The Causes of Pastoral Burnout
by Victor Jr. Arhin on February 03, 2020
Sadly, pastoral burnout is a common experience. As a matter of fact, it’s rare to find a man in pastoral ministry who hasn’t (at some point) experienced a serious waning in enthusiasm for God’s work. Something gives way deep down inside, and he decides it’s no longer worth the struggle. Why does it happen? This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, but a sampling of some of the most common causes.
An Identity Crisis. Paul Tripp warns, “I am convinced that what we often call ‘ministry burnout’ is the result of pastors’ seeking in their ministry what cannot be found there, and because it can’t be found there they end up weary and discouraged.” When our identity becomes focused on the office of pastor rather than the person of Christ, we begin to look to the wrong thing to satisfy us. The desire to please others quickly takes over, and it becomes all-consuming.
A False Dichotomy. It’s tempting for pastors to equate spiritual maturity with head knowledge. Regrettably, this is a bad habit often acquired while at seminary. “Since seminary tends to academize the faith,” says Tripp, “making it a world of ideas to be mastered, it is quite easy for students to buy into the belief that biblical maturity is about the precision of theological knowledge and the completeness of their biblical literacy.” Inevitably, this can lead a pastor to equate his spiritual maturity with head knowledge, while failing to cultivate his devotional life.
A Status Symbol. We have a very skewed view of success in our society. We equate it with power, prestige, and prosperity. Sadly, this view often infiltrates the church. We begin to think of success in terms of increasing numbers, finances, programs, buildings, activities, etc. Stephen Yuille writes, “When people speak well of us, when pews are full, when building projects are in the works, we’re in very dangerous territory indeed. These things will feed our pride.”The craving of status through ministerial success can become an endless pursuit, but it always ends in disaster. As Charles Jr. warns, “The evil one cheers on the flesh’s proud pursuits, knowing that it will inevitably lead to the pastor’s spiritual downfall.”
A Lonely Existence. This might sound odd at first, but it’s very common: most pastors are lonely. Despite all the activity and all the demands upon their time, they have very few close friends (if any). Charles Jr. explains, “Some pastors have no ministry friends whatsoever. Others have friends that they intentionally keep on a superficial level so that no one has room to intrude into the details of their lives. This is not healthy.” Ministry comes with many challenges, and the pastor who refuses to connect with other believers for mutual support, encouragement, and accountability, will quickly find himself in trouble.
A Prolonged Discouragement. This is perhaps the most common cause of pastoral burnout. As Yuille points out, “Ministerial discouragement is the chief reason pastors leave the ministry. They arrive at a point where they’re convinced that the cost far outweighs the reward.” A pastor might face opposition or betrayal from long-time church members or even fellow staff members. He might suffer from daunting trials such as failing health, financial hardship, or even marital strife. Eventually, this leads to prolonged discouragement. The demands of ministry become too burdensome, and burnout is never far behind.
This sobering reality leads to two extremely important questions. (1) What are the signs of pastoral burnout? (2) What are the remedies? Stay tuned for future articles.
* Victor Jr. Arhin is a M.Div. student at Heritage College & Seminary in Cambridge, ON.
 Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 203.
 Tripp, Dangerous Calling, 25.
 J. Stephen Yuille, A Labor of Love (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013), 84.
 H. B. Charles Jr., On Pastoring (Chicago: Moody, 2016), 47.
 Charles, On Pastoring, 31.
 Yuille, A Labor of Love, 45.
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