Are congregants at fault for pastor burnout?

I’ve written here several times on the topic of pastoral burnout and the need for prevention and renewal for ministry leaders. I came across this opinion piece in the NY Times suggesting that congregants may be a big part of the problem. Consider some of the following quotes by the author (a pastor who may have had problems in his own congregation that bias him a bit). Emphases are mine.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

Ouch. His words about the demand for experiential highs are pointed, especially the ones about missions trips as sightseeing events.

The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.

I suspect this is one part of the pie. But let us not blame the congregants too much. They want to be part of something great and most pastors want to be something great. The two sides mutually support this kind of problem.

If you read the full-text you will see a link for another recently published editorial about clergy burnout. You can read that one here. There are a number of other resources you can find as hot links embedded in that essay. One factoid is a recent study of North Carolinian Methodist pastors are found to be significantly more obese than the general population of the state. Makes you go hmmm.


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Depression, Evangelicals, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

11 responses to “Are congregants at fault for pastor burnout?

  1. Some of that ought to be sorted out in the search process. Sounds like he wasn’t a good fit for that congregation. That can be a big contributing factor.
    Another is the typical make up of pastors themselves. As part of a “helping” profession, we struggle to delegate some responsibilities. We wear ourselves out due to the dark side of compassion. The strength necessary for ministry can become a weakness for long term ministry if we don’t equip others to help.

    • Right, you said it well, “The strength necessary for ministry can become a weakness for long term ministry if we don’t equip others to help.” I think that bears repeating!

  2. D. Stevenson

    “…We congregants/pastors want to be part of something great…”

    Aren’t we?

    Revelation 22:16-17
    “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
    The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

    Seems pretty great to me.

    • Deb,
      We sure are. Problem is we want to be part of something great that lauds ourselves as in, “Aren’t WE great!”

      • D. Stevenson

        Maybe the same factors that help a person stay in that perspective also help against burnout.

        God is God and I am not. – You know them. Self-care, delegating responsibility, etcetera, etcetera.

        Whatever the case, I am skeptical whenever I hear…, It’s their fault, I wouldn’t have xxx if they….

        Even so, I expect a church body can be compared to a marriage. (certainly a family)
        Some marriages are abusive and the best choice is to leave. And…, just as it could be either spouse, the abuser in the church situation could be the congregants or it could be the pastor. (or both)

  3. There are, as the article and comments have shown, multiple factors leading to the burnout of a pastor. Hard to tell which is a chicken and which is an egg. But it’s all poultry just the same.

    Thanks for the post and bringing burnout into the light this way. I’ve shared it on Twitter. Do you have a Twitter account?

    • Scott, thanks for your comments. Sorry, I don’t twitter…probably should but have resisted to this point.

      • No problem. I’ve subscribed to your posts in Google Reader. I collect posts that have to do with how to BE as a ministry leader (among the many posts on how to DO ministry).

        As I come across one that applies from your posts, I’ll include them.

        Keep up the great work! Stay strong.

  4. Pingback: Tweets that mention Are congregants at fault for pastor burnout? « Musings of a Christian Psychologist --

  5. For me, you done a good job of illustrating why we need to both pray for our pastors and minister to them. It’s not easy to get up and prepare a message each Sunday. It is often a challenge to tend to various individual’s need.

    The pastor is a human being and does need people to do more than just pray.

  6. Tom

    This is a worthy issue for someone considering the pastorate or for someone looking for a church community. The most important factor has not been considered; the assumptions of church, pastor, congregant are flawed. Because our assumptions there will not be relief for pastoral staff.
    Assumption #1: church is an organization with staff, programs, property, mission statements, leadership, management and a larger group that does not fit into paid or volunteer staff.
    Assumption #2: the pastor is like a teaching CEO. He speaks on Sundays, he supervises staff, he oversees programs, he casts vision, he goes to committee (ministry team) meetings, he studies, he prays, he occasionally meets people 1 on 1, he has a secretary, he has an office in the facility, he represents the congregation to the community, he answers to the investors.
    Assumption #3: A worship service consists of singing songs, praying, collecting funds for the congregation, a mass of people sitting in rows facing the back of someone’s head, professional and/or para-professional staff leading from a stage, listening to a monologue, remaining quiet unless you are singing or asked to speak. The only person that has something valid and spiritual to say during the worship service is the person delivering the monologue.
    Assumption #4: a church must be incorporated, own property or rent property, have a membership and bylaws, a budget and an annual business meeting.

    These are among the assumptions that push a pastor away for intimately shepherding souls. Somehow the church as been transformed from an organism into a corporation. It is appropriate for a corporation to do many of the structural and organizational things I mentioned. The Church, the organism, is messy. Messy is uncomfortable and it is tempting to control it with corporate management techniques.

    That’s my thoughts as an X-youth pastor.

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