have…
My dad is a minister. He has preached for congregations in Oklahoma, California and Texas. He now serves as an elder of the Gray Road Church of Christ in Cincinnati.
For the first 18 years of my life, he was my minister. As a PK (preacher’s kid), I have seen more than most the great challenges facing ministers. I have witnessed congregational outbursts and negative business meetings. I have seen relationships disintegrate and people leave the church.
It is tempting to dwell on the negative.
But I also have observed wonderful things: Marriages restored. Young people coming to Christ. Community issues addressed. Great revivals.
As I enter my 32nd year in ministry, I wonder what is ahead not only for me but for my colleagues. How many will still be around over the next several years?
Based on my graduating class from Southwestern Christian College in 1990, only a handful of us are still in ministry. Most have left for any number of reasons: Failure to connect with the membership. Familial pressures of ministry. An inability to work with an existing church leadership. Insufficient pay.
At times, I have thought about doing something else. I have even dabbled in other careers.
But what keeps me in ministry is the calling God placed on my life. Anything else I do feels out of place. I am at home in the local church with weekly preaching and teaching responsibilities. I do premarital counseling and focus on marriage enrichment. I spend time with seniors, work in the community and more.
I love all of it.
Have I experienced some dark days? Yes. Have I made some poor decisions along the way? Yes. And yet, I am still here with no plans to leave ministry.
According to an October 2021 Barna study, 38 percent of ministers thought about quitting ministry in the previous year. That was up from 29 percent who gave the same answer earlier in the year.
Think about it: More than 1 in 3 ministers contemplated leaving ministry. This is a crisis of epic proportions. Add other issues to the equation such as the age of ministers, the physical health of ministers and the emotional well-being of ministers, and this number is probably far greater.
“More than 1 in 3 ministers contemplated leaving ministry. This is a crisis of epic proportions. … What can we do? How can we turn the tide? How do we meaningfully address the problem?”
What can we do? How can we turn the tide? How do we meaningfully address the problem?
Here are some suggestions:
1. Develop future ministers from childhood. Create an environment where serving and leading in the local church is portrayed as positively as other professions. Create programs and partnerships with other congregations to form a pool of young men and women who evidence ministerial gifting.
2. Create avenues for women to be involved in professional ministry. With many congregations primarily composed of women, it makes sense to utilize their gifts in ways that do not have to create controversy. Women are capable and can be effective in many areas.
3. Increase scholarships at colleges and universities associated with Churches of Christ. Learning the Bible at a college is much more rigorous than what is typically offered at a local church and can better equip men and women for ministry.
4. Broaden the way ministers are trained. Ministry training should be expanded to include organizational leadership, community shepherding, family counseling models and more.
5. Establish an environment where emotional and spiritual health are championed. It’s hard to lead people to a healthy place when those leading are not healthy. Every minister should be trained as a chaplain. Chaplains are educated with emotional and spiritual health first.
6. Church leaders must model healthy living. It is challenging to make decisions for a congregation when those involved do not read, do not attend seminars or workshops and do not learn from others, etc. We all must be on a path of spiritual growth.
7. Take a yearly sabbatical. Build into your calendar at least two weeks of rest and refreshment. It’s difficult for the average church member to understand the pressure on a minister to constantly be the primary one filling their cup.
8. Find mentors. Seek out people and congregations who are where you want to be and partner with them to help create a long-term, self-sustaining, spiritually nourishing climate.
Let us make 2022 the year we set goals for our ministry that include assessing the health of the church and those who lead. The worst thing a church can do is know that we are in crisis and do nothing to address the crisis.
Sit down with your minister or leaders and have an honest discussion about the state of things and ways to improve ministerial health.
Trust me, you will be glad you did.
JOHN EDMERSON is a member of The Christian Chronicle’s Editorial Board. He serves as associate minister for the Figueroa Church of Christ in Los Angeles. He is also a well-known song writer among Churches of Christ.
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.