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.

Contact Soul Shepherding to connect with a spiritual director, therapist, or to learn about our Institute for pastors and leaders.

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.

14 responses to “Pastor Stress Statistics

  • Thank you for this article!
    I am a pastor to 224 pastors and I want to know more about your organization. I love everything that I am reading and you are on the mark when you speak of the need for helping our personal friends!

  • A most fascinating article. I must say that a large part of it if not all of it is true about me in some respect. I don’t need to rehearse how that’s possible, just re-read the stats. I have been so traumatized by the Church that I can’t even go without intense anger and have experienced both homicidal thoughts and the beginnings of a dissociative disorder called depersonalization as a result of my ministry experience! I come from a long line of clergy and I love the Lord and the Word. Yet, I have been so traumatized that I can hardly speak to God. Knowing that Job, for example was also traumatized in his life is of little comfort when there’s nobody to get down in the hell of your darkness with you! Pastors need that from other pastors who have the empathy and clinical training necessary and who can bring that to bear on a situation. Thankfully I am beginning to heal and I’m developing a new career and I’m 13 months away from a new Masters degree that will allow me to really make a difference by taking the wounds Satan meant for evil and allowing God to use them for healing others. One day I hope to have a practice and a ministry that reaches persons like me and their deeply impacted families without the confines, politics, and shenanigans of a local church.

  • I found the article very helpful. I really appreciated your work on this. I could relate to many areas that you have touched on. I am working on my assignment on Sabbath rest thus may I have your permission to use this resource. God bless your ministry.

  • The content in this article reveals factual truths of what actually happens in the lives of pastors. This article has helped to call the attention of church leaders and the congregation on how to assist any pastor within their reach.

  • I love your stats and I wish to use some in the book I am writing, first time writer with regards to pastor and the church I am seeking permission.

  • I am writing a book on clergy and mental illness. I would like to use your data in my book. Is that ok?

  • your work is quite revealing.like Victor demanded, I will appreciate same as I am presenting working on some personality constructs as they affect the psychological well being of clergy in Nigeria

  • Thanks for the information. Kindly update me on clergy stress and how they are coping. Am at present researching into this on Anglican clergyman in Nigeria.

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