Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Burnout for Pastors

posted by xscot mcknight

I recently got the suggestion to make available information about a pastor’s retreat center from Jim Watters. The report Jim sent me indicates why this is worth a conversation on this blog.
What are you doing? What can be done? Any suggestions?
I now reproduce the report.
Statistics from
Pastors at Greater Risk, H B London, Jr., and Neil B Wiseman, Regal Books, © 2003
The American Church
*Churchgoers expect their pastor to juggle an average of 16 major tasks
*Pastors who work fewer than 50 hours a week are 35 percent more likely to be terminated.
*87 percent of Protestant churches have full-time paid pastors.
*50 percent of all congregations in the United States are either plateauing or declining
*Two-thirds of pastors reported that their congregation experienced a conflict during the past two years; more than 20 percent of those were significant enough that members left the congregation
*The typical pastor has his/her greatest ministry impact at a church in years 5 through 14 of his pastorate; unfortunately, the average pastor lasts only five years at a church.
The Culture
*53 percent of Americans say the nation’s moral problems are greater than the nation’s economic problems.
*78 percent of Americans rate the state of moral values in the United States as weak or very weak
*64 percent of adults say that truth is relative to the person and their circumstances
*44 percent of Americans who declare themselves to be Christians believe that Jesus sinned during His time on earth
The Upside – Pastor’s Life in the Church
*86 percent of pastors said they’d choose ministry as their career if they had it to do over
*87 percent of pastors say a strong sense of God’s call is why they chose ministry as a career
*91 percent of pastors feel very satisfied about being in ministry;
*75 percent say they want to stay in ministry
The Downside – Pastor’s Life in the Church
*90 percent of pastors work more than 46 hours a week.
*80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
*75 percent report they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry
*50 percent feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
*40 percent report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
*40 percent of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.
*19 percent of pastors indicate that they’d been forced out of ministry at least once during their ministry; another 6 percent said they’d been fired from a ministry position
Marriage and Family
*33 percent of pastors confess “inappropriate” sexual behavior with someone in the church
*20 percent of pastors say they view pornography at least once a month
*According to Focus on the Family’s Pastoral Ministries Division, approximately 20 percent of the monthly calls to their pastoral care line deal with sexual misconduct and pornography
*20 percent of pastors admit to having had an affair while in the ministry
*12 percent of pastors say that since they’ve been in ministry, they’ve had sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse,
*51 percent of pastors say that Internet pornography is a possible temptation for them; 37 percent admit that it’s a current struggle
*13 percent of pastors have been divorced
*48 percent of pastors think being in ministry is hazardous to family well-being
*33 percent say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family
*80 percent of pastors say they have insufficient time with spouse
*58 percent of pastors indicate that their spouse works either part-time or fulltime outside the home because the family need the income
*56 percent of pastors’ wives say they that they have no close friends
*45 percent of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and family is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual burnout
*66 percent of pastors and their families feel pressure to model the ideal family to their congregations and communities
*53 percent of pastors spend time off from pastors’ duties to do activities with their families; *21 percent spend time with hobbies or physical tasks
Longevity/Spiritual Health
*55 percent of pastors indicate that they’re a member of a small group that provides support and holds them accountable
*32 percent of pastors say that reading is the activity that provides sustained renewal in their spirit;
*31 percent say that renewal comes from being alone
*50 percent of pastors say they’d see another pastor if they felt the need fro personal counseling;
*20.5 indicate they’d see no one
*70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend
Preparation
*31 percent of pastors indicated that conflict management was lacking in their seminary or Bible college training
*90 percent feel they’re inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
Personal Health
*45.5 percent of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry
*70 percent say they have a lower self-esteem now than when they started out
*57 percent of pastors do not have a regularly scheduled and implemented exercise routine
*56 percent of pastors regularly take off one day each week; 21 percent say that they do not get any days off



