The recent resignation of a Nashville pastor, who told his congregation he was tired and broken, illuminated what experts say is a real pitfall of leading a church. Pastors can burn out.
Ministering to a congregation, especially a large one, can be stressful and lonely, said Ed Stetzer, who has founded six churches and served as interim pastor at several others. One survey by Nashville-based LifeWay Research found that 19 percent of pastors who left before age 65 did so because of burnout.
Pastor Pete Wilson, who led Cross Point Church for 14 years, announced Sept. 11 he was stepping down after “leading on empty” for sometime. Wilson, 42, said he made the church a priority, but did not prioritize “some other things that were equally as important.” He didn’t share specific details.
“I think ultimately we have to put guardrails around ourselves relationally to keep those moments from happening,” said Stetzer, who previously led LifeWay Research.
Wilson founded Cross Point in 2002 with a small congregation. Today, the church says it welcomes almost 7,500 people each week and has six locations throughout the Nashville area. Cross Point’s rapid growth garnered national attention, and it was repeatedly named one of the largest and fasting-growing churches in the country in a special report by Outreach Magazine and LifeWay Research.
“I do think that the complexity of pastoring a church of that size and growth can and has gotten the best of some people. It’s not an easy task to do,” said Stetzer, who heads the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. “I’ve been the founding pastor of six churches and often they’re just so interwoven with you that it’s hard when you’re leading on empty to find a way, places and ways to get away to recharge.”
Burnout isn’t the only reason pastors step down.