Friday, November 16, 2012

No sir, I'm not admitting to clergy burnout...

...and I'm guessing that most of my ministerial colleagues will be loath to make such an admission as well.

There is a perfectly good reason for such an attitude: No pastor wishes to be seen as damaged goods.

I have admitted to being "a bit tired" and did so many times over the past couple of years when people in my church would ask why I am retiring at such a young (er, 62, young?) age. A feeling of mild ministerial fatigue was for me merely one of the Lord's signposts that my ministry at the church I had served for almost 15 years was drawing to a close - a normal progression.

I will also admit to being attuned to articles on clergy burnout and depression partly because I have been around some colleagues who appeared to be significantly fatigued, er, burned out.

The Baptist Standard carried story out of Baylor University on the subject.

The usual statistics are trotted out:
• 90 percent of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours a week.
• 90 percent feel inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
• 50 percent feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
• 55 percent say they are discouraged.
• 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.
• 80 percent believe pastoral ministry has affected their families in a negative way.
I do not deny the problem here.  I have come to believe that after some years of service or after leading a church through a difficult phase of ministry that a wise congregation will work out some form of sabbatical, even if it is just a short stretch out of the pulpit. A month off would be reasonable.

After 30 years of pastoring where I had just a couple of occasions where I was out of the pulpit for two consecutive Sundays, I confess that an extended stretch away from routine pastoral responsibilities brought some benefits. Today, I would be less stringent about Sundays out of the pulpit that I have been over past decades.

Our seminaries, those ministerial seed beds do well to delve into this area, although when I read that the source for the story linked above shared a tale of clergy burnout after a year-and-a-half in her early twenties, well, there is a bit of a disconnect. Perhaps the addition of a  focus on ministers in a different stage would have added to the article.

Plodder's top candidate of an issue related to clergy depression and burnout: Ministers must stop being so mulish and stubborn and display a demeanor where honest conversations are possible with fellow ministers and church leaders. If this issue is not resolved, well, see the photo above.

I recognize that this is a tall order, the Mighty Man of God admitting some degree of humanity, but I highly recommend it.


Dave Miller said...

I know an Iowa pastor who would love to post this at his group blog, called SBC Voices.

Unknown said...

Let 'er rip...give me fifteen minutes to add a paragraph.

J. Stuart Houston said...

Great blog post William. I am 41 years old, have pastored one church since I was 27 and I love it and they love me. However, this past summer I "hit the wall" as Wayne Cordiero puts it. Fatigue, depression, malaise, burnout- you name it. I highly recommend Cordiero's book, "Running on Empty." I even think it should be mandatory reading for every seminary student. I have fought panic/anxiety/depression for several years, and God forbid, I have shared these struggles with my church. They have loved me through it, made me take time off and they keep a check on me and ask me if I am "taking time for me and my family" on a regular basis. I would encourage Pastor's to listen to Dr. Stan Frye's story as well. Dr. Frye spent an afternoon with me one day and it basically- along with God's strength- saved my ministerial life. As much as we believe we do, we do not have a Superman uniform on under our neatly starched shirts and well tailored suits. :-) God is good day by day!

Stuart said...

Correction: that should be "Leading on Empty" by Cordiero. My mind is still in a haze apparently!!

Kevin said...

Leading on Empty is an excellent resource on pastoral burnout. I would also highly recommend it.

Joe McGee said...


Twelve years ago I became an Associaiton Misionary. Previously, I had served in the pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years. I can honestly testify that there were times that I was empty, depressed, and felt like given up. I guess that is some of the perks of ministry. I beleive that one of the problems many small town and rural pastors expereince is the lack of preperation provided by our seminaries for those who start their ministries in the rural area (I beleive that this fits most young inexpereince minsters). The courses provided often prepares the minister for the large city or suburban churches that expects their pastor to be more CEO in nature. The problem with the small town and rural churches are that many of them see the pastor as a preacher / counselor who is needed to preach his sermons and visit the sick. Being an Associaitonal Missionary in a small town, rural area, I see a transition developing. The older members still expect the preacher/counselor minster, while many of the younger seems to be more accepting of the CEO pastor. The pastor is burning himself out by trying to meet the expectations of both sides. Another problem that inexpereince ministers have to address in this area is the idea that often the church as a body does not make the decisions of the church, but certain Patriarchs who rule while others members back off. Many of our churches are "Family churches, and I am not refering to multi-families, but certain families. There are ways to minster and lead such churches, but our young ministers have neither the training or expereince. This is why many will leave the ministry after serving such a church.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

What if --those interested from the pews-- took turns every Sunday and preached?