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James Petticrew

posted August 13, 2007 at 4:03 am


Scot after 16 years pstoring none of this surprises me, things here in the UK are much the same.
I suspect that Richard Baxter may be responsible for much of the pressure His Reformed Pastor has been held up as a model for the pastoral role for generations. Reading it you would be hard pressed to find any concept of the church as the Body of Christ in which all are called to ministry and mission. The best metaphor for Baxter’s pastor would be the one mn band there is hardly even lip service to the priesthood of all believers. The result has been church members abdicate their responsbilities and pastors assume minstry that others are gifted and called to resulting in unrealistic expectations from the congregation and burn out for pastors trying to live as a one man ministry band.
The sad thing is that this model is still being taught in seminary.Willimon’s recent book Pastor has chapters. Pastor as Priest, Pastor as leader of worship, pastor as interpreter of scripture, pstor as preacher, pastor as counsellor, pastor as teacher, pastor as evangelist, pastor as prophet. I was waiting on Pastor as Superman! I wanted to ask why can’t evangelists be evangelists, prophets be prophets be prophets etc.
There is little doubt in my mind that Baxter and Willimon are operating with a Christendom model of Church in which ministry is basiclly the preserve of those ordained to office by the institution rather than thos gifted by the Spirit. The primary purpose of the church in this model is to look after those inside the church hence the pastoral role predominates.
I believe the only way the problem of leadership stress will be delt with is when we move to an apostolic model of church which assumes all are called and gifted for mission and minstry not just a superhuman clergy class.



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Elling

posted August 13, 2007 at 4:09 am


Ouch, many things to be aware of for a just-started pastor here. I think what I found most scaring was this: 70 percent say they don’t have a close friend. How is it possible to do ministry if you don’t have anyone to lean on around you?



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Rick

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:04 am


I know Mark Driscoll has been doing an interesting blog post series on burnout. He is speaking from burnout experience.
Andy Stanley says that he makes it a practice (and encourages his staff to do the same) to work approximately 45 hrs per week, unless there is a very unusual (rare) situation. He believes that something in life gets shortchanged with the amount of time people have, so he makes sure it is not his home life.



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:13 am


Pastor issues are an issue I’ve written about and thought about at some length, since I deal and have dealt with a lot of pastors. I also had a chance to take a class in pastoral care and counseling in which pastor burnout and self care was a theme. In addition, I’m indebted to Sally Morgenthaler for many thoughts on this subject.
So as not to go on too long, some thoughts. I am very interested in what others have to say.
1. I wonder how these pastor stats compare to society as a whole? Studies show people across the board putting in more hours at work, struggling with life balance issues, having fewer friends, more social isolation, etc. So my feeling is that the pastor angst reflects a larger social angst. No man or woman is an island. These are problems for everybody. As I read the list I realized I feel many of them in my job. To the extent that pastors can articulate the social ills we all feel, they are doing a service that extends beyond their own interests. To extent that their concerns become perceived as a whine about their particular fate, it has no impact. Pastors need to forge unity with non-pastors and not become a special interest group.
Seminaries/churches need to take a step back and examine self-consciously how they are mirroring the pathologies of the larger culture and struggle to forge a different path. This may be THE work of pastors in this time.
I also am very curious about how this study breaks out along gender lines.
2. The rise of the megachurch and the megapastor who can act as “CEO” and “build” the huge organization is part of the problem, and I think I’ve talked at length to Sally about this. It’s raised the bar for all pastors. The pressure is on to bring in the numbers, build the huge church. It’s hard to be the simple parish priest anymore … essentially, panting ambition, the ways of the world, have infected the church and everyone feels it, even those who are removed from it.
3. As James notes, pastors are often cast in a “superman” position. This infantilizes congregations and puts too much pressure on the “father” to be the perfect pastor/parent. This HAS to change.
4. Congregants want pastors who are role models and moral exemplars. I think this is only natural. Pastors want to be understood as flawed humans. This is also only natural. The “saved sinner” concept comes up often as an image of the pastor, but the laity focuses on the saved part and the clergy on the sinner. The laity is right to expect a moral compass from their moral leader, but too much pressure to appear perfect can lead to implosions like Ted Haggard. How do we resolve this?



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:25 am


The Mark Driscoll point is a good one. When I first read about his low adrenals and burnout, I thought, ungraciously, am I supposed to have the vapors because HE has low adrenals? I’ve been through that whole low adrenals/ burnout episode myself and the world certainly didn’t stop for me and I plugged on. This underlines the question: do we treat pastor burnout as “special” and pastors as needing “special care” because they have “special pressures,” in other words, do we create an elite class? Or do we acknowledge that symptoms like Driscoll’s low adrenals are a very normal, everyday occurrence in this culture that point to deeper issues we all need to address together?



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:29 am


Rick,
OK, everyone will pile on me and I will look like a lazy, laggardly slug, but here goes. I believe it is telling that the pastor you cite encourages his staff to “only” work a 45 hour week. What happened to the 40-hour work week? That very comment seems symptomatic of what’s wrong with our culture.



