Clergy burnout: Who shepherds the shepherds?

Too much work and too little pay, too much stress and too little pray. Many religious leaders today find themselves overwhelmed by their jobs, and can succumb to the very ills that they try to help their congregants overcome. Along with growing evidence of the toll from clergy burnout are efforts to combat it.

By some estimates, up to 1,500 pastors leave their jobs every month in part due to burnout, nearly two-thirds say the pressures of the job have diminished their passion to spread the faith, and almost all say they work too many hours and feel under pressure to have a perfect home life.

Stress is an occupational hazard for underpaid pastors in shrinking congregations, but it can also be a problem for clergy at fast-growing ones where there is an increasing workload and greater expectations. Moral failure, family breakdowns, substance abuse and spiritual emptiness can result, experts say, and with the same or even greater frequency as for those whom religious leaders are called to minister to.

This edition of ReligionLink provides background and expert sources for reporters writing about this pressing topic.

Background

Research and data

Articles and blog posts

National sources

  • Wayne Cordeiro

    Wayne Cordeiro is the founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship, a fast-growing Honolulu megachurch. He served three decades in ministry before burnout caused him to take a break. That period of rest and reflection re-energized him, and he shared his experience in a 2009 book, Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion. Cordeiro’s presentation on burnout and renewal was the highest-rated presentation at a Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

  • Leadership Network

    Leadership Network in Dallas fosters church innovation by working with leaders in a variety of denominations. It  has support groups for pastors in different stages of their careers, and its website includes resources related to burnout.

    Contact: 800-765-5323, 214-969-5950.
  • Anne Marie Miller

    Anne Marie Miller (pen name Anne Jackson) grew up as the daughter of a pastor and later experienced serious stress as a church leader herself. She is the author of Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic (2009). Miller is based in Iowa.

  • Terry C. Muck

    Terry C. Muck is interim executive director of  the Louisville Institute in Louisville, Ky., which encourages the revitalization of American religious life, including among clergy.

  • Robert Saler

    Robert Saler is director of the Lilly Endowment’s National Clergy Renewal Program, which provides grants to congregations offering their pastors breaks for rest and renewal. More than 700 congregations and their pastors have benefited.

  • Daniel Sherman

    Daniel Sherman is a former pastor who founded the online ministry PastorBurnout.com. He also serves as the North Central regional director for PastorCare Network, a support network for pastors and their families.

  • Steven Smith

    Steven Smith is dean of the college and professor of communication at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also holds the seminary’s James T. Draper Chair of Pastoral Ministry. Smith is the author of Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit (2009), in which he discusses “why the preacher must die to self, die for others and die in Christ so that congregations may live.”

  • Charles Stone

    Charles Stone is a longtime pastor and the founder of StoneWell Ministries in Aurora, Ill. His award-winning book 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them (2010) examines the major causes of frustration and burnout for pastors and church leaders.

  • Kenneth L. Swetland

    Kenneth L. Swetland is senior professor of ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he also leads the Oasis counseling program for seminary alumni facing a crisis or transition. He wrote The Hidden World of the Pastor: Case Studies on Personal Issues of Real Pastors.

  • James P. Wind

    The Rev. James P. Wind is president of the Alban Institute, which provides ecumenical resources for congregations, and his expertise includes trends in clergy supply and demand.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Nancy Ammerman

    Nancy Ammerman is professor of sociology at Boston University and a leading expert on congregational dynamics, especially in mainline Protestantism. She is the author of Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners. She is also a leading expert on religious movements and has written about the rise of fundamentalism.

  • Kirk Byron Jones

    The Rev. Kirk Byron Jones is an adjunct professor of ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass. He was a pastor for more than three decades. Jones is the author of Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers.

  • John Frederick Lehr

    John Frederick Lehr is a pastor, consultant and counselor and the author of Clergy Burnout: Recovering from the 70-Hour Work Week and Other Self-Defeating Practices. He is based in the Baltimore area.

    Contact: 410-766-3283.
  • Adair T. Lummis

    Adair T. Lummis is a religion sociologist and a faculty associate in research at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. Her research focuses on denominational policies; gender, spirituality and leadership in communities of faith; and clergy concerns. Her books include, as co-author, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Roy M. Oswald

    Roy M. Oswald is an ordained Lutheran pastor and the executive director of a parachurch organization focused on effective leadership in the church, the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills. Oswald, a former senior consultant with the Alban Institute, is the author of Clergy Self-Care: Finding a Balance for Effective Ministry. He lives in Boonsboro, Md.

