Many people turn to their pastors for faith and guidance. But a recent study shows it may be the pastors who need help. Findings reveal that pastors have been experiencing a significant decline in emotional, physical, and spiritual health since 2015.
Data collected from the faith based Barna Group conducted Resilient Pastor research showing a decline in pastor health due to a lack of real friends and respect from their community. Researchers conducted online interviews with 901 pastors in 2015 and compared them to interviews conducted with 585 pastors in 2022. The pastors were asked to rate aspects of their life as excellent, good, average, poor, or don’t know.
The number of pastors who gave below average ratings spiked from 3% to 10% since 2015. Those with above average ratings fell from 39% in 2015 to 11% in 2022.
Many pastors reported poor physical health. 22% said they were experiencing a decrease physical health as compared to 2015’s 7%. Meanwhile, the percentage of pastors experiencing excellent physical health fell from 24% in 2015 to 9% in 2022.
Loneliness also contributed to many pastors’ poor mental health. 2% of pastors said they didn’t have many true friends in 2015. The percentage jumped to 7% in 2022. 20% said their friendship rating was below average last year as compared to 10% in 2015.
The recent study comes on the coattails of another study from March of 2022 showing that an unprecedented number of pastors suffer from burnout. 42% stated they were considering abandoning their positions due to stress and loneliness.
What are Sources of Depression Among Pastors?
Many pastors blame the pandemic and politics for their poor mental health. They feel that recent social changes have caused them to address issues they feel ill-equipped to handle.
Mark Dance, a former pastor and current director of pastoral wellness at the faith-based financial company Guide Stone said many pastors burn out because they expect too much from themselves.
“The most unrealistic expectations come from us trying to be proficient in someone else’s profession, especially in the last two years. People want us to chime in on politics, on a pandemic and things we’re not qualified to do. We’re not economists. If we focus on what God’s called us to do – pastoring, preaching, serving – we are less likely to face some of the challenges that are making pastors want to quit,” Dance said.
Low attendance rates have also been cited as detrimental to moral.
What Pastors Can Do
So what can pastors do to keep their mental spirits up?
“We need sages to advise us, leaders to direct us or hold us accountable, peers to remind us that we aren’t alone, healers to dress our wounds, and companions who carry us when we can’t carry on,” said Rev. Dr. Glenn Packiam, lead pastor Rockharbor Church in Costa Mesa, California.
Dance also weighed in saying, “We have to wake up every day and remember what John the Baptist said: ‘I am not the Christ.’ That takes a lot of pressure off when we’re not trying to solve every problem.”
Colts Neck Community Church Pastor Chris Durkin was recently interviewed by Fox News. When asked to provide guidance to other pastors he urged them “not give in and not give up.” He then quoted 1 Peter 5:7, which says, “Cast all your cares on Christ because he cares for us.”
Interviewer Ashley Earnhardt speculated that pastors may be suffering burnout because they don’t get any time off. She recalled a time when she reached out to her minister often because her mother was ill. She commented that pastors were expected to be “perfect” and summed up by saying, “Y’all really don’t get time off.”
Durkin responded, “We really don’t.” He then recalled one weekend where he had to partake in a festival, preach two morning services, visit a sick congregant member, and return to church to preach in the evening.
The pastor encouraged pastors who were feeling the pressure to take a lesson from Christ.
He referred to Mark 1, saying, “Jesus was being pulled in all different directions—there are people filled with unclean spirits, there are lepers who need to be healed, there are people that need to hear Jesus proclaim the kingdom.” At the beginning of the chapter, “Jesus goes to be with his Father. He gets in solitude and silence.”
“If Jesus needed that, Ainsley, so many of us shepherds need that as well,” Durkin said.
Jimmy Dodd, a former pastor and founder and CEO of PastorServe, an organization that advocates for pastors to have healthy boundaries, said he came to a point where he felt spiritually, mentally, and physically exhausted during his time serving the church.
“[To draw healthy boundaries], you have to have a champion in your life. We need to have a massive dependence on the Spirit,” he advised.