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Ivy Gauvin

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:34 am


Just two quick comments as one who has been in ministry, as a missionary and am now planning on seminary to become a pastor. In my church, the ELCA, it is mandatory (I believe) for pastors to have their own pastors for spiritual care, and the same for their spouses. Secondly, the church is heavily promoting and educating congregations on the importance of sabbaticals for pastors. Several in our area have been on sabbaticals in the past couple of years.
Peace.



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don bryant

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:34 am


God bless us, one and all. We’re gonna need it!!!!



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Rick

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:47 am


Diane #6:
Thanks for pointing out something I did not state clearly.
He uses the 45 hrs more as a # for himself, but encourages his staff to also not overwork. That may mean he hopes they are only putting in 40 hrs. I’m not sure.
Now, why Andy picks 45 over 40 for himself is a good question.



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 6:49 am


Ivy,
I was in ECLA some years ago. It was during the recession of the early 1990s and our pastor insisted on a six-week sabbatical. I remember people resenting that enormously. Although it was and is an affluent area, many professional people had lost jobs. Nobody was on a bread line, but people saw college savings wiped out, they took new jobs at 20 and 30K pay cuts, and often gave up generous time off packages to start over at 2 weeks vacation … and it galled that the pastor took a sabbatical in the midst of this –and that they were paying for it. This speaks to a profound clergy/laity disconnect, but also, once again, to “if it’s good for the clergy, it’s good for the laity.” Sabbaticals are a wonderful idea. They are a core Judeo/Christian concept and speak to a trust in God’s abundance … so why isn’t the ECLA educating congregations on the importance of EVERYONE taking a sabbatical?



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Geoff Smith

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:01 am


I don’t understand the problem. This summer I worked fulltime as at a bookstore/cafe, and 30-35 hours a week as an interim youth director at a large methodist church. I’m not trying to sing my praises or anything because I’m a fairly lazy and undisciplined guy and the schedule only became frustrating one time, and that is because I have a weird friend who called me 10 times in one week because he needed a ride somewhere on a friday night when I told him I didn’t have time to do it because I would be at work.
Truth be told though, Baxter’s model can be hardly said to be followed. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a pastor who actually catechizes all of the families in his church at the personal level. And if that isn’t done by the pastor then how on earth is the church, in a culture that rarely reads anything well/rightly, going to understand that the church is a kingdom of priests? Somebody has to tell the congregation, God still uses means to teach his people, one of them is a pastor who busy about the very business of teaching. And I do not mean to keep a laity/clergy distinction in my thinking, it just happens to be the way most churches operate, so I have to act in that box. Baxter’s method may not be ideal, but it fits the context. Whitfield noticed years after Baxter that the fruit of his work was still in the conversations of the people of Kiddermeister. So those people did fulfill the role of being a priesthood to eachother.
So….sometimes people have to work a lot. So what? We’re in an emotionally disfunctional culture and we probably need to just get over it. I felt burnout when I took 18 hours of class and worked at Barnes and Noble and when I took 24 hours of class and worked as a pizza delivery guy. Big deal. Read Paul’s resume, he worked while being a pastor, he often went without sleep. Baxter still took time for things like personal enjoyment, he exercised two hours everyday and had a good relationship to his wife, whom he said was a better theologian and exegete than himself. I watched some of Driscoll’s series and all I could think was, “And….is there any correlation between their productivity and their lifestyle?” Of course there is, it isn’t an accident that highly sucessful persons are highly busy.



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Rick

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:09 am


Geoff #11:
That depends on how you define success.



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T

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:20 am


Great post. Great opening comment and others.
When will the ‘head pastor’ paradigm end? When are we going to make the codependency of spectators/superman a major church issue to deal with systematically and thoughtfully?
By the way, do we really think that Peter, all by himself, was even the only guy teaching in Jerusalem after the ascension? or the only one praying? or evangelizing? or anything? If protestants don’t even think there was a first ‘pope’, why do we strap a load on our current ‘head pastors’ that the supposed first pope didn’t even attempt? It makes no sense. How did we put such a system around a living savior who said to his soon to be leaderS, “Let no one call you teacher . . . father?” We are doing exactly this with the title of ‘head pastor’. I know this can sound extreme, but shame on us for allowing the office Jesus literally forbade.



