3 Ways Pastoral Burnout Can Sneak Up on You

The thing about burnout is that you don’t know you’re susceptible until it’s too late. You were flying high in ministry, and then all of a sudden you’ve crashed.

The natural busyness of ministry can lead to burnout, but that is not something we can control. Our best defense against that kind of burnout is simply to stay organized.

But often we pastors are our own worst enemy when it comes to burning out. We bring it upon ourselves in ways we don’t realize. And that is why it sneaks up on us. Here are three ways that happens.

1. Ministering with a celebrity pastor conscience

You probably respect the ministries of guys like Tim Keller, John Piper, D.A. Carson, and many others like them. But when you make them the standard for ministry, you overburden yourself. Have you ever asked yourself:

Am I inspiring my people towards mission enough?

Am I peaching God’s glory enough?

Are my sermons exegetical enough?

If you operate as if every area of your ministry has to measure up to the strengths of every celebrity pastor, you’ve made two mistakes.

First, you have installed a new legalism. Those rules are too heavy for you to bear.

Second, you have lowered the bar on ministry, since your calling contains more than inspiring mission, instilling God’s glory, and instructing God’s people.

Rather than relying on celebrity pastors as your guide, you must rely on Jesus who is your God.

2. Forgetting that you’re finite

Let’s face it, there are Bible verses that make pastors feel invincible. Take Col. 1:29, for example:

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

We can read that verse and think that it gives us superhuman strength. But that is simply not true.

Do we have all the strength that Jesus works in us? Yes.

But does he work all of his strength in us? No, he doesn’t.

Did you read over toil and struggling, and skip right to powerfully works within me? Jesus works his power in us within the context of tiring, resistance-laden work.

3. Laboring as if the results were your responsibility

Perhaps you sincerely want to see souls saved, but you’re left waiting to see the change take place. Maybe you begin to doubt your calling or gifting. Or both.

So you start ministering in a way to make the results happen.

But working as if ministry results depend upon you will burn you out because the only person strong enough to make them happen is the Holy Spirit.

It is our job to be faithful. It’s the Spirit’s job to be fruitful. And even our faithfulness is an example of his fruitfulness.

What other signs of burnout are evident in your ministry?

I gave you three ways burnout sneaks up on us, but there are many more.

Do you see any in your life?

Repent. And rely on Jesus’ strength instead of yours.


  1. Believing that your church family will protect you from burnout. No one in your church expects you to do everything. They just want you to do THEIR thing. Pastors needs to have the courage to work hard and rest.

    Fearing man will prove to be a snare, and it will wear a pastor out.

    • Eric McKiddie says:

      “They just want you to do THEIR thing.” Multiply that by a hundred people, and you’re in big trouble if you can’t say no. Thanks for sharing!


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