Depression and burnout among pastors is a chronic problem in the church. Many pastors experience down times where they don’t have much energy for ministry. These often follow a period of intense ministry activity. It’s a natural response of the body to being overworked, but it’s not burnout – not yet.
Burnout is a prolonged feeling of depression, joylessness, or anxiety. In pastors there are several symptoms that signify full-blown burnout. Before reaching that depth, there are signs that burnout may be on its way if things don’t change. Below are partial lists of symptoms for pre-burnout and total burnout. If you are experiencing three or more of these symptoms, that may be a sign that you need to make some changes.
- You continually feel behind in your work.
- You’re consistently working more than 45 hours pers week.
- You’re not taking a Sabbath day.
- You’re not taking a day off.
- You’re feeling continually frustrated, anxious, or stressed.
- You’re having trouble sleeping.
- You’re not getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
- You’re having trouble being creative.
- You’re not exercising.
- You’re using overeating, sex, or self-destructive behaviors to mask your emotions.
- You’re withdrawing from important relationships.
- You’re avoiding conflict out of self-protection.
- You’re not praying.
- You’re not reading your Bible for your own spiritual nourishment.
- You’re not aware of God’s presence.
- Worship feels stale.
- You don’t love preaching anymore.
- You have escapist daydreams (like dreaming about other jobs).
- You’re avoiding accountability.
- You feel shame, self-loathing, or indifference toward self.
- You don’t feel anything most of the time – life is kind of gray.
- When you do feel, the emotions are intense – rage, vengeance, jealousy, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
- You feel like your job (or even your life) is killing you.
- You’re doing the bare minimum every day.
- You have no energy for basic tasks – especially self-care.
- You’re in full-blown addiction to pornography, alcohol, sugar, shopping, or other destructive behaviors.
- You’re engaging in mind-numbing behaviors for long periods of the day – TV, video games, surfing the internet, etc.
- You have nothing to look forward to in the morning.
- You avoid going to bed at night because you fear tomorrow.
- You’re hyper-vigilant – your defenses are always up.
- You can’t think clearly, ever.
- You find yourself asking, “Why did I do that? That’s not like me.”
- Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde feels like your personal diary.
- The only energy you feel comes from anxiety, anger, or fear.
- You haven’t laughed in months.
- Your spouse or kids are avoiding you.
- You are thinking of death or asking God to take your life.
- You don’t even know where your Bible is.
- People have stopped asking, “Are you okay?”
- You feel empty inside.
- Exhausted doesn’t begin to describe how you feel.
- You are in full-blown doubt – wondering if God is even real.
- Hate feels good.
- You cry for no reason.
- You don’t cry when you should.
- Existence hurts.
If you are in burnout or approaching burnout, you are not alone. I’ve been there and God brought me back. Hope is not gone. You can find joy and fruitful ministry again but you will need help. Talk to someone. Find a licensed Christian counselor, a spiritual director, or a veteran pastor (like me) and ask for their help. In my next post, I’ll share how I climbed out of burnout.
Pastors, if you have faced burnout, what would you add to these lists?
Please, offer some encouragement based on your experience in the comments below.
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.