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joseph

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:31 am


yup, sounds about right to me! Glad I bailed out a few years ago.
The pastoral “office” will soon be going by the wayside, and those who follow Christ will just have to learn how to live the “one anothers” of the NT and take care of each other, without professional help. All-in-all, I think it will represent an advance for the purposes of God.



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Gordon Hackman

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:54 am


Scot,
A lot of this, especially the part about the American church, immediately strikes me with the thought that a large part, if not most, of the problems here are found in what American churchgoers expect their pastor to be. So many churches have modeled the contemporary pastorate after the CEO model of American business. The pastor (and other paid staff) are the “professionals” who do all the work of the ministry, while the rest of the congregation are just consumers of the religious goods and services they dish out for us. Of course, not every church is like this, but I think a lot are.
I think Dave Fitch’s book, “The Great Giveaway” does an excellent job of diagnosing and dealing with this issue in its chapter on leadership. I recommend it to anyone concerned about this issue.



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:04 am


Geoff,
I’m making a guess you are a twenty-something? It’s the long haul that wears a person down, in my experience … it happened to me, I imagine it’s what happened to Driscoll … eventually, you can’t sustain the breakneck pace and something gives. Paul spent periods in jail, no fun, but an enforced sabbatical, so to speak.



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Scott M

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:12 am


Yes, our entire culture is sick and people can experience burnout and family problems in any job. The church should be in the business of healing the sickness of creation introduced through the fall. A place to start could be by allowing the holy rhythms of work and rest and family and prayer and the work of worship to shape the lives of the pastor(s) and other staff. If those in the church simply emulate the sickness of our culture, what good is that?
I will say that the question about truth being relative is usually, in my experience, asked in too simplistic a manner. There are lots of things that actually are relative to a person and their circumstances. There are some things that are not. To get a meaningful answer, the question needs to be posed better. I think, in this context, those doing the study want to know if the truth about a god, faith, and religious practice is relative to a person and their circumstances or if it is independent of those circumstances. But that’s just a guess. Whatever the intent, they need to ask a question that actually reveals that response.



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cas

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:26 am


Joseph,
I just don’t believe that the “office” of pastor is going by the wayside. To be blunt, I think it’s a utopian fantasy that stems from frustration at the current state of affairs. This is one the Emergents weaker ideas, IMHO. More horizontal leadership; perhaps, but none—I don’t think so.
My husband and I thought about a pastoral retreat last year, and decided instead to take to the road. It was a delightfully restorative journey.



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Ted Gossard

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:36 am


Its’ crazy, all the hats many pastors are expected to wear, and how they’re judged.
Dr. Carl Hoch told us seminarians that if we’re a pastor, likely our life expectancy will be shortened. Surely there’s a way or ways that pastors can overcome this pressure that comes on them which is illegitimate, so that they can deal with the normal pressures that come with their calling. The problem lies with cultural expectations, to a large extent.



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Ted Gossard

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:38 am


One place I think pastors can get some good help from is from writings from Eugene Peterson in articles and books. People need to get real in realizing that their pastors and the families are real people who struggle too.



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 9:16 am


Ted,
What expectations and pressures would you shed? This is a key issue. I think in the old days, pastors were expected to preach a Sunday sermon, visit the sick, do weddings, baptisms, catechism and funerals and all this pressure to provide programs and mega-growth etc, was not there. I know my in-laws and others in their 80s talk about church buildings being very small, basically just sanctuaries, and maybe a basement for Sunday School and you went home afterwards, no meals on site etc, maybe an annual picnic. Now churches are built to be community centers. The missional model could potentially add more pressure. The trade offs are interesting. I think shedding can model excellent behavior for the culture as long as it’s not seen as getting something for nothing.



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Tim G

posted August 13, 2007 at 9:21 am


Thoughtful comments. Thanks. Our role as pastors ought to be to model a culturally relevant and transformative life. This means bucking the culture at some points and coming alongside it at others. How do we teach a stewardship of the use of time, as well as those we more likely address of resources and talents? Rather than modeling the culture’s frenzy, how can we help the culture, or even more to the point, our congregation see the biblical rhythms of sabbath rest as commanded in the 10 C’s and a devotional life as modeled in Jesus’ own life. In the midst of the tremendous demands of healing, teaching and feeding (note he did not heal, feed, or teach everyone – he could have done that 24/7 and burned out, too). He went away and prayed. At the end of his earthly life – he could say, Father, I have finished the work you have given me to do.” Lord, give us the wisdom to know what is your priority and what we do just to make us look good.
In the most recent theme of the free CD from Pastor to Pastor – H. B. London/Focus on the Family) is burnout. He notes that a vast majority of pastor’s are people pleasers. Each person must address this issue. I am one and have had to really rein myself in.



