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Lack of Conflict Skills Causes Pastor Burnout- Tips on how Pastors can resolve conflicts effectively

Posted on Feb 12 2015 under Blog Posts

Rod Anderson, “A Case of Burnout” .
This image first appeared in the
October 1, 2013 issue of
The Christian Post.
Used with permission

Job burnout has been a frequently discussed topic at every school I have attended. The Mayo Clinic Staff defines job burnout as “ a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work”. While job burnout can occur in any line of work, I ignorantly never considered it was happening in the clergy profession.

Pastor Burnout is a very real issue in the church community today. On the website Pastor Burnout.com, it shows “45 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from the ministry”. The more I pondered this statistic and all the responsibilities the Pastor has, I was not all that surprised. Pastors are responsible for managing all the church conflicts, writing sermons, organizing the service, meeting with church members in need, setting a spiritual example, and overall being a church leader.

Dr. Thom S. Reiner, a contributor for the Christian Post, provides several explanations for why a pastor burns out, one of which is “Conflict”. Dave Earley, a pastor of Grace City Church in Las Vegas, Nevada asked veteran pastors to “list three things you did not learn in seminary, but wish you had”. Earley “was surprised that there was one response given by all of them: Learning to resolve conflict effectively”. Lester A. Adams an attorney, trained mediator and arbitrator and ordained minister echoes this realization, “Because there is very little preparation or effective training in Bible college or seminaries, most leaders are ill-equipped to deal with the strife that arises in their congregation”. If pastors are not trained on how to manage and resolve conflicts effectively, how can they be expected to provide guidance to members of their congregation who find themselves in a conflict?

Dave Earley explains, “Most pastors leave a church because of unresolved conflict.” I was astounded that pastors leave their churches for this reason. Especially because the cause of the problem is that they are not given the proper tools to address it adequately. So what are some tips that can be given to clergy leaders in the face of conflict to assist them to resolution?

The first tip or understanding a pastor should have is that conflict is an expectation of life. Fred T. Garmon from Faith Library explains, “Even the first-century church experienced conflict (for example Acts 6:1-7Acts 15:36-41, and Galatians 2:11-14), revealing conflict to be universal and a natural part of life wherever people are involved.”

The second tip, address the problem and people immediately, letting a conflict fester only builds resentment and makes the situation worse. H. Jack Morris from Ministry Magazine explains, “Untreated conflicts are like untreated cancers: they will inevitably spread destructiveness. In a calm but straightforward manner, we should acknowledge the conflict, identify the issues, and recognize the persons involved”.

The third tip, listen and hear all the parties out, resentment often builds when people do not feel that they have been heard. Mindtools suggests the “use of active listening skills to ensure you hear and understand other’s positions and perceptions: Restate, Paraphrase, Summarize.” A pastor must guide this active listening, as well as utilize it him or herself. During this portion of the conflict, the pastor should be gathering information. Mindtools explains that in this phase, “you are trying to get to the underlying interests, needs, and concerns”. Ultimately, determining what is the goal that each person is trying to meet can assist in resolving the conflict.

The fourth tip is to find a solution that satisfies all. Naomi Drew author of Hope and Healing explains, “Resolving conflict is a creative act. There are many solutions to a single problem. The key is a willingness to compromise”. The more creative the solutions, the better, just as long as everyone feels satisfied with the results.

The fifth and final tip encourage forgiveness or gratitude. Naomi Drew states, “Forgiveness is the highest form of closure.” Acknowledging a person’s willingness to move forward can often achieve resolution.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program








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