Minister burnout and depression: Proactive steps

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by John Hall — July 3, 2013

Related articles: Depression in a world of faith | Symptoms of depression

Burnout or depression can happen to any minister under certain circumstances. Katie Swafford, director of Texas Baptists Counseling Services, suggest ministers and churches look at the following proactive steps to ensure ministry – and ministers – remain strong.

  1. Set boundaries. Ministers believe they must be accessible at all times, but it simply isn’t realistic. Rotate who is on call between staff members. In smaller churches where the pastor is the only staff member, encourage deacons to pick up evening calls several days a week. Rotation patterns enable ministers to recover and spend quality time with their families.
  2. Actually take vacation. Many ministers take vacation days, but often they spend time answering e-mail or phone calls in between activities. People need rest. It’s amazing how much a week away from work can rejuvenate a person physically and spiritually.
  3. Take a spiritual sabbatical. For one week a year, have one task: spend time with God.
  4. Exercise. This doesn’t mean run an Iron Man triathlon necessarily. But regular exercise – be it walking, jogging, riding a bicycle or playing a sport – reduces stress and increases endorphins.
  5. Watch your diet. Pastors often preach “garbage in, garbage out” when it comes to spiritual matters. The same principle applies to physical issues. Nutritious eating means a person will have more energy and fewer health-related issues. Your mother was right: You are what you eat.
  6. If you feel like you might be suffering from burnout or depression, talk to someone. Many people go through burnout. As much as 68 percent of ministers have suffered from depression symptoms. Texas Baptists Counseling Services offers confidential help for those who need it. Swafford is here to listen and point people to trusted resources.

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