Caring for Sheep on too little Sleep – Sobering stats for Church Leaders.

Over the past few years and increasingly so, I’ve spent lots of time in the trenches with Senior Pastors, their family and leadership teams in my role with LeaderHeart. Some lead congregations of  500, some of 50. Most are in between and around the Australian average size of 120.

I’ve listened to them, prayed for them, cried with them, laughed at ridiculous stories and did my best to endure with them and bear burdens with them.  I’ve also felt the pressure of preaching multiple times per week.  This past week, for example, I preached 6 different messages. 5 of them new.  That’s a lot to absorb, create, craft and convey as a communicator. It’s a great honour, but it’s also tiring.

Having been in the business world for quite a time before launching LeaderHeart, I’ve come to see the different stress and pressure a church leader feels – and these are really unique to this field of vocation – because it blends care, management, spirituality and public leadership.

I must confess, I was one of the ignorant souls who would go to work Monday after serving in a voluntary role at church on a Sunday and bitterly wonder why the pastor took the Monday or Friday off.  I now get it.

If I was to compare the two worlds, (business and church) the difference is seen in the inner resource leaders require for compassion – and this is often driven by those they serve/service and the overarching drive of their field of work.

Business can remain commercial to a large degree. Bottom line is profits (let’s be real here). There is often little spiritual or compassionate connection to standard jobs and economic factors that drive markets.

Ministry /church must remain compassionate to a large degree. Bottom line is people.  And to add to this Compassion Quotient (CQ) many leaders need to be business savvy too.  Money struggles around salaries, buildings etc are all part of their weekly lives.

How bad is it?

These stats are from the a 2010 NYT article from the US. There are many websites that cite them, and although I can’t find the original (this is the closest), I imagine they may be a fair reflection of current stats.  They may come as no surprise

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

If you’re a church attendee reading this, please cut your pastors and their family some slack. For God’s good sake and theirs.  If you feel you have a right to their lives because you put money in the offering or signed a membership form, please keep your manipulative currency and go see a psychologist or counsellor with it (seriously).  One of the things that joys me immensely, is when I see a church community simply love and support those at the frontline of compassion-giving with anything from a smile and a hug, to a kind word, gift or deed – with no strings attached (it’s called unconditional love)

If you’re a pastor or ministry leader reading this, please take care of yourself.  If you’re heading towards burnout or compassion fatigue, you’re not alone, so; pull back, assess your boundaries, rest, find a hobby, exercise, seek professional help, go see a a GP, find a pain partner, confess your struggle to your team, get help, pace yourself, love yourself.  We love you and appreciate you!


  1. Jo January 27, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Thank you for the reminder that we are not alone. But the problem is, it changes nothing as the churches that need to hear this are the ones that will complain about it and it will just cause more conflict and pain. What has happened to grace? My prayer is that when a pastor moves on and the dust settles that these churches can read things like this and do it differently next time. That they can find grace and acknowledge their part in the body and most of all say sorry. These situation stay with a pastor and his family for a lifetime, those long dark days and nights and the gut churning episodes never leave. Thanks. Praying blessings on you, your family and ministry.

  2. unrevealed January 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    Honestly, these stats don’t surprise me. What I do find surprising, is that they are supposed to surprise me. I feel like Australians are working harder and harder, and these statistics of hours, stress and wanting to leave is probably a common feeling to many. I’ll start by saying that I love my current pastor, and all the people whose examples I’ll cite below. I pray for them regularly. There are many things about each of them I respect. But, sometimes I feel they are completely out of touch with what it means to be a secular worker in Australia.
    I’d consider myself “normal” and here are some thoughts on work and church and stress
    I work in paid employment 45-60 hours a week and have for most of my adult life. Volunteer about 8-10 hours per week in church activities and other christian service in addition to church attendance, personal bible reading & prayer, catching up with people who need a friend, getting in touch with people who haven’t been at church for a while. Combined this is a lot of hours in the week.
    I’ve generally found those in ministry think the following of my work hours:
    It inconveniences them wanting to meet at 5pm so they can watch the soccer after, and I don’t normally finish til 7pm
    They complain that when they come to stay (for free,and I’m financially supporting them) that I get up too early to go to work and they get woken up
    They tell me off for coming straight from the office to bible study “have some more balance” (though often I’d stay later if I could) and then meet up to ask if in addition to the 2 bible studies and youth group I’m involved in leading, if I’ve given any thought to how I might be involved more at church.
    They arrive up to an hour late for meeting, and let thing run 1-2 hours late, meaning I’ve lost 1-2 hours worth of sleep, and still need to go to work the next day.
    While I’ll admit I don’t carry the spiritual needs of a church community on my back like my pastor does, here are some of the stresses from work for me personally the last 7 days (which hasn’t been an unusual week: mentoring a migrant student who put himself through uni and making sure he feels ok when I correct and train him, working on tenders so the rest of my office stays employed for the next year (this involved several 14 hour days at the office, but having been made redundant due to lack of work in the past there is a bit of pressure), dealing with another sexual harassment case against myself, reassuring a client that I will do everything humanly possible to get her subdivision approved so she doesn’t go bankrupt, listening to a colleague as he talks of the pain of his recent divorce, praying regularly for all the individuals in my office that God would use me in their lives so they would be saved, trying to be gracious to a colleague hostile to Christianity who is also slowing my project down.

  3. David Tensen January 30, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Thanks for the comment and thoughts. You certainly sound very dedicated to the welfare of others and seem to be carrying many. May God grant you wisdom to let go of things too heavy. Blessings Dave

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