  • Donald Paul Sullins

    The Rev. Donald Paul Sullins is a former Episcopal priest who was ordained into the Catholic priesthood in 2002. He is an associate professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and has written about church switching and patterns of Protestant affiliation.

  • Lovett H. Weems Jr.

    Lovett H. Weems Jr. is Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and directs the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Its 2012 report on clergy age trends in the United Methodist Church found that the percentage of middle-age elders continues to shrink, falling from 65 percent of active elders 12 years ago to 41 percent now. A previous report examined a dramatic drop in the number of young United Methodist clergy.

In the South

  • Lianna R. Bennett

    Lianna R. Bennett is a clinical psychologist at the Alpha Omega Clinic in Fairfax, Va. She earned her doctorate at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., where her training focused on the integration of faith and psychology. Bennett’s dissertation was titled Social Support, Life Satisfaction and Burnout in Roman Catholic Clergy.

    Contact: 301-767-1733.
  • Reginald A. Bruce

    Reginald A. Bruce is associate professor of management at the University of Louisville’s College of Business. He has done much research on pastoral leadership, including a 2005 paper titled “Leadership in High Performing Congregations: Uncovering the Secrets of Success.”

  • Brad Hoffmann

    Brad Hoffmann is pastor at Cool Spring Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Va., and co-author of Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers. He and co-author Michael Todd Wilson, a counselor, work with pastors removed from their place of service because of burnout or other problems.

  • George Jacobs

    George Jacobs, a Presbyterian minister, and Gordon Jacobs, his wife, are the founders of the Davidson Clergy Center in Davidson, N.C., which provides programs for clergy experiencing burnout.

  • Michael Lane Morris

    Michael Lane Morris is associate professor of management at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He has studied the effects of stress on clergy and their families.

  • Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell

    Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell is an assistant professor of health research at Duke University and research director of its Clergy Health Initiative. The program seeks to improve the health of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina and includes a two-year holistic health intervention called Spirited Life.

  • Barney Self

    Barney Self is a licensed marriage and family therapist . He has counseled ministers and their families for eight years through a program run by the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources. He is now pastoral counseling minister at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville.

  • Bill Wilson

    Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C. He wrote a column for EthicsDaily.com about the importance of rest for everyone, but especially for clergy.

In the Midwest

  • Donald B. Cozzens

    The Rev. Donald B. Cozzens is writer-in-residence in the religious studies department at John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio. His books include The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest’s Crisis of Soul.

  • Gwen Wagstrom Halaas

    Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas is a physician and associate dean of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She is the author of The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy, in which she discusses the stress and other health threats faced by many clergy members. Halaas is married to a Lutheran minister.

  • Charles W. Mueller

    Charles W. Mueller is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He has written about clergy-congregation mismatches and clergy job satisfaction.

In the West

  • A. Richard Bullock

    A. Richard Bullock is an associate clergy member at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland, Ore., and co-author of Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning.

    Contact: 503-284-7141.
  • Patricia M.Y. Chang

    Patricia M.Y. Chang is a lecturer in the sociology department at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. She has studied clergy career characteristics and the supply of ordained leadership in some Protestant denominations, and she co-authored Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Edmund Gibbs

    Edmund Gibbs is professor emeritus of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. He is an expert on the emerging church and has called for seminaries and theological schools to rethink the way they train pastors for the 21st century. His books include LeadershipNext: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture.

  • Kent Ira Groff

    Kent Ira Groff is founding mentor at Oasis Ministries and the author of Clergy Table Talk (2012), in which he discusses physical, spiritual and emotional burnout among clergy. His home office is in Denver.

  • Arthur Gross-Schaefer

    Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer leads the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, Calif. He has spoken out about the problem of rabbinical burnout.

    Contact: 805-895-6593.
  • H.B. London Jr.

    H.B. London Jr. is vice president of ministry outreach/pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo., and co-author of Pastors at Greater Risk: Real Help for Pastors From Pastors Who’ve Been There. London is also a fourth-generation minister.

  • G. Lloyd Rediger

    The Rev. G. Lloyd Rediger of Albuquerque, N.M., is an author, speaker and trainer and is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His books include Coping With Clergy Burnout and Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack.

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