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Updated: Jun 16, 2021

Last year I had something happen that has rarely happened while I have pastored churches. I had two leaders who had mild burnout seek me out for help. As someone who has been through burnout personally, I was keen to walk them through what they needed to do to restore their vitality. Thank God, they are now doing much better.

It’s not unusual for me to have conversations about burnout with pastors as I consult with their church, or with those I supervise or mentor. But I am concerned that what these two leaders experienced gives a glimpse of what may happen over the coming 12 to 18 months. I believe that because of the following reasons:

1 People are tired of pivoting

It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to learn a new skill, like getting a church service online. It takes even more emotional energy to cope with changes personally, and to communicate and lead others effectively in an environment that is more liminal or transitional. This is mirrored by those in the congregation; many have disengaged from attending and some will re-engage when ‘things are back to normal’ (whatever that is and whether we ever will). Each of us can pivot for a short time when we see a ‘finish line’ in sight, but when we are faced with a ‘new normal’ that may last for years it can become quite deflating. The blurring of the lines between people’s personal and work lives has added to this sense of pivoting tiredness.

2 A smaller core

Covid-19 has doubtless made pastoral care and outreach more difficult. And delegation/ministry equipping. For all three the relaxed conversations over morning tea after the service, with playgroup mums or at the men’s breakfast underline the relational aspect of ministry. Mark 3:14 reminds us that the primary task of the disciples was to be with Jesus, all else in ministry would flow from that relationship. Without that relational context, a phone call to request that someone do a Bible reading, go on the sound roster or whatever else can feel a little more transactional than a conversation over a cuppa. And the nuances in a face-to-face conversation are less present over Zoom or the phone. So not only have some disengaged from attendance, but some are also disengaging from ministry and service. To be fair, many have been stretched in all sorts of ways. But the ministry load is landing on a smaller core.

3 Conflict

McSwain and Treadwell (1981, p26) define conflict as "a situation in which two or more human beings desire goals which they perceive as being attainable by one or the other but not by both." So in other words, where resources, whether people or finances become more scarce, it can result in tension or conflict. Especially when the people involved feel anxiety or under stress. And as we see polarization accelerate in society, with a corresponding belief in the rightness of competing causes, a rise in conflict appears inevitable.

4 Discouragement/sense of failure

When you have given your all to leading a church, it is difficult to see 10 to 40% fewer people now attending. If a church has already been declining, Covid-19 has often accelerated that decline. That discouragement can lead pastors to reconsidering their call to a specific church, or to ministry altogether.

What can I do?

1 Get a picture of how you are doing by taking this informal self-test. It will only take two minutes, and may highlight some areas for self-reflection or connecting with a mentor or pastoral supervisor about.

2 If you haven’t taken a 3 week holiday (it takes that long to de-adrenalize) since 2019 take one now! This is the number one antidote to burnout.

3 Attend to your self-care. You know best what you need to do to care for you. Others will thank you for it.

4 Only one third of pastors are in a formal mentoring or supervision relationship (NCLS Research, 2016). Find a mentor or pastoral supervisor now! To claim your free session with Ian go to

© 2021 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Rev Dr Ian Duncum is an author (The Impact of Church Consultancy is available here, and a consultant with 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has included denominational leadership in church health and development, and research positions. Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and provides coaching, mentoring and supervision for pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted through or

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