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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

How Pastors Can Avoid Ministry Burnout?

Actress Joan Blondell uses an ordinary kitchen timer to pull herself up out of the dumps. Says she: “I set the timer to for 6½ minutes to be lonely, and 22 minutes to feel sorry for myself. And then when the bell rings, I take a shower, or a walk, or a swim, or I cook something and think about something else.”—Bits & Pieces

Being a parish pastor is often a profession that is mostly quite rewarding. We get a salary to tell people about the love of God, demonstrated through the life and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. We understand the privilege of being at the bedside of dying and newborn babies.

There are times pastors see God act in amazing and powerful ways in the life of the Church and its members. That is the real and rewarding part of the ministry. But as with so many professions, there is another side. A lonely side. Here is a balanced look at ministry in this pastor’s lament.

Pastor’s Lament

I am appalled at what is required of me. I am supposed to move from a sickbed

to an administrative meeting,

to planning,

to supervising,

to counseling,

to praying,

to troubleshooting,

to budgeting,

to audio systems,

to meditation,

to worship preparation,

to the newsletter,

to staff problems,

to mission projects,

to conflict management,

to community leadership,

to study,

to funerals,

to weddings,

to preaching.

I am supposed to be “in charge” but not too much in charge, administrative executive, sensitive pastor,

skillful counselor,

dynamic public speaker, spiritual guide,

politically savvy, intellectually sophisticated.

And I am expected to be superior,

or at least first-rate, in all of them.

I am not supposed to be depressed,

discouraged, cynical, angry,


I am supposed to be upbeat,

positive, strong, willing, and available.

Right now, I am not filling any of these expectations very well. I think that’s why I am tired.[1]

I feel that now I can share with the church at large just how challenging and lonely a job the pastor is tasked to accomplish. It is quite an undertaking. If I had shared this while serving a congregation, it would only come off as whining. And I might get a “butch up comment” from my board of elders. I am sharing this not to garner sympathy with the understanding, I feel that there is so much more congregations could and should be doing to support the work and ministry of their shepherd, his family, and other church workers. I hope to help to extend the ministry life of pastors. From my personal experience, many shepherds are teetering on the edge of quitting or burnout. My prayer is that this series on caring for your pastor will help congregations and pastors rediscover the joy of ministry.

In the message, today I want to talk about making sure pastors take a Sabbath. Take this word of advice from a workaholic. You are not faithful when you fail to take care of yourself and your family.

The Word of God contains over 150 references to the Sabbath.

· In Moses' day if one did not observe the Sabbath the penalty was death (Exodus 31:14-15).

You shall keep the Sabbath because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.

That sounds a bit harsh. Pastor takes a day off or we kill you. But some of us clergy types are so hard-headed that maybe this kind of law is the only motivation we understand. But think of it this way.

“The Sabbath is a sign of obedience to the covenant. Those who keep no Sabbath (who neither rests the equivalent of one day per week nor worship weekly) are by their very actions indicating openly to all that they are not partners to the covenant. Those who faithfully keep the Sabbath, on the other hand, make a public declaration of their covenant loyalty to the “Lord of the Sabbath.”[2]

Practice what you preach, Pastor

We desire that our members take a day out of their busy, over-taxed lives and commit that day to the Lord. Should we as the spiritual shepherd not also take up that challenge? Not only is it good for us, but it is commanded by God. Now, while a pastor taking Sunday off is not an option, it does not mean we should not have a Sabbath day.

Does it matter when the Sabbath is observed? Nope, just as long as we do.

The Sabbath was a covenant and sign between God and His people. The keeping of the Sabbath was a sign that God indeed ruled Israel. To break His Sabbath law was to rebel against Him

How well those beautiful words of Jesus apply, 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest' (Mat 11:28).   Jesus' words in Matthew are so fitting for our topic of rest, the people were burdened with all requirements of the Jewish laws. Many pastors are loaded with the programs and expectations of ministry. Jesus says to you, stop it! Ministry is not supposed to be this complicated. Learn to stop taking a day to Sabbath and refresh yourself and reevaluate your priorities. You desire it; your family needs it, and your people will be blessed by it.

Questions for Reflection:

Take time to write down all the activities that recharge your batteries.  How often do you take time to engage in those activities?

Here is an idea to pitch to your church leaders.  Have them put money in the budget to give you Sabbath Sundays.  These are not vacation days.  You still need time away from the rigors of pastoral ministry. But put in the budget money for guest preachers to give you a break during the year.  Imagine how refreshing it could be for you and your family to worship together and have someone minister to you.

[1] Gilbert, Barbara, Who Ministers to Ministers? (The Alban Institute)

[2] Stuart, D. K. (2006). Exodus (Vol. 2, p. 655). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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