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J-Marie

posted August 13, 2007 at 9:38 am


It doesn’t sounds like from this study that pastors are having any different struggles as any of the rest of the American worker/family person would have. That doesn’t make it right, but that’s reality.



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Christine

posted August 13, 2007 at 9:46 am


Diane #6 –
I think the 45 hour model is an excellent step in the right
direction. Many of us in secular jobs work more than 40
hours/week, too, so I don’t have a problem with 45 hours
instead of 40.
WHen I was an elder in a megachurch, the pastor
justified the 60 hour work week for pastoral staff, in part,
because those of us who were volunteers as elders also worked
40 hours at our jobs, plus about 20 hours/week in church
ministry.



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Peggy

posted August 13, 2007 at 10:07 am


Wow…I have way too many things to say and not enough time to say them (nothing new there ;) ), so only a few points:
The last church I served (as one of 9 associates), seven out of eight pastors who went on sabbatical (over a 9 year period) was either let go or resigned within one year of returning. The one who is still there has struggled with forced reassignment (including being reduced to part-time). Of the 14 pastors/pastoral administrators I served with from 2000 to 2005, all of whom had been around at least five years, some 10 years, there are only three still on staff today. In the last two years these are the ones who have “left”: senior pastor, counseling pastor, Christian Education pastor, three music pastors, Community Life/Small Groups pastor, High School pastor, Middle School pastor, Seniors pastor, school (pre-high) superintendant, pre-school director, business administrator. Eight of these had been long term members of the church when they were recruited to staff. Only three still attend now. Think about that! I have lots of ideas why it happened in our church….
The problem is, in my view, equally “driven” from pastor and congregation. Pastors have taught it, congregations have accepted it…now the pastors must live with the unrealistic expectations demanded by the congregants and the congregants complain that they are “out of the loop” about how ministry decisions are being made. Can’t have it both ways, friends….well, not without a lot of work and restructuring!
CovenantClusters will be following what I have since come to recognize as the APEST model (which Alan Hirsch was kind enough to articulate in his book 8) )–where there is a need to have significant representation among both the leadership and the congregants of the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching gifts (not offices). We will be using a collaborative leadership structure, with no “paid” pastoral staff–and other important components, as well.
Having been raised in a church-planting minister’s home, served on the mission field in Asia, worked in a number of parachurch organizations as well as small and large church pastoral ministry–and 10 years in the aerospace industry…I have experience much of what has been described. Six months after leaving the above described church, the vision for CovenantClusters grabbed me as a way to address these issues–which had been “simmering” inside me for 30 years. It will be a challenge, but I am confident that God is up to it. :) Stay tuned….



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Bob Smallman

posted August 13, 2007 at 10:29 am


I’ll just add a couple of comments. I planted a church for a few years after graduating from seminary, then returned to seminary for an advanced degree, then was called to the church where I have been serving for 28 years.
1) In my church plant, I found myself constantly resenting the fact that my church members (especially the men) somehow could never find the time to come to all the church meetings I thought were so important! When I went back to seminary, I had to work full-time to support my family as well as go to school. I had a factory job where I started out in production and eventually moved into management. At that point I realized why the people in my church had so little time! It was not unusual for me, as a manager, to put in 60 hours a week or more. And I came to appreciate that many if not most of my church members would face the same kinds of pressures. So when I came to my present church, I resolved to have as few extra meetings (beyond worship) as possible, so that families wouldn’t have to choose between church time and family time. (By the way, having a successful career in something other than ministry is a wonderfully freeing experience. It taught me that I wasn’t “trapped” in the ministry — there were other jobs I could do well!)
2) For years I struggled with various burnout-related issues, depression, self-doubt, etc. As I approached my 40th birthday I went through a classic mid-life crisis in which I did everything I could to leave my church and the ministry and get into a less pressure-filled job. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but after a year of that I gradually came to the realization that while there were all sorts of other things I could do for a while, there wasn’t any other job that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to. I also came to appreciate that there were some tasks I did very well as a pastor and some I did not do very well — I came to accept both my strengths and my weaknesses as a part of who I am, and I gave up trying to shore up (or feel defensive about) all my shortcomings. From that period, I began to enjoy a contentment that I never imagined possible. I wish there were some secret way to get there, but I suspect it takes mainly age and experience. There are no shortcuts. And along the way, it has helped to have a wonderfully supportive wife and congregation.
All this is not to suggest that my ministry has somehow become a carefree, problem-free calling (in fact, as I noted in an earlier response, I am convinced that ministry is suffering), but I think I was able to leave the burnout issues behind when I embraced the twin realities of who I am (and am not) and what good ministry requires (and doesn’t require of me).



