Ministry Burnout

This afternoon I was blessed to listen to Pastor T. Marshall Kelly’s program on WJOU via the Tune-in Radio app. He had as his special guest Marriage and Family Therapist Renee Mobley, Ph.D. She was sharing "Signs of Ministry Burnout."

These were not just for pastors. She has run her own private practice in Christian counseling for the last ten years. She is also a chaplain. So this applies to all kinds of ministers. But, of course, that certainly includes pastors.

I am sure that I didn’t catch them all, but I scribbled down as many as I could.


When a person is experiencing ministry burnout one of the signs can be that the person withdraws after the performance of ministry. If it is a pastor, once the sermon is given they can be unapproachable. Sometimes when they are finally approached they can come across as irritated or even angry. She mentioned that sometimes even gospel artists struggle with this. The person everybody loves on the stage is not always the same person fans meet when the stage lights are off. People who just want to express an appreciation for the gift can be rebuffed by ministers who are experiencing ministry burnout.

Avoiding Commitments 

When a person is experiencing ministry burnout they can avoid doing the real work of ministry. If performing ministry is causing burnout, then they may pass the buck, even on things that they really should be doing themselves. When they avoid commitments they may substitute real work for excessive use of technology, excessive television watching. They may put in time, they may go to work, but the hours pass in vain. They are vegetating, accomplishing nothing.

Family Neglected 

The feeling that they are constantly “on” can leave them depleted so that there is nothing left in the reservoir when they get home. The family gets neglected. Because the family loves unconditionally and the minister can just “be himself or herself” without performance, they feel that the family should understand. But Dr. Mobley cautions that this is also the time when ministers who are experiencing ministry burnout are particularly susceptible to sin. When ministry is a performance and the feeling of being constantly “on” is overwhelming, there can be a desire to “escape” that reality.

Throwing in the Towel 

Some who experience ministry burnout just want to give up. She says these have “flatlined.” If they had wings like a dove, they wold just fly away. At this point many will even question their call.


Dr. Mobley said that there are also physical symptoms associated with ministry burnout. Ministers can experience constant fatigue. They are constantly tired. She said it’s like they’re tired “from the inside out.”

Weight Problems 

Dr. Mobley in a moment of transparency shared that when she has experienced ministry fatigue she can eat ice cream three times a day. Now that’s significant as a person who doesn’t really have a sweet tooth. I suppose some would call this “stress eating.” Those weight problems can go both ways. Some will eat and gain weight. Others will lose weight. Either way, ministry burnout can show signs in one’s weight fluctuations.

Physical Pain 

It is not uncommon for persons going through ministry burnout to experience physical pain that ranges from headaches to back pain, etc.

Loss of Perspective 

Persons experiencing ministry fatigue can also experience a loss of perspective on life. To illustrate she spoke of ministers officiating at weddings and funerals. When family and friends gather to celebrate with a couple getting married there can be a cynicism about what should be a joyous event. Similarly, a minister officiating a funeral can find it difficult to empathize with the grieving family. They may intellectualize the experience and talk about how “everybody is going to eventually die.” When one is experiencing ministry burnout, they may find it difficult to walk with people through life’s joys and sorrows with empathy.

Other telltale signs   

I’m sure she said more, but she also mentioned that people with ministry burnout can have the “hurry sickness,” or an adrenaline addiction. Rushing when there’s no emergency. They can be emotionally exhausted. (This is mentioned indirectly earlier in terms of their lack of availability to family, their avoidance of new ministry commitments. She said that sometimes ministers will travel to conference after conference so they can pass the buck for real ministry. They’re emotionally exhausted.) They may develop a distrust of people, which only serves to exacerbate their fatigue. This is when there are competent people to whom some tasks ought to be delegated, but because of a distrust in people those with ministry burnout figure that nobody can do it as well as they can.

At this point of the interview she said something that Pastor Kelly just loved. When people experiencing ministry burnout think that no one else can do the work, they have a “savior complex.” She said, when you start feeling that way, take a look at your hands. If when you look at your hands and don’t see any nail prints in the palms of your hands, if when you look at your feet there are no scars from being hung on Golgotha’s hill, it’s because YOU are NOT the Savior.

When Pastor Kelly asked what can be done, she said that NEWSTART can both prevent ministry burnout as well as to bring healing to those suffering with burnout. NEWSTART is an acronym for 8 laws of health: Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunlight, Temperance, Air, Rest, Trust in Divine Power

D. Renee Mobley, Ph.D. is the founder of United for Life. Dr. Mobley has a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy. With more than twenty (20) years of experience, Dr. Mobley has owned and operated her private practice in Christian counseling for the last ten years. She is trained in Clinical Pastoral Education, an adjunct professor at Oakwood University in the Theology department, and is the former Head Chaplain at Crestwood Medical Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She serves as a member of The Greater Huntsville Board of Chaplains as the former President of The Greater Huntsville Chaplain Association. She is a member of the National Christian Counselors Association and serves on a host of other boards and associations. Dr. Mobley is an international speaker, she has trained and facilitated numerous workshops, seminars, and conferences. Dr. Mobley has been seen and heard on numerous television and radio broadcast and has been cited in many publications.


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