Monday, May 23, 2011

Chronic Clergy Complaining Syndrome

I love the brethren, my ministerial colleagues, fellow soldiers of the Lord, partners in our common calling of pastoral ministry; however, there is a malady that is common only to us: Chronic Clergy Complaining Syndrome (I recognize that my brethren have an unnatural and perhaps unhealthy love for alliteration and am happy to feed their addiction). Perhaps you have seen it, or, had it.

I haven't overlooked that the data show that "clergy rank among the highest rates of obesity, depression, high blood pressure and adult-onset diabetes when compared to other professions" (from an informative Associated Baptist Press article here) and acknowledge that many of the brethren seem to lack the ability to manage their job tasks with the result that they are frustrated, unsatisfied, and unhealthy.

Nonetheless, I have heard enough to have identify three areas where I believe that our church members and others might consider us to be, well, whining about our calling. See if you recognize these. Disagree if you wish. Feel free to try and convince me I am wrong in my assessment here. Perhaps I am.

Pastoral ministry is extraordinarily stressful, moreso that other occupations.

It can be. It might be. There are unhealthy churches and the brethren might be advised not to tarry too long in those. But setting ourselves and our ministry as exceeding all others in job demands and stress probably isn't realistic.

Pastors do endure the complaints of members, their unrealistic expectations, the pressures of being a pastor of a church, the emotional toll of hearing peoples’ difficulties, and of dealing with folks in the crises of their lives.
There is some truth to this but one might compare clergy to other ‘helping’ professions – nursing, hospice care, and the like. The truth is that since we deal with people, we deal with all of life events for our people – the joys and the sorrows.

If the Lord isn’t sufficient in the life of the pastor as he ministers to others, perhaps another occupation would be better; regardless, I rather think that the average layperson responds with half an eye roll when his pastors talks about how hard it is.

Preaching a sermon is like working an eight hour day.

Oh, please. Please, please, please don’t try this one on your congregation. You may get plumb tuckered out by a thirty minute sermon on Sunday morning but don’t tell the guy who manages a restaurant and works a 80 hour week how hard it is. Laypeople give a full eye roll to this old saw.

I’m underpaid for the level of my education.

No you are not. You are paid what the market considers you to be worth. Sure, your MDiv is worth less in the marketplace than a BSN, or an MBA even though it may have required more credit hours but none of us have the right to expect to be compensated commensurately with our education. You should have gone into a field where a degree and skills obtained thereby translates readily into money. An MDiv should make you a better minister and therefore has value even if the value is not expressed by increased compensation.

Plodder’s suggestions to help the brethren avoid unbecoming whinefests:

1. If you think preaching a 30 minute sermon is like working an eight hour day, take a nap on Sunday afternoon.
2. If you think you are underpaid, find a better paying occupation. You are in an occupation you chose. No one forced you into it.
3. Talk to some eightysomething retired pastors about compensation and other job related matters.
4. Figure out a way to be paid a dollar every time someone says, “I wouldn’t want your job.”
5. Thank Jesus for your high calling.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous said...

Not that I totally disagree with your post but nurses and hospice care get to go home after their shift--pastors don't. We're on call 24 hours a day.

Second, a sermon if it is done correctly should equal at least an 8 hour day. That includes preparation, prayer, and presentation. Don't you like the alliteration?

I agree with everything else you have said but perhaps your tone could be a bit more supportive instead of castigating all preachers.

Jon L. Estes said...

Good post William.

Can a Christian whine about struggles, issues, expectations... and be focused on Jesus at the same time? I don't know how.

Jon Estes

William Thornton said...

On the eight hour sermon, perhaps I should have been more clear about this. I have often heard the brethren state that delivering a 30 min sermon is equal to working an eight hour day. Laypeople hear that and roll their eyes.

Of my three points, the first is the weakest based on the data. I just hate to see pastors acquire a reputation for always complaining about how hard, how underpaid, how folks just don't understand, etc, their job is.

Not all have the syndrome I describe. Some, many, clearly do.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing worse than a whining, complaining preacher. If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen and go sell used cars.

William Thornton said...

The article I linked has links to other sites that deal with clergy stress. GuideStone does a lot on this, since (I think) their number one disability claim category is depression.

Some of the brethren are in very difficult pastoral situations where they need to deal constructively with the things they cannot change.

But I'm all for venting every now and then.

Anonymous said...

I am a fulltime mom with four kids and two sets of elderly parents. I also am "on call" for numerous friends and family as well as people within our church for emergencies. I am always "on call" 24 hrs a day 365 days a year. Cannot remember my last vacation . Cannot fathom a "paid" meal or evening with great tickets to some event that was given to me.

As for pastors being on call 24 hours. PLEAZE! Most have Fridays off, Wednesday afternoons off and cannot even think of one in my lifetime that would be open to a phone call after hours. Good luck ever trying to get the phone number. Lay people minister to me and my family. Never paid ministers.

William Thornton said...

Anon, I don't know of a pastor like me, average sized SBC church. Everyone has my phone numbers. I take calls whenever. My word to the church, "If you think you need me, if you think there is something you think I need to know, go ahead and call me. I'll make a decision about what I need to do about it. I'd rather find out about a ministry need from several members than not at all."

My congregations have been gracious and considerate about calling on me for stuff that can wait until a weekday or the next morning.