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Lacey

posted August 13, 2007 at 10:45 am


“We’re in an emotionally disfunctional culture and we probably need to just get over it”
ouch. i certainly hope that i never get over that fact. it is becoming more and more apparent to me that people continue to numb themselves and busy their lives with activity to the point of having no inner life to cultivate. i know this for my own experience, and “doing” ministry work doesn’t make it go away. at all.
eugene peterson said that every pastor needs a spiritual director. for some reason that statement has stayed with me- i had never thought about the fact that ministers need help. no one told me that in college. as a theology student, i don’t remember ever being told the necessity of caring for myself. maybe it was assumed, but from these stats it sure doesn’t look like it for these people.
also, how could 75% of people wish to still be in ministry with all the negatives ways they say it affects their families/personal lives? i just don’t get it.



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 10:51 am


J-Marie,
Exactly right. We really need to keep shining a light that pastors are not a special group with an isolated problem that will be “solved” if pastors can just work out a solution for pastors. The problem is in a culture that needs to rediscover sabbath, simplicity, sacred space, sacred sexuality, etc. and the church can’t do it without addressing the larger culture. I do think pastors can solve a host of problems in one swoop by uniting with laity on solving these problems. I think if laity felt the pastors were trying to help them with their burnout as well as themselves it would help stem church membership bleed, stop the passive aggression that wears pastors out, the contentions over issues that are really masking other contentions, etc. Bob Smallman’s comment that working outside of the ministry sensitized him to how busy everyone is really says a lot. As an observer of many churches over the years I truly believe people are not trying to consume a product at church as much as find a place of rest. And often that looks to clergy like people who take advantage and consume and don’t want to do their share of the work isd simply people seeking a place they can go precisely because they don’t have to work and earn and can just be. So figuring this out is complicated.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:08 am


Bob Smallman,
With that great touch of wisdom, I’m wondering if you take retreats or think retreats are a great idea. Any thoughts?



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Julie Clawson

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:20 am


I really don’t get the idea that just because most people have to work long hours, get little vacation, and are depressed that Pastors should just have to deal with it as well. Shouldn’t the point be to help improve life for everyone? Add generally outside of the ministry people don’t get fired if they look at porn or get depressed.



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Jennifer

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:29 am


I agree with what a lot of folks are saying – everyone works hard, everyone gets burned out including pastors.
The difference is that pastors dont have a worship service to look forward to as a refuge/recharge if the church is the source of the burn out.
A few years ago I was on a large church staff and going through a major spiritual meltdown – I couldn’t tell anyone at the church because I would lose my job (which I needed) and I didn’t have Sunday mornings to look forward to as a time of renewal.
But I do agree that a lot of pastors who talk about the extra burn out for their profession are just being whiney.



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Diane

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:41 am


Julie,
People do get fired outside of ministry if they look at porn (depending on company policy) or look depressed. I think the idea is not to begrudge pastors their rest but at the same to realize it’s not an isolated issue and can’t be solved as an isolated issue. As a Christian though, I do think pastors, lay or paid, that is all of us, should be walking aside the weary and overworked and working to alleviate those conditions, which is done, I think, by creating an ethic for everyone that values sabbath and rest and doesn’t worship at the shrine of endless work. Too often, I see pastors try to solve this problem for their profession, which is good, I applaud this, but my suggestion is to push it outward, a. because pastors won’t get beyond overwork if the culture doesn’t change, b. that’s the Christian thing to do. I’m writing this thinking, I’m sure we agree on this! I am thinking quite a lot about this in terms of my life and my job.



