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*No, not me. Please, I've only been a pastor for four years. Thankfully, it is a little early to feel burnt-out yet. I have my days, of course, and times when a particular event/person/situation makes me feel a touch of burnout. But I'm still an optimist about the church and my ministry on most days. I have hope.

But, I've been thinking about burnout. Clergy burnout in particular is something we hear a lot about in the church. New clergy burnout quickly. Young clergy burnout quickly. Female clergy, struggling through a still male-dominated field, have high rates of burnout. I don't have a figure handy, but I remember hearing, for example, that female clergy have an average local church ministry of just eight years. Burnout, and preventing burnout, is serious church business.

I'm thinking of it because of a book I'm reading now (which I'll eventually review). In it, the author talks a lot about burnout, and how to help pastors and parishioners avoid burnout. He talks about traditional expectations of clergy (by parishioners and clergy themselves) that practically guarantee burnout. And I can relate to what he's writing.

But then I was thinking . . . does anyone in the Bible get burnout? Maybe it is a silly question, but I was trying to think of a biblical figure who throws in the towel because of burnout and stress. Maybe Moses comes closest - he seems burnt out sometimes. But burnout seems to be a very modern problem. How can we experience burnout if we are being disciples? I suspect - I fear - that our way of trying to be disciples has gotten so disconnected from Jesus' teaching about discipleship that it makes it possible for us to experience burnout. We're spinning our wheels, and somehow, still, with all our work and busy-ness, we're still missing the mark when it comes to discipleship, still living lives that are very disconnected from what Jesus had in mind for us when he talked about "abundant life."

What do you think?

*Image source:


Anonymous said…
In the early days of Methodism, preachers usually didn't make it past their 30's.

Of course, they didn't take a new job. They died.
Greg Hazelrig said…
I wonder if there was burnout in the biblical days, but those were the ones that didn't make the final cut into the Bible? :)

Seriously, we get a very small snippet of the people of the Bible. I think we just don't read about the "other side" of some of the biblical heroes. Maybe Joshua had a burnout period that never got written about. Maybe Paul wanted to call it quits after one too many beatings, but then found the strength in God because God chose him for a special purpose.

I don't know. I'm just rambling on. All I do know is that I've experienced it in my own ministry in the 8 years I've been doing this stuff. But God's not let me get too burned out to where I couldn't pick up again and get back to this wonderfully awesome, tiresome, and sometimes thankless calling of mine.

Just my two cents worth. I pray that you make it more than the 8 years average you spoke of.
Anonymous said…
I think Noah suffered from burnout toward the end of his life. We know he planted a vineyard, made wine, and passed out drunk.

I agree that Moses did.

I think David did. He became slothful, he tarried in Jerusalem and that led to his yielding to temptation and having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba and murduring her husband.

I think that Soloman did. He became lax in his faith and allowed other influences to corrupt him.

I think that Jonah suffered from burnout.

I don't know if you call it burnout or not, look at Judas Iscariot. For three years he witnessed first hand the miracles and power of Christ. For three years he was under the private instruction of the Lord. We can only imagine the non recorded conversations they had with Christ on a day to day basis. We know that he, himself, went out and was privy to miracles, performing them himself. Yet, he gave up and yielded to temptation and the rest is history.

I am pretty sure that Paul and Peter both suffered from burnout.

As you look at all the above, the fact that they suffered burnout is not a negative thing, in itself. It is how they reacted to it. How they prayed harder for more steam or let go and allowed the "train to run off the tracks" .
gmw said…
Yeah, it's hard to decide if it's too anachronistic to talk about biblical people suffering burnout. But Elijah comes to mind--I've even heard the cave experience referred to as "going to the Cave Clinic" to hear the whisper of God.

Whether it really works to think of bible people or not, burnout sure is real for us modern folk in the US. I think you're right on about our faulty discipleship; having just read Dallas Willard's The Great Omission (which is excellent on this topic), I would agree that we're not great at being or making the sort of disciples that we're called to be and make. One helpful theme in that book (and a pointed argument in a couple of the chapters) is that we need an integration of psychology and theology to address holistic disciple-making. Not a glib mushing together, but a thoughtful fusion.
Anonymous said…
I think the problem is the high expectations at the top. We all are really good at pointing to the goal - santification - and expecting it in ourselves or our pastors or a our laity.

If we could all remember we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and remember that we are here to build each other up, maybe we could reduce the burnout.

Prayer is good too, I hope.

The first Biblical name that came to my mind was Elijah.

I wonder if Gethsemane was a burnout moment for Jesus.
Kevin Baker said…
I recently posted a sermon that touches on this theme. An excerpt:

"Despair. Defeat. Failure. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Did you think such thoughts and feelings only happened to you? To people you know? Think again. Elijah experiences all of it."

I think Elijah qualifies.
John said…
Elijah came to mind for me, too. Of course he was in danger of losing his life.

I wonder what are these 'renewal leaves' that I hear other clergy taking are about. Are they basically vacations, or are they spiritual retreats, like Emmaus?

I'm on-call at the hospital this weekend, and my wife is staying with me in the on-call room. So I haven't had to write a sermon or do visitations this weekend. So this could be a very refreshing weekend (subject to the mercy of the pager).
crevo said…
Moses' people didn't complain when he outsourced decision-making back to them. What causes burnout is the idea that we should shovel everything to the pastor and complain when he shovels anything back. What prevents burnout is when everyone is doing their share.

Questions for discussion:

* Is your church able to have productive committee meetings without the pastor?
* Is your pastor's input required for all decisions (whether required by him or everyone just thinks they need to run it past him)
* When someone is sick, is it expected that the pastor must visit? Are other people in the congregation not equipped enough to pray and comfort?
* Does anyone other than the pastor preach?
* If the pastor did not have a cell phone, would it be problematic?

I think these sorts of things can be diagnostic of whether a pastor is going to achieve burnout.
Andy B. said…
I am taking a mini-sabbatical in order to avoid burnout. One month, approved by the SPRC, prayer, reading, writing, resting. I'm one day into it and it is wonderful!
DanThoms said…
I haven't seen any cases of so called "burnout" in the Bible. I have to believe that it has to be a result of something being done improperly. For some reason there must be some sort of a disconnect between us and God and us and Gods will for our life.

In a lot of cases "burnout" is just a cop out. I say burnout is for wimps.
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