Pastors and other ministry leaders are often under so much stress that they find themselves just hanging on by a thread, about to burnout from exhaustion or blow out morally.
Pastor stress today is enormous. The expectations that people put on their pastors today — and that pastors put on themselves! — are debilitating. Everywhere pastors go they are expected to be “on” — ready to give stellar leadership, unending compassion, an inspiring message, anointed prayer, or words of encouragement.
Yet, like anyone else — perhaps more so because of the nature of their work and the expectations people have for them — may become overstressed, depressed, or caught in compulsive and sinful behavior. Or they may find themselves feeling spiritually dry, tired of ministry, angry at God, stuck in their spiritual life, or burned out.
Who Cares for the Pastor Who Cares For You?
But who ministers to pastors? Who is caring for the pastor’s heart and investing in his or her relationship with God? Who is helping them to remain fruitful for Christ and the people they minister to? Who do they confess their temptations and sins to? Who cares for you? And who cares for the pastor who cares for you?
In a Schaeffer Institute study of 1,050 Reformed and Evangelical pastors every pastor said they had a colleague or seminary friend who had left their ministry because of burnout, church conflict, or moral failure. (2) All 1,050 pastors had at least one fallen comrade!
Every pastor experiences the enormous stress of ministry and most don’t know who to confide in — they feel alone and struggle with prayer. Sometimes ministry leaders need psychotherapy or specialized soul care. Other times they need spiritual renewal or guidance. Always they need a safe soul friend to listen and provide encouragement and prayer. And when a pastor is helped to grow into greater intimacy with Christ tremendous blessings overflow to his or her family and the many people that he or she has influence over.
In 2009 we started Soul Shepherding as a 501c3 nonprofit ministry to pastors and ministry leaders.
Statistics on Pastors’ Ministry Stress
Why aren’t these pastors overflowing with the love, joy and peace of the Lord in their lives, families and ministries? What is the cause of their emotional problems and moral failures? A major factor is overwhelming ministry stress:
- 75% report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed” (1)
- 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week (2)
- 90% feel fatigued and worn out every week (1)
- 70% say they’re grossly underpaid (2)
- 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month (1)
- 78% were forced to resign and 63% at least twice, most commonly because of church conflict (1)
- 80% will not be in ministry ten years later and only a fraction make it a lifelong career (1)
- 100% of 1,050 Reformed and Evangelical pastors had a colleague who had left the ministry because of burnout, church conflict, or moral failure (2)
- 91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry and 18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now” (7)
Statistics on Pastors’ Emotional Health, Family, and Morality
It’s particularly disturbing to see how much pastors are struggling with emotional pain, family problems, loving well, and moral failures:
- 70% say they have a lower self-esteem now than when they entered ministry (1)
- 70% constantly fight depression (2)
- 50% feel so discouraged that they would leave their ministry if they could, but can’t find another job (2)
- 80% believe their pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families and 33% said it was an outright hazard (1)
- 80% of ministry spouses feel left out and unappreciated in their church (2)
- 77% feel they do not have a good marriage (2)
- 41% display anger problems in marriage (reported by the spouse) (3)
- 38% are divorced or divorcing (1)
- 50% admit to using pornography and 37% report inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church (1)
Statistics on Pastors’ Lack of Soul Care and Training
But ministry stress alone does not explain why pastors burnout emotionally or blow out morally. Other statistics suggest that many pastors struggle with “professionalizing” their spiritual lives and failing to care for their own souls under God:
- 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend (1)
- 50% do not meet regularly with an accountability person or group (6)
- 72% only study the Bible when preparing for sermons or lessons (1)
- 21% spend less than 15 minutes a day in prayer — the average is 39 minutes per day (4)
- 16% are “very satisfied” with their prayer life, 47% are “somewhat satisfied”, and 37% are either “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” (spending more time in quiet prayer or listening to God versus making requests was correlated with higher satisfaction) (4)
- 44% of pastors do not take a regular day off (5)
- 31% do not exercise at all, while 37% exercise at least three or four days a week as recommended (6)
- 90% say they have not received adequate training to meet the demands of ministry (2)
- 85% have never taken a Sabbatical (6)
Sources of Research Studies and Statistics on Pastors
All these surveys are of Protestant pastors from a variety of denominations in America: (1) David Ross and Rick Blackmon’s “Soul Care for Servants” workshop reported the results of their Fuller Institute of Church Growth research study in 1991 and other surveys in 2005 and 2006. (2) Francis A Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development research studies in 1998 and 2006. (3) Leadership Magazine’s research for their article on “Marriage Problems Pastors Face,” Fall 1992 issue. (4) Grey Matter Research, 2005 scientific study of pastors from every city in America. (5) Pastors at Greater Risk by H.B. London and Neil B. Wiseman, Regal Books, 2003. (6) Focus on the Family 2009 survey of 2,000 pastors. (7) Leadership Journal poll of readers, 2013.
More Soul Shepherding for Pastors
Similar statistics have been reported from studies of pastors’ wives, which we summarize in our article, “Unfair Expectations on the Pastor’s Wife.”
“Ministry Begins with Rest” is a short article to encourage you as a leader to get the rest you need.
I compiled a number of key Scriptures to write “A Prayer of Affirmation for Pastors” to help pastors and leaders like myself cultivate the reliance on God that empowers ministry.