Commentary: Pastoral burnout a problem in today's demanding church landscape

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In today’s demanding church landscape, one of the greatest challenges is pastoral burnout. Many pastors are discouraged and exhausted, and some are questioning their calling. As of 2019, burnout is a legitimate medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization. Lifeway Research revealed in 2014 that one in four pastors admitted to struggling with mental illness, with half of them being formally diagnosed.

More recent data paints an even grimmer picture, showing a significant decrease in pastors’ overall well-being from 2015 to 2022. This decline correlates with an increase in loneliness among pastors, with one in five reporting a lack of true friendships. This growing problem reached a tipping point post-COVID in 2021-2022, when, according to Barna research, 38% of pastors considered quitting ministry. These alarming statistics cannot be ignored by the church.

In my book, “A Preach Well Church: How Churches Can Stop Burning Out Pastors,” I share my personal experience with panic attacks and how it led me to research this issue of pastoral burnout for my doctoral capstone ministry project. I surveyed ninety-seven Georgia Southern Baptist pastors and asked them how church members can help them overcome these challenges and build a healthier future for the pastorate.

A key to avoiding burnout

One of the principal insights from my research, as presented in my book, is that effective preaching can act as a shield against burnout for pastors. When pastors are free to focus their time and energy on proclaiming the gospel, they are more likely to derive satisfaction and fulfillment from the ministry, thus mitigating stress and exhaustion and reducing the risk of burnout.

A Preach Well Church is a church whose concern for the overall well-being of their pastor reflects their priority for the preaching of the word. Each chapter in the book is a commitment developed from research to help churches help their pastors preach well. Each commitment has clear, concrete actions that pastors and churches can prayerfully consider to create a church culture conducive to keeping preaching as the priority of the pastor’s ministry.

A shared responsibility

Pastoral burnout is not just a pastor’s problem; it’s a church problem. While pastors are surrounded by people, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are supported by them, and pastors often struggle to advocate for their own well-being. This paradox underlines the crucial need for church members to understand the challenges pastors face and provide necessary support and resources to prevent and mitigate burnout.

A candid exploration

“A Preach Well Church” offers an intimate look at the often unseen trials pastors experience. The book takes church members behind the pulpit, exposing the emotional turbulence and self-doubt that can accompany the sacred responsibility of pastoring and preaching. It gives light to the overlooked pressures pastors grapple with, from the constant struggle to meet expectations and deal with criticism to financial instability and resistance to change within churches.

A must-read

“A Preach Well Church” is more than just a book for pastors; it’s a valuable resource for anyone who cares about the health of their pastor and church. The book serves as a call to action for church members, urging them to take measures to support their pastor. If you are a pastor, you will find encouragement from the wisdom of preachers such as Charles Spurgeon, Haddon Robinson, Martin Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, Leonard Ravenhill, Alexander Maclaren, Vance Havner, and John Piper, among others. Their insights offer solace and understanding about the burdensome joy of pastoring and preaching.

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Josh Taylor is an author and pastor of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Demorest, Ga. To learn more about “A Preach Well Church: How Churches Can Stop Burning Out Pastors,” please visit www.preachwell.com or purchase a copy from your favorite online retailer. As a special offer for Christian Index readers, use the discount code CONF40 at www.wipfandstock.com for 40% off your purchase until July 31st, 2023.

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