20 August 2014

Why Do Clergy Workers Burn Out?

I was sent an article written by an Australian researcher Grant Bickerton regarding the stresses that Australian clergy workers face. Here's a quote I found from an article in The Briefing (an online magazine run by Matthias Media) I thought worth sharing.

When stress at work becomes chronic, it results in burnout. Burnout is defined as a combination of three symptoms:
  • Emotional exhaustion: “All my energy has been spent and I just can’t give any more.”
  • Increasing depersonalization or cynicism about work: “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for parishioners.”
  • Low personal accomplishment: “I’m not having any real impact here anyway”
According to their research, nearly HALF of 4,400 survey participants were on the edge of burnout! They stated:
Energy-draining stress resulting in burnout is significant, because it not only impedes Christian witness and work by debilitating the leadership of church communities, but leaves a trail of emotional and spiritual devastation in the families and individual lives of those who are “worthy of double honour” (1 Tim 5:17).

So WHY are clergy workers so susceptible to burnout? According to research (international and Australian), there are 5 major areas which also heavily impact their families. These are:
  1. Workload & Time Demands (too much to do in too little time!)  
  2. Poor Work-Home Boundaries (Separating home and work can be very difficult, the home is often owned or near the church and ministry is done in the clergy house). 
  3. High Expectations (research has found ministers have high expectations of themselves, as do the churches they work in and their church denominations) 
  4. Minimal Social Support (constant constant pastoral care, moving, maintaining professional boundaries and living away from family and friends means clergy workers can have little time or energy to spend on relationships outside of the church and family. While they do have access to other ministers in their denomination, work and time demands limit how much they can invest in friendships or support groups) 
  5. Financial Demands (Ministry does not pay very well! While the purpose of being in ministry is not the financial gain, American research has found that clergy workers are some of the most educated but also poorly paid professionals! Often clergy families need two jobs help pay the bills)
After years of working with clergy families, we've seen these stresses impact them both indirectly through their spouse or parent experiencing burnout or directly as a result of the same workload. John Mark Ministries also suggests that there is an enormous rate of burnout in clergy spouses. Nothing is known about clergy kids. However we would argue that this research is extremely relevant to clergy families while they are in the ministry their parent or spouse is in. Similar expectations can influence their health and well-being, particularly if there is an element of the 2-for- the-price-of-1 or the idea that the whole family is in ministry.

If this is the rate of burnout, what is being done about reducing its' impact? We hope our research will be able to shed more light on this topic.
~ Rachel


  1. […] Australian studies showing high burnout rates in clergy workers (John Mark Ministries), it’s not difficult to see that the workload of […]

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  3. […] hours like this, is it any wonder that burnout is a significant risk in Australian clergy […]