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.
As we minister to others we may become overstressed, depressed, or caught in compulsive and sinful behavior. Or we may find themselves feeling spiritually dry, tired of ministry, angry at God, stuck in our spiritual life, or burned out.
In 2009 we started Soul Shepherding as a training center to help pastors thrive with Jesus. Our unique approach as doctors of psychology and spiritual directors cultivates intimacy with Jesus, emotionally healthy relationships, and fruitful ministry. To discover how we can help you check out our Soul Shepherding Institute.
Research on Pastors’ Well-Being
Many research studies have been done on pastors’ stress, spiritual life, marriage, and family. In this article I summarize key results from more than ten studies and cite our source for each statistic. Also I suggest the negative effects of ministry on the well-being of pastors and their families is probably due to a combination of stress overload and inadequate personal soul care.
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% of pastors 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). Seminary trained pastors last only five years in church ministry (2)
- 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% of pastors 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)
- 65% feel their family is in a glass house (2)
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:
- 53% of pastors do not feel that seminary or Bible college prepared them adequately (2)
- 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)
Pastors Who are Spiritually and Emotionally Healthy
These statistics on pastor stress may make it seem like all pastors are burned out, unhealthy, failing morally, or unhappy. That’s not true — I know pastors who are flourishing in their life, marriage, family, and ministry.
In fact, recent research on pastor stress conducted in 2016 by Richard Krejcir and the Schaeffer Institute showed encouraging signs, at least for the pastors in this study. (2)
- 78% of pastors if they had to do it over again would still chose to be a pastor
- 57% are happy and fulfilled as a pastor
- 65% do not battle depression
- 74% are not overly fatigued
- 97% have never engaged in sex outside of their marriage
- 77% pray more than a half hour a day and 50% pray more than one hour a day!
- 88% say their churches are treating them positively (60% of the wives say the same)
- 56% of pastors’ families feel their church is in sync with their family needs
- 77% of pastors spend 20 hours a week or more with their family
More Soul Shepherding for Pastors and Leaders
Research studies of male pastors’ wives have shown that many are hurting. We summarize these statistics in our article, “Unfair Expectations on the Pastor’s Wife.”
Your Best Life In Jesus’ Easy Yoke is Soul Shepherding’s book based on Bill and Kristi Gaultiere’s ministry to pastors and leaders. You can live and work in Jesus’ easy yoke, de-stressed and empowered in God’s grace! (Follow the link to learn more or to order a copy.)
For help planning and getting the most out of a sabbatical, check out our Sabbatical Guide. You’ll find encouragement and tools to help you receive all that God has for you and your family.
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.