Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work

Noticed this article about burnout at New York times. I find this line worrying: Many would change jobs if they could. I’m not worried that people want a break from ministry. What worries me is that people are staying in ministry because they feel trapped.

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.
Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.
But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.

I find this line worrying: Many would change jobs if they could. I’m not worried that people would think it, but it worries me that people are staying in ministry because they feel trapped there.
For me, Electrical Engineering was more fun than preparing a sermon or praying or bible study. I do have the choice to go back and do something else, which I often think about, but I choose not to. I reconsider and remake that decision most weeks, and yet I am doing what I want to do.
If you feel trapped in ministry, I suspect more time off is not the answer? Doing different work might be.
Any comments?


  1. I’m not surprised at the article given I’m overweight , have hypertension and take antidepressants – but I don’t want to get out of the ministry. I think the problem is one that has no easy solution. For example, if someone expresses a desire to go into the ministry I don’t think we are rigorous enough in determining giftedness, character, personality, expectations etc. Metro goes someone of fixing this. Secondly, I think when most guys go into ministry, they feel terribly isolated – everyone needs a mentor. Thirdly, if someone realizes they shouldn’t be in ministry (pastoral) it is difficult to get out. We are the victim of our own silly thinking, if we believe ’ministry is the most important job in the world’ and we have attached our own significance to it leaving it is a bit of a let down. The denomination needs to provide some reasonable exit strategy because someone who wishes they were doing something else probably isn’t doing themselves or their congregation any good. Fourthly, this is particularly and issue for those around my age, 50. Many in ministry realize their ideas of being used by God to change the world isn’t likely to happen and they slide into maintenance ministry. So Wayne I agree it’s an issue and a complex one.

  2. It is complex but I wonder if we’re stressed because we’re working like CEOs… I reckon it hits harder for pastors because we’re trying to manage the unmanageable (can you manage people, especailly volunteers?)… unrealistically high expectations are both internal and external… and what are the rewards we get out of bed for… I think time off is important because it’s probably then we get clear-headed enough to remember what’s really important… is it possible that doing what is important – caring for people (not programs) – has intrinsic rejuvenating power… I’m thinking some of the oldschool pastoring is amazingly wise… I read a book not too long ago that I dismissed as a bit old school… in it the guy (a senior, as in older, minister) advocated we’re cheating our people if don’t spend every morning till lunch time reading, studying, reflecting, praying… it has been his long term practise… to which I go yeah in whose real world is that possible (much the same as my response to fitness Mike)… but right now it sounds wise… not pragmatic… not popular… not productive… nothing really to brag about… just wise… I reckon too often I’m running on empty… that’s not a good place to live…

  3. Well, if you’ve spent 5–7 years being trained, then however many years in paid church work, it’s quite hard to go back to your old profession, or to start again in something new. There are certainly some transferable skills, but it won’t be an option for everyone :/

  4. Totally agree Stuart. I think that’s why I like Dave’s post – more rigour in assessment beforehand, an exit strategy, but I think helping people stay fresh, helping them grow in their relationship with God, encouraging them about seeing their identity in Jesus are all important.

    I hope Pastor2Pastor can help that in some way. Not that I’m saying sitting round reading blogs in the answer, but building strong relationships with other like-minded pastors is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *