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3 Ways Pastors KILL (and Are Killed by) Ministry

“If you’ve burned out as a pastor, it’s your own fault.”

That line hit like a slap in the face. What?

Who is this heartless and heavy-handed Job’s counselor? Instead of offering a cup of cold water in the name of the Lord, it felt like the writer was throwing the water into your face.

Clearly, he’d never experienced burnout himself. … Oh wait, as I scrolled through his personal bio, it appears that, yes he did. That’s why he’s writing about it now.

Still, that opening line just didn’t sit well with me.

Burnout in ministry is not a new phenomenon. We hear alarming statistics about pastors and leaders burning out and leaving the ministry, as well as stories of marriages failing (which typically leads to instant ministerial unemployment).

Rebellious and bitter “ministry orphans” are another symptom of the typically overcommitted leader who will eventually crash and burn. For most, burnout includes health crises, emotional emptiness and spiritual barrenness.

Among the many causes for ministry burnout, there are three kinds of pastors that risk burning out, and also have a tendency to burn out other capable leaders around them.

1. The co-dependent messiah.

These are the classic types that people usually associate with ministry burnout.

They care deeply about people and truly desire to see discipleship and spiritual growth in those they are leading. Doesn’t have good boundaries for work, family and self-care. Just can’t say “no” to the needs of the congregation. Can’t remember the last time they tucked their kids in at night.

Worst fear: Other leaders sharing the load and diminishing their Messianic role.

They approach ministry as if everything will fall apart without their constant involvement and oversight. They need to be needed. In essence, they have created a co-dependent relationship between themselves and “the ministry.”

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Robby McAlpine is a veteran pastor, worship leader, missionary, and writer. He is a regular contributor at ThinkTheology.org, and has written numerous books, including Detoxing from Church, Post-Charismatic 2.0: Rekindle the Smoldering Wick, and The Genesis Cafe: Conversations on the Kingdom. Robby and Wendy have been married for 29 years, and have three incredible kids: a social worker, a missionary, and a student.