Rev. Dr. Chi Eng Yuan

In the last forty years burnout among pastors has become epidemic. And research reveals a cause-and-effect relationship between burnout and leaving the ministry. Gary McIntosh, in It Only Hurts on Monday, cites the results of a survey of pastors who had recently left the ministry and concluded that 40% experienced a form of burnout.

“Emotional exhaustion was recognized as fatigue caused by extensive interaction with others, depersonalization was characterized by development of an uncaring and cynical attitude toward others, and lack of personal accomplishment was indicated by deterioration of self-confidence and decreased personal satisfaction with one’s achievement.”

Maslach Burnout Inventory Manual, Christina Maslach

As a Chinese pastor of Hong Kong Evangelical Free Churches, I am especially interested in the causes of burnout among pastors. (Survey results from 2006-2007 North Am. Chinese EFCs):

  • 40% – unrealistic expectations for pastoral performance
  • 21% – congregational politics
  • 17% – spiritual dryness
  • 17% – lack of friendship
  • 17% – being unfit / staying too long
  • 11% – incompatibility

“I just can’t hold it together anymore. I’m disappointed with a lot of things that happened in the church.”

Chinese EFC Pastor, 2006 survey

Burnout can produce a profound and lasting depression.

“Under continued pressure the protective and regulatory mechanisms become disturbed and the emergency system of the body uses up its reserves. Consequently, the person becomes less flexible, more guarded and sensitive, and depression ensues. In such cases the depression is both a protective mechanism and a reaction to the increased possibility of loss that comes from a diminished physical capacity for coping with life and work.”

Coping with Depression in Ministry and Other Helping Professions, Archibald D. Hart

For the complete paper, including Biblical examples of depression and six factors contributing to burnout click here.

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