The Top Ten Reasons Why Pastors Have Anxiety (And How to Overcome It)

“The best pastors have a healthy level of paranoia.”

My father’s advice struck me as odd. I was in my early 30s, pastoring through a difficult situation with the potential to split my congregation. I was anxious. He didn’t feed my anxiety, but his words weren’t comforting either. The advice was honest. And real.

At the time, a group of people intended harm, and I needed to be cautious. Or, as my father put it, have a healthy level of paranoia.

“I emphasize the word healthy,” he reminded me, “But you must watch your back.”

Platitudes only make anxiety worse. What I needed was a realistic perspective and practical solutions. My father offered both.

Pastors and church leaders experience anxiety for a variety of reasons. Unsurprisingly, almost two out of three pastors report stress in ministry. Usually, it is the compounding of multiple stress points rather than one singular item that creates anxiety.

    1. Constant availability. The pastor’s role often requires round-the-clock availability for emergencies, further blurring the line between work and personal time.
    2. Perceived isolation. Despite being surrounded by people, pastors can often feel alone, particularly if they can’t share their struggles for fear of seeming weak or lacking faith.
    3. Public scrutiny: As public figures, pastors can feel pressure to always be “on” and maintain a certain image.
    4. Emotional labor: Pastors are frequently the first point of contact during personal crises or grief. They must keep confidence about any number of personal issues in the congregation. Sexual sins, substance abuse, and spiritual neglect are common problems among parishioners that pastors must keep secret. This emotional labor can be exhausting.
    5. Financial pressure: Many pastors face financial instability, often working with limited resources and sometimes receiving inadequate compensation for their work.
    6. Personal neglect: Pastors can become so involved in meeting the needs of their congregations that they neglect their personal needs, including physical health, mental well-being, and quality time with family and friends.
    7. Increased polarization. Like other areas of society, churches have people at the extremes—politically, ideologically, and theologically. Navigating spiritual waters is challenging when more people are rocking the boat. Conflict is almost always stressful. Add in a couple of bullies, and the ride can be nauseating.
    8. Uninformed criticism. All leaders should expect criticism, but the burden of answering uninformed critics is wearying. I once had someone get quite upset with me. She went on a long, forceful diatribe about one of our ministries. After several minutes of hearing from her, I realized she was talking about another church.
    9. Unfair comparisons. Some pastors place unreasonable expectations on themselves and their churches. You cannot be someone else. But church members can also be guilty of unfair comparisons. The best sermons from the best preachers can be accessed instantaneously from anywhere. Why can’t you preach like him? Why is our worship service not like that? The questions are deflating, if not humiliating.
    10. Unhappy spouse. When a spouse struggles in a church, the pastor’s job becomes incredibly difficult. Some churches place unreasonable expectations on the spouse. The mentality of hiring two-for-one is a common problem. In other cases, the spouse can feel pressure to minister in ways that do not align with their gifting.

The combination of these stress points can create complex and nuanced problems in ministry. But there are some practical ways to combat the inevitable anxiety of ministry. Consider these tactics.

Stop using all-or-nothing reasoning. Idealists make terrible pastors. Perfection is an unachievable goal. One error does not ruin an initiative. The perfection-or-failure mindset can create a massive amount of stress. Rather than letting one setback create a domino effect of anxiety, view failure as a way to learn. Besides, most things in the church are a mixture of good and bad, positive and negative. Optimism, as opposed to idealism, is the better approach. The optimist recognizes the setbacks for what they are but keeps plodding forward.

Make potential stress an ally and not an enemy. Fine furniture is not crafted without the friction of sandpaper. The best art and music pieces are usually produced in a crisis. Identify what makes you stressed and channel your emotional energy into productive exercises. Ask questions about what you can control rather than dwelling on what you cannot change. The power once went out in our sanctuary. There was no need to panic over what I could not control. I called everyone closer to the front and preached from the floor. No one complained. The Sunday service was memorable but not a failure.

Learn to laugh at the one-off blunders. I was once so sick preaching, I walked backstage, passed out, and puked in a live mic. The sound guy was asleep as usual, so everyone got to hear the thump of my body on the floor, followed by what sounded like an exorcism going badly. My nickname was “puking preacher” for several weeks to follow. You have two choices in a situation like this one. Be anxious. Or laugh.

Use the word “no” more often. You can’t do everything! Nor should you. Pastors should be accessible to the congregation, but there is no way a pastor can always be available. This tiny, two-letter word may be the most powerful tool you have to reduce anxiety. Most pastors do too much, not too little. Properly shepherd your church’s expectations. When you try to do everything for everyone, you train the congregation to expect “yes” every time. It’s unfair to you, your family, or a future pastor who may have to replace you due to burnout.

Every pastor will experience stress. Do not let the pressure build to the point of anxiety.

At Church Answers Central, we cover these kinds of topics and questions every day. Church Answers Central is the world’s largest online community for practical ministry support. Get 24/7 answers to your church questions. Join a vibrant community of nearly 2,000 church leaders in a safe environment. Connect with top church health experts like Thom Rainer, Chuck Lawless, Sam Rainer, and others like you. Become a member today!

Posted on July 26, 2023

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
More from Sam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Melkio nyaranga says on

    Amen truly now church need a truth and fellowship people be together for the Lord because our creator is one

  • Accessibility is a better word that available. While they imply the same thing, being accessible is in a different realm than being available. One habit worth learn for all pastors is the ability to strictly observe a couple days away every week. The problem with a lot of society is people and organizations don’t observe the boundaries of work and not-work. And the pandemic didn’t help with people working from home. Pastors need to build organizations which have people who are the first contact for administration and routine operations.

    A mentor taught me while in seminary that the two days where phone calls and email from members go to voice mail or are unread (except clearing titles – because someone might send a crisis email on the day off and then get put out). His sanity was maintained, along with the health of his parish, by his boundary. Another phrase he taught me was, “is this something that needs to happen RIGHT NOW?” Even if the other person thinks it is, the question posed often sheds light on the level of criticality of the issue.

    One item you miss that causes anxiety with pastors can be surprising. Much of a pastor’s anxiety is self-inflicted. Somehow, we are able to preach that God’s grace is sufficient for everyone else but are unable to apply God’s grace to ourselves. Likewise, we mistakenly believe that we can save a church or congregation. Problem being, it’s God’s church and the Congregation is responsible for their own health as they are supported by their pastor. A term some may be familiar with is the “Superman (Superwoman) Syndrome.”

    In my former career I had a person help me learn the phrase “good enough” – what someone gives me may not be exactly what I envision or expect of myself but if it meets the requirements then it’s good enough. It’s hard to get started down the “good enough” road, because one can probably do better. The problem is – at what cost.