Nearing pastor burnout? Here's what I changed to finish strong

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Nearing pastor burnout? Here’s what I changed to finish strong

May 3, 2022 - Jay Richardson

© foto_tech /stock.adobe.com

© foto_tech /stock.adobe.com

“How much longer do you want to pastor a church?”

The answer was, “At least twenty more years.”

He replied, “You need to decide now what changes you must make in order to finish strong in twenty years.”

It’s amazing how a casual conversation on the golf course can change the trajectory of a life. I was simply talking to my golfing buddy, who happens to be a psychologist and university professor, about what was going on with me.

I was forgetting names and appointments to an extent that caused my assistant to say, “You are scaring me.” The season of ministry was exceptionally busy and stressful.

My friend told me that I was experiencing burnout.

A high calling with high expectations

Decide today what you need to change in order to finish strong in twenty years. Then do it. 

This was my assignment.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on burnout. What I do know is how it feels. What I do know is that, according to a recent Barna Group survey, 38 percent of pastors are considering quitting the ministry.

I do know that being a pastor is very complex, requiring a tender heart and tough skin, firm resolve and a humble spirit. We’re expected to preach powerfully, lead valiantly, grow the church, raise money, be a counselor and administrator, and have perfect families.

Worst of all, we hold those expectations of ourselves!

No wonder so many pastors grow weary and want to quit. It’s a high calling to a very hard job.

Make intentional changes

I decided to make some changes. Boundaries were set with the leadership of our church:

  • No more meetings four to five nights a week.
  • Vacations would be taken.
  • At least a day a week, the church would be off my radar.
  • No became a good word.
  • Delegation became an improved practice.
  • Expectations were modified, especially those I held for myself.
  • I, over time, resigned or finished my terms on the hospital, university, and ministry boards I was privileged to serve.

This was a time of paring back to focus on my call.

Solitude became invaluable. Time with myself and Jesus. The new goal was to live for an audience of One. If I’m not living to please him, I’m a failure no matter what else I’ve accomplished.

A new vision emerged: building effective believers whose lives are transformational in these crazy times.

Finish strong

Minor changes bring major results. That season in ministry changed me.

To be totally transparent, there have been other tough seasons. The call to pastor the flock of God is among the greatest callings a person could ever know. What a joy and privilege! But it is hard, this responsibility to feed, lead, develop, and silently carry the burdens of so many.

Pastoring is hard, but if God has called you to do it, don’t quit. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Not long ago, I was talking to my golfing buddy and reminded him of the conversation we had over twenty years ago. He hardly remembered it but said, “I can’t believe you actually took my advice!”

Do you remember what he asked?

“How long do you want to pastor a church? Decide today what you need to change in order to finish strong.”

I finished strong. I’ll be retiring from pastoral ministry in a few months.

My family loves the church and, all grown up now, are serving in the churches they attend. I serve an incredibly healthy church and one of the pastors on our staff is going to succeed me. The church will continue to be a powerful force for the gospel in our community and around the world. God rewards his faithful servants.

Decide today

Burned out? You’re in good company.

Even the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We were completely overwhelmed, beyond our strength, so that we even despaired of life itself.” Obviously, God brought Paul through. He brought me through, too, and he will do the same for you.

Your ministry matters to God.

You matter to God.

What do you need to change today in order to finish strong years from now?

Decide and do it.

You won’t regret it.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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