Barna Study Finds Pastors Suffering Overall Health Decline

After tumultuous years of political unrest, social and cultural shifts, and a pandemic, pastors are among those feeling the effects. A 2022 Barna study found that “pastors across the country are experiencing an alarming decline in mental and physical health,” according to Fox News. Colts Neck Community Church pastor Chris Durkin recently sat down with Fox’s Ainsley Earhardt to discuss the study and how to foster solutions.

While some might assume the decline began in 2020, the downward trend can be seen as far back as 2015. A rising number of pastors are considering leaving the ministry, and many list “stress, loneliness, and political division” as the root causes.

A Recent Study Explores the Serious Health Decline of Pastors

According to Barna, “Pastors who haven’t thought about leaving ministry say ‘the immense stress of the job’ (34%), ‘current political divisions’ (32%) and feeling ‘lonely and isolated’ (18%) are factors that have negatively impacted their ability to lead at their church within the past year.”

“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, of the results.

The study listed key aspects of pastors’ health:

  • Poor mental health
  • Poor physical health
  • Loneliness
  • Loss of community respect
  • Lack of true friendship

When asked about the cause of this decline, Durkin replied, “The decline in pastors’ health tragically meets the decline in church attendance, even the decline of those professing to believe in God.”

“Currently, 42% of Protestant senior pastors are contemplating stepping out of the ministry altogether,” Durkin quoted from the study.

While Durkin mentioned there are a number of factors that contribute to this statistic, he took the time to encourage pastors who were listening to the interview.

Durkin challenged those pastors listening to “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.”

“As sheep cast their cares on them, we, as shepherds, need to cast our cares on our good shepherd, Jesus Christ,” said Durkin.

Pastors need to deal with their own “spiritual leadership but also these cultural challenges,” Durkin explained.

Earhardt speculated that pastors are under a great deal of pressure—needing to be everything to everyone—and she used the example of calling her own minister over a weekend when her mom was ill. She further identified an expectation of pastors to be “seemingly perfect” through a variety of circumstances. “Y’all don’t really get a day off,” Earnhardt summarized.

“We really don’t,” Durkin replied. He went on to explain that, over the course of a weekend, his own church was part of a local weekend festival, he preached two morning services, visited an ailing church member in the afternoon, and returned to church later that Sunday to preach in the evening service.

Durkin went on to refer 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.

“It’s so important during this time—with all the cultural challenges we’re facing, personal challenges churches are facing,” Durkin continued. “So many pastors are discouraged because their attendance is down. It’s so important that we find our identity in Christ. And, don’t give up. Trust in him, and be filled with the Spirit.”

Earhart closed the interview with a call for prayer for Pastor Durkin as well as challenging each viewer to pray for his or her own pastor, priest, or minister.

Healthy Boundaries and Rhythms for Pastors

With an unending task list and numerous requests of pastors each week, it can be difficult to prioritize personal, spiritual, physical, and mental health.

Speaking on the “Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast,” Packiam outlined how pastors can develop healthy rhythms in our “new normal.”

He explained, “If you set your course in a particular direction and you drift a little bit, you at least won’t be that far off. But if you don’t set a course, you’re going to be adrift.”

“And so I think even the idea of intentionality,” Packiam said, “it’s not performance-driven at all. It’s meant to say, ‘Lord, let me aim my heart in a direction.’”

“Maybe the most powerful thing we can do as leaders is to embrace the humility of submitting yourself,” said Packiam. “You don’t get health without humility, and you don’t get that without the risk of some vulnerability.”

Jimmy Dodd, a former pastor and the founder and CEO of PastorServe, advocates for pastors to have healthy boundaries. He shared, “I came to a point where I was just emotionally, spiritually, physically exhausted.”

Dodd further explained how ministry insolation is a recipe for disaster. “[To draw healthy boundaries], you have to have a champion in your life.” He continued, “We need to have a massive dependence on the Spirit.”

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.