Revisiting the Stress on Megachurch Pastors

April 20, 2007

In the series I did late last year on the Walmartization of the church, and the postings about Ted Haggard, I noted a trend concerning these megachurch pastors. The job they do is often beyond the ability of mortal man, even with the miraculous help from the Lord.

I personally believe that a large program-based church cannot allow a pastor the time and rest he needs to function as a normal human being. This is what often contributes to the moral and financial decline of men like Ted Haggard.

Just this last week, I heard two significant church leaders in our country bemoan the burn-out that they are fighting. One is the best-selling author and pastor of one of the largest churches in America, Rick Warren. The other is the pastor of one of America’s fastest growing churches, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Both men in public services,and again in their writing, have told of the dark days they have been going through as their energy has come to the end.

Will you pray with me for them? Also, will you pray that they will have the insight to divide up their congregations into many parts as men like Doug Murren have done so that they will not face this again in their lives. Either that or adopt the cell model of ministry. I expect the stories of megachurch pastors running into the proverbial wall will become commonplace in days to come. Perhaps fifty years ago, they could have done this job. But with email, cell phones, and the multiplication of time commitments, there is virtually no chance the pastor of a megachurch can avoid burn-out…or worse.

(Additional Note: I haven’t been shirking my writing duties…I have several postings in final edit for this blog…you may find a lot of material coming very quickly. I apologize).



  1. I really don’t want to be insensitive, but most of the people sitting in the pews are overloaded and burned-out. For most Americans the week is just getting started at forty hours, and it goes downhill from there. Sure those pastor’s are burned-out, were all burned-out. And irregardless of the format–cell or program–the church is one of many enablers of this neurosis.

    Listen, it’s easy for me to criticize from the comfort of my little home office, but doesn’t it boil down to setting uncompromising boundaries and rejecting much of the gotta-get-my-share-of-the-action mentality of our culture? The church has been infected at all levels by the expectation that we will go go go all day long. So, are those bigger-than-life pastor’s victims of unwanted or unanticipated success, or are they merely reaping what they have sowed? It’s hard to tell for sure, but I suspect that like many mega-successful people they have been doing exactly what they have wanted to do all along. The problem was, their drive wrote checks their minds and bodies could not continue to cash.

    Dividing up the congregation might buy them some time, but it won’t fix the problem in their hearts. I think much of the problem is that too many people want to be near successful people, and that robs the successful person of energy. Why do we want to be near successful people and draw off their energy? It seems pathetic. We should want to find our own path.

    I wonder how Billy Graham was able to manage one of the biggest ministries the world has known without loosing his mind? In fact, he’s managed to live to a ripe old peaceful age. How’d he pull it off?

    I will pray for those guys, I’ll pray for all of us cause somethin’s gotta give.

  2. Some people in ministry (and life in general) simply do not know when to let go of one ministry and commit to another.

    For instance, when some of those pastor’s decided to write a book they took a chance that it would interfere with their ministries in that additional expectations would be added to their plates. If you are a full-time pastor and you write a book that gets published (and finds success in the market) your publisher or agent will EXPECT you to promote the heck out of your book. That means traveling to additional speaking engagements, radio interviews, writing periodial articles, and any form of marketing that gets the name of the book out there. When their book deals began to take on a life of their own did these guys turn their minstry over to others in order to focus on their publisher’s requirements, or did they continue to try and do it all? I suspect they did the latter. If so, they really need to examine their values.

    This is true for any of us. I once knew a businessman who took a second job in order to pay for his monthly countryclub membership. Of course his performance in his first job suffered because he was stretched too thin. His first employer got the shaft so this guy could moonlight. This was wrong and he would have found little sympathy if he had complained of being stressed out.

  3. I agree with both previous comments. Also it’s not just the megachurch pastors that are burning out, average and small church size pastors are burning out at a fast pace also. It’s not the size of the church but how much work they do. Many of these pastors do do several outside interest which adds to their schedule while removing nothing! And in speaking to that, how fair is that to the congregation? Is your ministry in your church or is it running all around doing other things that have nothing to do with your own church? I don’t agree with your statement that a large program-based church cannot allow a pastor the time and rest he need to function as a normal human being. It’s not the church, it’s the pastor himself. I think I’ve heard that called Pride.

  4. I also want to add to the last comment that this also goes for those in secular jobs, not just ministry. When a person’s life is so busy where does God time fit in?

  5. Good comment about Billy Graham. He really survived by a combination of allowing others to have the spotlight much of the time and by limiting what he himself would be willing to accomplish.

    I agree partly with the assessment that pastors are no busier than anyone else in the congregation. But I remember reading in Jim Bakker’s autobiography “I Was Wrong” this comment: “I was seduced by the vixen of ‘doing more’, ‘being more’, and ‘having more’. More doesn’t equal better at any level of life.

    But the point I was making in my article is that even when a pastor wants to extricate himself from the mad dash, a large church is designed to prevent that.

    Of course, that begs the question: Why does someone take the approach of becoming a destination church where the size of the crowd matters as much as the impact it has on the community. A pastor allows that because…let’s face it… it strokes the ego.

    A book I recommend is Charles Blair’s autobiography “The Man Who Could Do No Wrong”. In that, he tells about the seductiveness of pride and the dangers of too much success when it comes to church life.

    Jerry Cook’s book “A Few Things I Learned Since I Knew It All” has the same message. Unfortunately, like Blair, it was written by a man who had a major life collapse convince him of his need to take a different approach. In Blair’s case, he was indicted for securities fraud. With Cook, he had a heart attack and nervous breakdown.

  6. By the way, excellent story about the businessman moonlighting in order to pay for the country club membership. It hits the point my series on time management just addressed.

    Not all pastors who write books create more work for themselves. Focus on the Family President James Dobson found that after he wrote his book, he could actually turn down speaking engagements and suggest that people read his book instead.

    And not all publishers require an author to tour for their book. I never did a single on-site appearance with my last book. Most of my interviews were done during the evening or taped for a later time. But I do agree with you…I actually had to plan not to let it affect my work; it wasn’t automatic.

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