Discussing
What Can Lay People Do About Clergy Burnout?

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

Arshield
August 11, 2010

I used to work as a denominational staff person, primarily with churches starting new ministries. I have an MDiv, but never served in a church other than my internship. My father, grandfather, four uncles, and brother are all pastors. I have seen the inside of church ministry.<br><br>At my last church I was friends with all five of the pastors that served during the 10 years I was there (four of the pastors were couples that served as co-pastor). It was a small church and there was only one board. I served on the board during all three pastor's terms.<br><br>One thing I tried all three times was to ask the pastor(s) to track their time and give regular reports about what they did so the board would have a sense of how they spent their time. All three were resistant for one reason or another. One thought that time card was beneath them. Another thought that it was too intrusive to the pastoral care issue. But in general the pastors just thought it wasn't worth the effort. <br><br>But the point of the time tracking was to show how much work they really were doing (all of them were working more hours than what they should have been.) Once a congregation (and really the church leadership) understand what takes up a pastor's time, there can be a real discussion about whether the pastor should be cleaning bathrooms, or responding to requests for food from church members, etc. Many of the jobs that take up time can and should be done by others.<br><br>The other part of time tracking is to hold pastors accountable for taking time off and spending time with their family. The best way to lower stress is to encourage people to take appropriate time off.<br><br>The sad part of this is that once I moved, one of the pastoral couples was fired within six months. The verbalized reason was that they were not really working. (The reality was that they did not bend to the will of a very powerful lay member.) But had they communicated better their vision for ministry and how they were working together to achieve that vision, I do not believe they would have been fired. The powerful lay member was guilty about his wealth and wanted the pastors to run full scale social services without any staff. It just wasn't reasonable. The church ended up splitting and was without a pastor for almost 3 years after that.

Rickd
August 11, 2010

The first problem is this sharp line we draw between professional clergy and lay people. We are all clergy. At some point in America, clergy became a status position, a career path, sharing the roster with attorney and professor. We are all called to full-time ministry, some parts of the body are called to pastor while others are called to teach or evangelize. We can make a case from Paul’s epistles that those engaged full time in ministering to the needs of the saints ought to be financially compensated. However, as John the revelator says, “He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father.” What Jesus hates are the deeds of the “Nico•laitans”, literally the “people rulers” that began to take hold in the first century church.<br><br>Secondly, we have asked “Pastors” or “Preachers” and “Priests” to be solitary supermen. The idea that one man (and unfortunately in most denominations it is usually a man) should give a lecture to a passive audience from a podium twice on Sunday, once on Wednesday, make the business decisions (churches have become multi-million dollar businesses), administer the physical plant and rule the congregation is an alien concept to the New Testament. Just the pressure of giving spiritual advice, doctrinal guidance, parental advice, career counseling or marriage counseling all while being an evangelist from a pulpit sets the fallible minister up for unreal expectations.<br><br>You only find the word Pastor mentioned once in the New Testament, yet we have made it the focus of our shared Christian experience. Conversely, the word prophet is used 157 times in the New Testament. Explicit instructions are given about the role and ministry of prophet, most congregations had multiple prophets and we see that it is shared between men and women. Elders are mentioned 12 times. Multiple elders were appointed at each church, the role and qualifications are proscribed clearly. The office of deacon is refered to 5 times. The ministry of teachers is mentioned 11 times, the evangelist twice. Yet we have collapsed all these offices and functions into one ministry mentioned only once in the New Testament. Is it any wonder we have burn out? Thank God for hard working, faithful pastors, but they are shouldering too much of the burden and we need to recognize that they are only one member of the body.

Emmzee
August 11, 2010

There are specific ministries that are aimed at helping pastors who are starting to feel burned out, and/or preventing that from happening in the first place. Oasis Retreats is one of them, maybe it will be helpful to a pastor who reads this, or a congregation looking for help for their pastor:<br><a href="http://www.oasisretreatscanada.com/whatisoasis.php" rel="nofollow">http://www.oasisretreatscanada...</a>

Ty Woznek
August 11, 2010

I heard in seminary of a couple of pastors who had their congregations write down their expectations and the amount of time each week on those expectations. The result was 38 hours of expectations...per day, the other pastor had a similar number. Some members expectation lists included nearly or over 24 hours per day. The one pastor before sharing the results kindly mentioned that God only provided 24 hours a day to do his will, and part of that will was eating, sleeping and caring for his family.<br><br>I sense 2 problems:<br>1) Clergy are ultimately responsible as they lead and feed the congregation. While congregations may be putting on the pressure, clergy set up the situation.<br>2) We too often look to what others are doing rather than seek wisdom on how to best minister and be the local church God wants us to be.

Paulvanderklay
August 11, 2010

Thanks for the post. This is an important subject for many of us. <br><br>I'm a third generation pastor and it is fascinating how the ministry has changed during the 20th century. My mother often comments on how different it is today than when my father was starting out. Church officers have to figure out how to care and feed their pastor, but pastors too need to practice good self-leadership and help educate the church's leadership in these matters. <br><br>Part of the difficulty here is that pastoral work is notoriously border-free and pastors themselves are incredibly diverse in terms of interests, gifts, focus, etc. Churches and their traditions also vary widely in ways that impact this area. <br><br>For me a big help has been to continue to work on sharpening my focus of what the gospel is and how it connects with the rest of life. I believe a pastor has an area of unique ownership in the broader labor economy of the church and it is not always easy to articulate it and defend its boundaries. I find Eugene Peterson very helpful on these matters. pvk

Arshield
August 11, 2010

I agree that Eugene Peterson is one of the best pastor mentors (as a writer.)

Nat
August 12, 2010

I agree with a lot of what Rickd says - the burden for the care of the church often seems to fall on the shoulders of one man. God in his wisdom appointed elders (plural!) for each church, to be supported by a diaconate to minister to the more practical needs of the church. The distinction between a pastor and the rest of the elders should one of time, not office - a pastor should be an elder who has been set aside full time to minister to the flock. This does not make him the "boss" of the church, and he should not be the only one who bears the pastoral burden.<br><br>The other point I would want to make is to question the source of our strength as ministers / elders / deacons / church members. We are called to spend and be spent in the Lord's service. There will be trying and tiring times - where do we look then? When we are exhausted, discouraged, fearful, where do we turn? Our prayer must be that in those times, the Lord would sustain us, and meet us in our every need, that we would be able to run and not be weary, walk and not faint. It is, in the end, an issue about the exercise of our faith.

Bethanykj
August 13, 2010

Someone on facebook brought up the body metaphor Paul uses several times in the epistles. I think that metaphor extends really nicely here. When you have a knee problem and need crutches, you end up with sore arms and shoulders. The sore shoulders aren't because of a deficiency in the shoulder, but because the knee isn't carrying the weight it should. So perhaps our body is not using some parts enough, and we end up with a sore professional clergy, trying to carry too much weight.

Ken McMillian
August 13, 2010

During my fourteen years in vocational ministry I often found myself focusing on the external, and not near enough on the eternal. Instead of engaging the daily rigors of ministry on my knees before an all knowing, all powerful God, I tended to fight the battles and make the plans in my own strength using words and logic.<br><br>Paraphrasing Oswald Chambers if we in ministry would focus more on developing our personal relationship with God, yielding to His will and purpose, we might ultimately see more redemption, less stress, and subsequently more progress in all areas of our ministry. I'm currently reading a book entitled "Confessions of a Pray Slacker" that has strongly challenged me in this area of my life.<br>

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