Church Views · Serving/Leadership

pastors and burnout

The New York Times is worried about pastors suffering from burnout.

“The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

“As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.”

This strikes me as a bit of a “chicken vs. egg” conundrum. Are pastors weary because of congregants’ overwhelming consumer demands, or are congregants being “bought” by an overwhelming variety of [unnecessary] options to consume?

Pastors may be exhausted by catering to our every whim. But that’s a little like giving children all the dessert they want hoping to keep them happy. In spiritual development – as in parenting – happiness is not the goal. Growth is the goal. And sometimes, whether we like it or not, we have to eat vegetables. Or hear about sin.

Besides, I can think of some other reasons pastors are burning out.

Some are Type-A Control Freaks: They have to personally approve everything from the color of tablecloths to the worship song list. [Most obvious observation: You’re overpaying all your staff.]

They’re Type-A Leaders: They must have some new initiative annually to lead everyone towards. Priorities constantly shift. They’re like a shark who has to constantly move forward to stay alive. Honestly, the audience eventually feels burned out, too.

But let’s face it – there’s some truth in the Times writer’s observation. We often attend church feeling entitled. We demand more hymns or fewer hymns. The music’s too loud. The pastor tells too many stories. There are a lot of committed, uncompromising Pastors who work long hours, call people by name, make hospital calls, who study and pray while wearily wondering if anything they do really has any impact at all.

So eat your vegetables. And send your pastor a note of encouragement or gratitude this week.