Here are my top five books for pastors in burnout. Each of these books is written by someone who has experienced the darkness and emptiness of burnout or depression.
If you’re experiencing burnout, spending more time praying and reading God’s Word to nourish your own soul is the most important thing any pastor can do during this time (yes, it’s one thing not two). Take at least one week away and spend it alone with God. Three months would be better, but most churches won’t allow that. Maybe someday they will understand how good it would be for them too.
These books aren’t just for pastors. Every leader would benefit from the principles in most of them. Also, if you care for your pastor, I deeply recommend that you read these books. They will help you understand the inner world of a pastor. You will learn how you can minister to your pastor when your pastor can’t care for himself. First, a few books that didn’t make the list.
Alan Fadling An Unhurried Leader; An Unhurried Life
These short books will challenge you to match the pace of Jesus in your ministry. They will help you cease from striving so hard and slow down so you can be still before God. I can’t tell you what a gift they have been to me.
Wayne Cordero Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion
This is the first book I ever read during my burnout phase. At the darkest time in my ministry, Wayne Cordero showed me the way out. He taught me about how the stresses of ministry can build over time if we don’t engage in self-care. I will forever be indebted to Wayne for this gift.
Ted Loder, Ed Kerns Guerrillas Of Grace: Prayers For The Battle
This series of poetic prayers are written by someone who knows the depths of a pastor’s soul. They are confessional and worshipful. You will find yourself with Loder in the presence of God.
Samuel R. Chand Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth
Leadership pain covers the most painful stories of ministry from many pastors (some who are quite well-known). It’s more of a book on leadership than burnout, but it can be helpful to know that others have been there too.
Carey Nieuwhof Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences
Carey Nieuwhof’s Leadership Podcast is positive, encouraging, and energetic. It’s a great help for tired pastors. His new book is just like the podcast. My soul was deeply nourished by the depth of insight and his passion for the Lord. Written from the perspective of a recovering ministry slave, Carey shares his mistakes and what he did to find freedom. This is a great book for young pastors to read before it happens to them.
Sharon Garlough Brown Sensible Shoes; Barefoot; Two Steps Forward; An Extra Mile
This series of four books rocked my world. They are a new genre called formative fiction. Part spiritual formation, part literary fiction, these books drew me in so much that I read them all in a week! I found my soul stirred as Sharon asked “Who am I if I’m not a pastor?” These books follow the stories of four women who are on a spiritual journey together. I am so grateful for how these beautiful stories changed my life.
Ruth Haley Barton Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership; Invitation to Solitude and Silence; Sacred Rhythms
I know, I’m cheating by listing three books here. But if you’re like me, read one and you’ll want to read them all. Ruth is the president of The Transforming Center, a ministry that “strengthens the souls of pastors, spiritual leaders and the congregations and organizations they serve.” Her books really helped me to go deeper into God’s presence every day. (Her podcast is great too.)
Charles Stone People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval-Motivated Leadership
This book opened my eyes to the fields of neuroscience and psychology and how they affect my ministry. Stone shows how the stresses of ministry work against the pastor’s ability to perform at a high level. He gives us tools for overcoming intense emotions and for caring for self before caring for others. My favorite part of the book is the appendix, which covers the mindfulness practice BEETS (Body, Environment, Emotions, Thoughts, Soul). It has transformed my ability to focus in prayer. Be sure to check out Charles Stone’s blog as well.
Peter Scazzero The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World
“You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature,” says Pete Scazzero. This message is at the heart of all his Emotionally Healthy Spirituality books. Pete describes himself as having been an emotional infant and how God led him to address his immaturity. This led him into deeper spiritual practices that now form his rule of life. If you only read one book on ministry burnout, make it this one. Do everything he recommends no matter how silly a genogram sounds to you. Pete knows what he is talking about – read his books and listen to his podcast; you’ll see for yourself.
These are my top five and I praise God for every one of them.
Pastors, what are your top five books to battle burnout and depression?
Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.
© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.