Megachurch pastor Pete Wilson’s recent resignation from Cross PointChurch in Nashville renewed attention on the topic of pastor burnout. Saying that he was “tired” and “broken” and “leading on empty,” Wilson told his congregation that the best thing for him to do was to step aside from Cross Point leadership.
Wilson’s words had a familiar ring to them. It wasn’t so long ago that my husband and I went through our own journey with burnout and depression. It was one of the toughest seasons in our marriage. His burnout was brought on by a lack of boundaries and unrealistic personal expectations. I was struggling to parent two young children without being caught up in his emotional turmoil. Things finally came to a head when I slapped the number for our state convention’s counseling line down in front of him and told him if he didn’t call, I would. He made the call, and our state convention helped provide us with counseling and needed resources. Slowly, we climbed our way out of the pit.
If Pete Wilson’s words sounded familiar to you too, know that you’re not alone. Burnout is more common in ministry than we’d like to think. Conflict in our congregations, inadequate training, financial stress, poor boundaries, unrealistic expectations, and the sense that the work of ministry is never done can all create burnout-ripe conditions. Maybe your husband is struggling with burnout. Maybe you are. Either way, you aren’t alone. And there is hope. Here are four suggestions for pastors and pastors' wives struggling with burnout:
1. Get help.Many denominations offer counseling help for pastors and their families. Take advantage of those resources. If counseling help isn’t available through your denomination, try calling the Focus on the Family Pastoral Care helpline or check out CareforPastors.org.
2. Practice Sabbath.
It can be challenging for ministry families to practice Sabbath, but it is essential. Rest is an invitation to enter God’s presence and allows us to participate in re-creation. Take a day off. Turn off the cell phone. Get out of town if you need to. Regular Sabbath practice is one of the best defenses against burnout.
3. Cultivate relationships.We need people in our lives who care about the state of our souls. For some, this may be a family member or close friend. For others, it may be a spiritual advisor. Find a person who listens to your soul. If you don’t have anyone in your life that fits that description right now, make it a matter of prayer. Ask God to reveal to you who he has placed in your life that can be a soul-companion.
4. Create a spiritual covenant.
Finding a goal to work toward can help you move out of burnout into health. A spiritual covenant can be one tool in helping you define and work toward meaningful goals. How are you doing in terms of your spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and worship? Are you keeping Sabbath? Tending to your physical health? Developing relationships? Growing in your vocation and training? Draw aside for an hour and prayerfully consider each of these components. Ask God to help you set a goal or two in the most important areas—not for the rest of your life, but maybe for the next six weeks or so. Decide what you will do to achieve these goals. Share your covenant with a friend, and reevaluate in a few weeks to see your progress.
If you’re dealing with burnout, you’re not alone. There is hope. Share your experiences with burnout in the comments, or connect with our message board community to talk in a private and secure setting.
About the author:
Leigh Powers is a pastor's wife, Bible study and devotional author, freelance editor, and mother of three from small-town West Texas. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by meeting God in his word. You can connect with Leigh on Facebook, Twitter, or follow her at her blog My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com).