Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When this pastor burned-out.

Two and a half years ago I was in the midst of my Sunday AM teaching, when the plug got pulled. One minute I felt fine. The next I had no strength. After thousands of dollars in medical testing, scanning, sampling, and imaging--it was determined I was a victim of pastoral burn-out.

Most people assume this means I was tired of ministry, or I was bored, or exhausted. No, it meant that one day I was running ten miles for fun; and the next week I could not walk fifty feet without rest and gathering my bearings. It meant I went from being a people-person with no fears; to being a guy unable to walk into a restaurant--or any public place--without an overwhelming dizziness and a threatening panic attack. I needed naps, long ones throughout the day. A counselor told me I was in a "major depression," and I was not able to argue, I could only sob.

I am still a pastor. I have been loved back to decent health by a great group of friends, family, and an amazing wife. And in the process, I have discovered a great deal of back-room whispers about pastoral burnout. As a group, we are warned to avoid it. We hear rumors of its pervasiveness. But I have not found a forum where a pastor can say, "Here is why I burned out." Or, "If I could, I'd do something else." Or, "I feel trapped in the ministry."

Now since admitting my "crash" (as I like to call it), I have heard those words, and many like them from pastor friends. Do you need to talk? Do you need to vent? Here is a place for you to run away, and not leave. Or maybe to receive encouragement to hang-in, or to leave, or...?

All I can say is, I didn't see it coming. But believe me, I had earned it.

So I'm putting this out here. Jump in if you want.



Duane said...

I understand fully the absence of a forum for pastors who go through burnout. I know of a pastor who grew up in ministry with the idea that the pastor is everyone's man. In fact, he was taught that being a pastor meant burning the candle at both ends; but that wasn't enough. He learned to burn the candle at both ends and then cut the candle in the middle and burn all four ends. He worked tirelessly at ministry only to earn $60 per week. Since this wasn't enough to cover a family of 4, he went out and worked other jobs. Sometimes 3 and 4 jobs at a time. When the time came when he couldn't burn any more...he burned out. He kept going in ministry, but burned out. The family he nearly abandoned to do what he thought was required of the job...regretted the vacancy. When the burnout moved to physical limitations and disability...his church abandoned him. To add insult to injury...55 years of life ended.
If a young aspiring pastor were to look at this situation many opinions would quickly be offered. My own opinions over the last 12 years nearly ran away from reality. What makes this story more personal to me, as you probably have guessed, is the pastor who burned out was my dad. Still, I raced to enlist in the same branch of service that dad did 26 years later.
It is about time that someone raised awareness by offering a place where like-minded pastors could encourage and support each other. Thanks Dave for your honesty and the forum where we all can get and offer help.

david said...


I had no idea. Thank you for that story--painful as it must be. It seems we should admire the faithfulness of these who have paid such heavy prices (as have those who depended on them), yet, perhaps not follow their example. Is this the "cross" we are told to bear?

Deb B said...

David, I am so proud of you for doing all of this. I firmly believe in pastor burn-out. My brother went through it a few years ago, and was totally shunned and given no support by his church or fellow pastors. There has to be support and understanding for pastors, including honesty. I saw burn-out in my husband, even though he wasn't an ordained minister. I am proud of you for keeping on keeping on after going through this. Ministry is an extremely demanding and tiring life, most people have no idea what all it entails. I was raised in a parsonage, and decided I wanted no part of it. It can consume the whole family, if allowed.
I am so thrilled that you are doing this, and know my husband Dave would be saying.."Awesome Hayso! I am proud of you for being honest!"

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david said...
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