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Bob Smallman

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:48 am


Scot asks: “I’m wondering if you take retreats or think retreats are a great idea. Any thoughts?”
I think they’re probably a terrific idea — I just don’t happen to be a great retreat person myself! I’ve always had at least one other pastor friend — not so much a mentor as a friend — with whom I can share. I am also blessed with a strong leadership team that truly does share the burdens of ministry. Ironically, one of the great renewal resources for me has been an opportunity to go to Sudan for the past six years and help lead a week-long seminar there for pastors and church leaders. In one sense it has added enormously to my workload, but I find myself refreshed (and worn out!) by spending “quality time” with my brothers and sisters over there who live in such a challenging situation. That experience has only strengthened my belief that burnout is not caused simply by long hours or a demanding workload.
Also, if I could respond to Jennifer’s comment (“The difference is that pastors don’t have a worship service to look forward to as a refuge/recharge if the church is the source of the burn out”): I know my experience isn’t true for all my colleagues, but for me the worship service — even though I am leading a lot of it, and that takes a lot of energy — has become a very renewing/refreshing time for me. I “work hard” along with my people (“liturgy”) at worshiping and not just leading worship. Not everyone is able to do that, and I understand that; but I can’t wait for Sunday — even though I’m more or less “wiped out” after church!



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Ted Gossard

posted August 13, 2007 at 12:09 pm


Diane (#21), thats’ the big question. And answers probably are dependent on context, cultural, etc.
But I so much agree that pastors saying “no” to certain things is a good example. We need more of that and less of the pastor having his hands on everything, or even his ear or presence there.



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Jennifer

posted August 13, 2007 at 12:13 pm


Bob,
Yes, I hear you…I know that many pastors are able to worship during church on Sunday, even if they are leading.
What I was trying to say is that when a pastor is burned out because of the church, it would be hard to worship God along with the church. If a pastor’s relationship to the church is strained, it just makes sense that worship will be strained for her too. Her relationships with people in the church are not totally separate from her relationship with God/worship.



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Gordon Hackman

posted August 13, 2007 at 12:16 pm


“It doesn’t sounds like from this study that pastors are having any different struggles as any of the rest of the American worker/family person would have. That doesn’t make it right, but that’s reality.”
J-Marie,
Though you are almost certainly right about this, I think the point for me is that the church shouldn’t be like every other place in our culture. We are supposed to be living based on a different set of values than the world and modeling a different “reality” than that of the surrounding culture. If the very leadership structure of the church iself reflects a capitualtion to the worst aspects of our culture, then we are starting out on the wrong foot right from square one.



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Bob Smallman

posted August 13, 2007 at 12:24 pm


I agree completely with Jennifer’s #35. In addition, the pastoral ministry involves all sorts of sometimes conflicting relationships and accountabilities: the person I’m counseling or leading in worship or working with in leadership is not only my brother/sister or church member but also my “boss.” For this and many other reasons it’s imperative for pastors to have lives/friendships/relationships outside their immediate congregations. Though (contrary to what I was taught in seminary back in the ’60s) my best friends are still in the congregation.



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Adam

posted August 13, 2007 at 12:50 pm


I’d be interested to see a similar study done with youth ministers.
AE



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BeckyR

posted August 13, 2007 at 1:15 pm


Is this something put on a pastor and so they try to do all of it, or is it something about the kind of person who goes into being a pastor and so agrees to do all that is asked of him/her. I see missing the aspect of choice, and so I say “agrees.” An adult is not a victim, these are not things done to them, they have choice. An adult is responsible for the choices they/we make. Maybe sometimes the learning curve is a big learning curve. Still, there’s the ability to say “no,” there’s the ability to take care of our needs. Whether one recognizes it or not is another thing. Is this indicative of a person who finds it hard to say “no.” Is this indicative of a person who finds it hard to build boundaries for themselves and hold to them. Is this indicative of a person who is poor in taking care of self needs. My point being, if in any other job, not pastor, it could be these same characteristics would go with them.



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Jennifer

posted August 13, 2007 at 1:35 pm


Adam #38,
I think that would be interesting too.
My initial hunch is that because most youth pastors are young themselves, they are not as skilled at self-reflection. Instead of interpreting the situation as burnout, they might be more likely to interpret it as problems with the senior pastor/church members/ parents. They might externalize the problems more than internalize them.



