NCLS Research

Ministry Satisfaction and Emotional Exhaustion

Two Important Indicators

NCLS has helped develop a pair of specialised scales to examine a leader's sustainability: ministry satisfaction and emotional exhaustion. These two scales, each containing 11 questions used in NCLS Leader Surveys, help show whether a leader is thriving or at risk of burnout.

Ministry satisfaction

The image above shows that the ministry satisfaction scale results can range from low satisfaction to high satisfaction. A person is shown who scored positively on most questions, placing them on the 'high ministry satisfaction' end of the scale. This means they feel positive about their ministry and its influence on people's lives and faith.
As a subjective exercise, how would you rate your levels of ministry satisfaction? Where would you currently place yourself on this spectrum?

Emotional exhaustion

The above image shows that the emotional exhaustion scale ranges from high emotional exhaustion (inability to engage) to low emotional exhaustion (easy to engage). The same person is shown with emotional exhaustion as moderately low, placing themselves closer to the 'low emotional exhaustion' end. This means they may find it easy to engage tasks, feel rejunvenated and energised to work with others in ministry.
As a subjective exercise, how would you rate your levels of emotional exhaustion at present? Where would you place yourself on this spectrum?

The two scales combined

By considering the two scales at the same time, four quadrants can represent four different domains of where you may currently find yourself as a leader. The terms in each quadrant describe the 'extremes' of each of these domains. The person from the scales above has been placed in the diagram below, combining their ministry satisfaction and emotional exhaustion results. As they experienced both high ministry satisfaction and low emotional exhaustion at the same time, they are placed in the thriving domain.

Based on your ministry satisfaction and emotional exhaustion levels at the moment, which of these domains do you think you are in? Would one of these terms describe you?


Leaders who are experiencing high levels of satisfaction in ministry and low levels of emotional exhaustion are described as ‘thriving’ in their role.

Happy but exhausted:

Leaders who are high in ministry satisfaction but also experiencing higher levels of emotional exhaustion are ‘happy but exhausted’ in their role.

Able yet dissatisfied:

Leaders whose emotional exhaustion levels may be low, but are also experiencing low levels of satisfaction in ministry are described as 'able yet dissatisfied'.

Burning out:

Leaders who express high levels of emotional exhaustion and low levels of satisfaction are at risk of ‘burning out’.


Australian church leaders — thriving or burning out?

Since 2001, tens of thousands of Australian church leaders have completed the ministry satisfaction and emotional exhaustion scales. A distribution of over 2000 senior church leaders is shown below, drawn from the 2011 National Church Life Survey results. As it shows, most ministers are located in the 'thriving' domain. There are many however in the 'happy but exhausted' domain, a small number are 'able yet dissatisfied', and a concerning number are struggling and at risk of 'burning out'.

Above: Scatterplot of Ministry Satisfaction Scale by Emotional Exhaustion Scale (unadjusted), Senior ministers, 2011 National Church Life Survey - Leader Survey


Are you surprised by this distribution? What do you think this graph would look like for your church leadership team or denomination?


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