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Burnt-Out Pastors

During and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States experienced a great resignation. Unemployment was at an all-time low but people were tired of being mistreated, underpaid, and taken for granted. That includes pastors.

According to Barna Research[1], as of March 2022, 42% of pastors were considering leaving the ministry. The top five reasons in their survey were:

1. The immense stress of the job: 56%

2. I feel lonely and isolated: 43%

3. Current political divisions: 38%

4. I am unhappy with the effect this role has had on my family: 29%

5. I am not optimistic about the future of my church: 29%

The reasons pastors quit ministry fall into at least three major catagories.

The first category is theological. Some pastors, especially those from conservative, fundamentalist, or Pentecostal traditions simply can no longer believe in a God who would eternally torture people who believe “wrongly.” Nor can they believe that the Bible is inerrant scientifically and historically. They begin to have doubts and are condemned for their doubts, so they leave.

Second, some pastors leave because of polity issues. The way churches are structured varies with different denominations, but when conflict arises between some church members and the pastor, the denominational officials are often most concerned with the survival of the church, not the well-being of the pastor.

It is quite rare for ecclesiastical authorities to step in and tell congregants (especially wealthy congregants) that they are wrong and need to be supportive or leave. Much more often, the pastor is left hanging out to dry.

And, on the congregational level, many pastors have no real power. Typically, the church is controlled by a handful of big donors or by people whose families have been a part of the church for generations. Pastors find themselves in a vise controlled by people who are not called to ministry.

Third, pastors are confronted with a vast array of unrealistic expectations. Modern day pastors are expected to be:

1. Professional Speakers

2. CEOs & COOs

3. Counselors, therapists

4. Spiritual directors, life coaches

5. Teachers

6. Fundraisers

7. Human Resources Directors

8. Masters of Ceremonies

9. Pillars of Virtue

10. Scholars

11. Highly educated

12. Community organizers

13. Hospital chaplains

14. Visionaries

15. Building contractors

16. Loving spouses

17. Caring parents

18. Great neighbors

19. Experts at conflict resolution

20. Impervious to rejection, criticism, slander, abandonment

21. Able to live happily on a very low salary[2] (unless they are megachurch pastors, in which case, the salary is often outrageously high[3])

No one can live up to those expectations. Those who try burn out. Some develop PTSD; others flame out in some spectacular way; others just fade away. Most discover they can better support their families doing something else. Many find they are far better treated and more respected in the secular work force.

If you are a burnt-out pastor, a pastor feeling a lot of stress, or a pastor who has left the ministry (or is seriously considering doing so), you need someone to walk with you, someone who has been there. I’ve undergone significant theological shifts, although the core of my Christian faith is firmly intact. I’ve crashed and burned, been through divorce, the death of a son, felt deep rejection from people I thought were my friends, suffered a form of PTSD, battled clinical depression, and come through it all whole and ok. If you need a sympathetic ear, I’m here for you.

Blessings, Larry

[1] Accessed 5 September 2023 [2] Median pastor’s salaries range from about $28,000 to about $60,000 annually. Accessed 5 September 2023 [3] Megachurch senior pastor compensation is nearly impossible to compute because, while the salary is typically around $150,000 to $200, 000, that does not include benefits like a housing allowance that pays the mortgage, travel allowances, generous expense accounts, and so on. I personally know megachurch pastors who make $400,000 to $600,000 per year, pls a cornucopia of benefits like free vacation homes, free air travel, free home services, hefty salaries for the pastor’s spouse and adult children in various roles, royalties, company cars (gas and maintenance included), end of the year bonuses, etc.

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