Pastors often succumb to job burnout due to stress, low pay
By Rev. Dr. Dan Chun
By Rev. Dr. Dan Chun
Forty-eight percent of them think their work is hazardous to their family well-being. Another 45.5 percent will experience a burnout or a depression that will make them leave their jobs. And 70 percent say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position. They have the second-highest divorce rate among professions.
They are pastors.
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and ... a pastor.
I have just returned from New Life Church, the home of founding pastor Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Haggard was recently fired for sexual immorality, deception and drug use. I spoke with some of the staff. What Haggard did is reprehensible and unique. However, we need to know the pressures that the average pastor faces that often precede a preventable breakdown.
For more than 23 years my wife, Pam, and I through Hawaiian Islands Ministries have ministered to hundreds of pastors and to most of the churches of our state through retreats, conferences and counseling.
A shocking statistic of Jimmy Lee Draper, former president of Lifeways Ministries, is that for every 20 people who go into the pastorate only one retires from the ministry.
Pastors don't make it to retirement because they are either burned out, fired, have a moral breakdown or just quit. I don't know of any other profession where there is a 95 percent drop-off rate!
Yet, without healthy churches, Hawai'i is in trouble. Churches help the poor, have schools and daycare, offer therapeutic services to their attendees. The key to all of this is the pastors.
Pastors need encouragement (see sidebar as to why). And if no one in the church is assigned to nurture, affirm and prevent burnout for the pastor, then no one will. When they get in trouble, who can they turn to?
Most churches do not give sabbaticals to their pastors even though, unlike college professors and high school teachers, they cannot use the same talk twice.
Most pastors are underpaid. They did not take a vow of poverty. Few have personnel committees who are geared to being their advocate in terms of salary, study leave, bonuses, vacations and remembering their anniversary work date, birthdays or special celebrations, or finding ways to affirm the spouses of whom 25 percent claim the pastorate is a major source of family conflict.
Congregations expect pastors to wear too many hats: CEO, therapist, scholar, teacher, administrator, accountant, fund-raiser, friend of children, preacher, spiritual leader, wedding/funeral presider and house blesser.
Church members expect their pastor to be on call seven days a week; few churches give their pastor two full days off, thereby losing 52 days of rest that most people relish. They work on holidays — Christmas Eve, Easter and Thanksgiving — and never have a three-day weekend.
People expect them to have perfect marriages and kids and drive cars and live in homes that are acceptable.
The startling fact is that most pastors are lonely and feel their self-esteem has been lessened, not increased, the longer they are pastors.
I am fortunate. The church I pastor is one of the healthiest. They affirm me in all ways, from salary to sabbatical to thank you dinners, gifted weekends at hotels, Auntie Rose's lilikoi pie and Auntie Fran's mango bread. But I am the exception, not the rule.
So give your pastors a hug, a big salary increase, more time off, a pat on the back, and help them. They need it.
The Rev. Dr. Dan Chun is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu and co-founder of Hawaiian Islands Ministries.