Pastors: Are You Leading from a Healthy Soul?


Mike Morris over at is at the start of a sabbatical. He shared some stats on pastors from Lance Witt’s book, Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul.

Today’s troubling statistics on pastors paint a bleak picture.

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry permanently each month in America.
  • 80% of pastors and 85% of their spouses feel discouraged in their roles.
  • 70% of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant, or mentor.
  • Over 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living.
  • Over 50% of pastors’ wives feel that their husband entering ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families.
  • 30% of pastors said they had either been in an ongoing affair or had a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • One out of every ten ministers will actually retire as a minister.


Those are indeed sobering statistics. Given that Witt’s book was published in 2011, my guess is these stats are trending in the wrong direction.

I can remember reading books on burnout 15-20 years ago. That was before smart phones, email, social media, and all of the other sources of information that keep us constantly connected. A day off away from the office meant a day off away from the office. It had to be a true emergency before someone would pick up the telephone and dial your home number. Such a call often started with a clear explanation why it was important to infringe upon your family time.

Today, there is no such buffer. Our phones are always with us, and every contact we know is programmed into our phone. It is (too) easy to have a thought cross our mind, reach for our phone, tap the name of the person we want to call, and make the call. Moreover, there is an expectation that when called, we will answer our phone whenever it rings.

The Consequences of a “Quick Call”

Think of the consequences of a simple phone call can start:

  • You are on a relaxing walk–listening to some music through your headphones–when your phone rings.
  • Without thinking, you answer the phone by the second or third ring.
  • The caller on the other end begins a conversation about a project or task you have been working on together.
  • In the course of the conversation, three “to do” items are mentioned.
  • Not wanting to stop your walk, you take mental notes as you listen.
  • You disconnect from the call and your music automatically begins again, but the peace is gone.
  • While you walk, you no longer listen to the music, you review the call in your mind and more ideas or tasks pop up.
  • When you get home, you sit down and enter the three, four, or more tasks that were discussed during the conversation and during the “think” time while you finished your walk.
  • It’s late, and your body is telling you it’s time to unwind, but your mind is eager to knock off a few of the new tasks on your list. So, you fire up your laptop, type a couple of emails and work on your project for an hour or more.

If you’re honest with yourself, you will acknowledge this has happened to you. Many times.

How to Recover Quality Rest Time

Here are some suggestions that will help you as you struggle to balance the demands of a busy ministry/professional life with the necessity of maintaining a balanced life:

  1. Unplug. I know. Easier said than done. Still, it can be done. Set a limit for yourself–say 8:00 pm every night–and simply put your phone in “Airplane Mode.” Your phone will still function, but you won’t receive any phone calls, text messages, or email. I warn you, it can be unsettling when you first do it, but it is a sure fire way to avoid unexpected phone calls.
  2. Set boundaries. Let your co-workers know you have boundaries and expect your boundaries to be respected. If you let your co-workers know that you unplug at 8:00 pm every night, don’t break your own rule and call, text or email your co-workers after 8:00 pm! Not only does that defeat the purpose of unplugging, but it communicates to your co-workers that you are a hypocrite! It’s OK for you to send a late night text or email, but it’s not OK for someone to send one to you.
  3. Change Gears. I like to read, and reading is definitely relaxing for me, but there are some books that are not meant for restful reading…they get me fired up. If I truly want to enter into a period of rest and restoration, I need to read or listen to music that allows my mind to relax, not start a massive brainstorming session as I’m getting ready for bed. For one friend, he turned to his favorite comic books during his time before bed. Comic books helped him relax. I enjoy history. Reading history doesn’t cause me to begin thinking about the projects in my to do list. It’s relaxing.
  4. Be Disciplined. This, too, is difficult. While many of us would not identify ourselves as workaholics in the traditional sense, we do receive a buzz from getting things done. It takes discipline to unplug, maintain boundaries, and change gears when you are away from work. I wish I could point to a magic “self discipline” pill that helps you accomplish these things, but I can’t. If you do need help in this area, then I would recommend accountability. Tell your spouse about your desire to unplug, set boundaries, and change gears, and expect a glare if she/he sees you sneaking off to the garage to quickly send “an important” email to your co-worker when you are supposed to be unplugged.

If there is one caveat to this plan, it is the reality that there will be true emergencies. People will need to reach you during your off hours if someone goes to the hospital or the church burns down. There really are emergencies. As a back up plan in case of emergency, give one or two trusted co-workers your spouse’s phone number with a clear understanding the he/she will screen the calls from work to determine the level of crisis.

Is this a perfect plan? No, but it could be a step in the right direction.

What steps have you implemented in your life to help restore your soul and bring balance?


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