Thoughts on Burnout, Sleep, Adrenalin, Stress, Sex and Eating


Recently, someone left a comment on the blog the other day asking some questions about it and so I thought I would give some thoughts. Right now, one of the books I’m reading is Archibald Hart’s book Adrenalin and Stress and Katie is reading his book on Sleep (I can’t recommend these books high enough). One of the topics I read a lot about in books or magazines has to do with stress, anxiety, adrenalin and ultimately, burnout. The stats on pastor’s making it to the end of their ministry career are dismal. Here are some stats about pastors and their wives according to George Barna and Focus on the Family:

  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriage end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and bible college graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the word is when they are preparing their sermons.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

Those last two kill me.

What I’ve learned personally, through reading and watching other pastors is that we forget the basics in life. When it comes to stress and adrenalin, we live off of those things in our culture. In fact, according to Hart, not all stress is bad. Some stress can be good, but our bodies need to come down and recuperate. When we have stressful seasons of life and ministry, we need to be aware of it and not stop doing certain things.

Think about it, when we get busy, we cut things out of our lives. It makes sense because we are busy. But the things we cut out first are the things that can help us the most to get through those seasons. For couples to survive marriage without stress, they need a weekly date night. To survive stressful seasons, this becomes even more important. For guys, when the stress level goes up in ministry and life, they need sex for that connection to their wives and that release. Yet, this is one of the first things to go because of being tired, not having date night so their wife is not in the mood, not feeling relationally connected because they are tired. You see how the circle goes. When we are stressed, we eat terribly. We eat quickly, late and do not eat food that is healthy. We drink more caffeine and we drink it later in the day. Even if you claim that caffeine doesn’t affect you, studies show we should not have caffeine after 4pm. Every person needs to have at least 8 – 9 hours of sleep. When a person tells me they can get by on less I look at them and know burnout is not far away.

What about a day off. Even though every pastor preaches Sabbath is good, studies show that pastors rarely take one, let alone a vacation. Our bodies have to have that down time. I have learned that it doesn’t matter if I work 7 days, I actually get more done and better quality of work done if I am taking a day off. Our bodies need it. It reminds us that we are weak, that we need God and that we are not in charge. All good things for leaders to remember.

What is interesting about all of this is that we all know this. In fact, God created us this way. I think it is interesting that many Christians try to prove God wrong. We will be the first human to show God how we can work against his creation when it comes to our health.