Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 64, Issue 1, pp 71–97 | Cite as

The Rural Pastors Initiative: Addressing Isolation and Burnout in Rural Ministry

  • Greg ScottEmail author
  • Rachel Lovell


We present findings from an 18-month evaluative study in which we gathered survey and telephone interview data on 51 rural pastors who participated in an intervention designed to help them overcome some of the biggest hurdles in their professional lives (including loneliness, isolation, burnout, an imbalance between personal and professional life, and an absence of self-care activities) and to buttress the primary means by which they try to ameliorate these problems: cultivation of spiritual closeness to God. We contextualize our findings in rural environments, a reality that puts pastors in the position of ministering to their congregations but also performing an array of social services for which they never received training. Our findings suggest that rural pastors suffer an appreciable degree of loneliness and isolation. While some conditions improved over the course of the program, the participants continued to struggle with the structural and organizational barriers endemic to daily life as a rural minister. This intervention appears to have helped participants enhance their professional aptitudes, reduce their reported degree of loneliness, and connect horizontally with other congregational leaders. However, the program did not catalyze greater self-care among pastors, which may be a result of their perceiving self-care as a luxury. Finally, the data suggest that pastors attempt to make their lives better by reaching inside themselves rather than trying to connect with others. Loneliness—which may be ingrained in the job itself—remains the most robust explanatory variable, exhibiting a strong relationship with other variables such as burnout and professional excellence.


Rural ministry Clergy Isolation Burnout Loneliness Self-care 



Project and corresponding research were funded by the Lily Endowment, Inc. The authors are grateful to Elizabeth Lee Gregory for her invaluable contributions to earlier versions of this paper. We also acknowledge Erin Scott, Frank Edwards, and David Frank for their meaningful contributions to this article. This study and its methods were viewed and approved by DePaul University’s IRB and therefore have been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. As required for IRB approval, all persons gave their informed consent prior to inclusion in the study. During the analysis stage of this project, the second author was a Senior Research Methodologist at DePaul University’s Social Science Research Center.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology and Director of the Social Science Research CenterDePaul UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and EducationCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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