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BeckyR

posted August 13, 2007 at 1:58 pm


Hey Peggy, #25, been doing that in our house church, now on 30 yrs. But no paid staff. What a wonderful thing to know we all are responsible for what is in the church each week, for the health of each other, the health of the church, and going along with the changes in direction the Holy Spirit blows us. It would be hard for me to go somewhere where there were “congregants,” as “congregants” shows a split between some others in some other positions, and then the rest of those in the church. It would be hard to implement what you describe and I describe, in large churches, but then maybe small churches are meant to be so there can be a “priesthood of believers” as someone put it. Or, in large churches, maybe the priesthood of believers can happen in small groups. But I have this to say about small groups – there must be a rule, or at least very seriously said, that there is commitment to the small group, and no group hopping. If you’re going to be in a small group, be ready to stay in the small group, even when it’s uncomfortable or difficult. I think that is a significant factor to experience being a group that can be together to shape what the group is, utilizing what God has given them that shapes their part of what the whole of the group will be. Maybe small groups should be the heart of the church in large churches.



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Mark

posted August 13, 2007 at 2:09 pm


“*44 percent of Americans who declare themselves to be Christians believe that Jesus sinned during His time on earth”
Jesus says “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” and “if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool’, you will be liable to the hell of fire.” If we accept this view, I wonder what it means to say someone never sinned. Never angry? Never experienced even the beginnings of lust? Can you be like that and still share the human experience enough to be called fully human?



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Bob Smallman

posted August 13, 2007 at 2:16 pm


Mark asked concerning Jesus: “Never angry? Never experienced even the beginnings of lust? Can you be like that and still share the human experience enough to be called fully human?”
I guess I would ask, “Were Adam and Eve ‘fully human’ before they sinned?” Does sin humanize or DE-humanize us?



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Scott M

posted August 13, 2007 at 2:24 pm


Mark, I’m not sure what you question is, but you seem to be operating from a false premise. There is an immediate emotional response to a situation and then there is what we do with that emotion. Anger as an emotion is a response to something we perceive as wrong or harmful. By the same token, sexual desire in response to stimuli is normal. Nothing in Jesus’ teachings (and a couple of phrases in isolation won’t help much) implies that we won’t feel or will become automatons. I think it’s clear from Hebrews and elsewhere that Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions as well as temptations. And we can thus assume he felt the emotions of anger and sexual desire. (I will note that it he probably correctly perceived the situation and the other person, so it’s likely he did not experience anger through misunderstanding the action of the other.) So far, so good. But that instant emotional response is not a sin. It’s what you do in the instant, moments, and days that follow which determine sin. Do you hold onto you anger? Do you allow an ephemeral feeling of sexual excitement turn into the desire to possess that which stirs it (a more accurate description of “lust”). You’ve felt the emotion, now what do you do with it? That act of the will — and it is certainly willful if often engrained and unconscious — determines sin.



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Peggy

posted August 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Diane…you know that I am there with you, yet again, about the need to realize that the problem is with the frantic pace of modern/postmodern life. We need to stop and make priorities on what we are to do and make sure that those priorities are consistent with our vision of the mission of God.
BeckyR…we’ve identified that there are many “people pleasers” among pastors, and many others who have been taught to think only of others–and they do not know how to take care of themselves without huge guilt. Sometimes there is an unspoken “culture” or “social contract” that it is hard to see clearly…you just have to “feel” it. These all lead to some of the terrible communication problems that frequently plague churches (and elsewhere, of course).
I was just reflecting the other day that my parents, now in their early 80s, have many “friends” but no true friends. It was seen, in that generation (and all those before??), as too intimate. The whole pastor as ceo at work at the same time as the whole congregation as boss is pretty tricky to navigate. The best “friends” my folks had at church were in the liminal days of church planting–when Dad had a day job to support the family and everyone was working together at the church doing everything. Those friends are still friends today…they just are not near by.



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Peggy

posted August 13, 2007 at 2:58 pm


BeckyR #41,
We must have been typing at the same time…. 8)
Certainly it was my goal to have small groups be at the heart of our large church…but to work it has to be both a dynamic grassroots movement and consistently and utterly supported from the top down. Easier said than done….
I think this goes back to the whole “transparency” issue that came along with the second half of the 20th century. My parents and grandparents on both sides were very private, hard working, sacrificial, humble people. Life was hard but relatively simple. If folk needed helping, neighbors helped. How many neighbors are that neighborly anymore? We have some in our neighborhood who are still neighborly, but it is still difficult.
I think beneath all of this is a conflicting paradigm issue that has yet to really be addressed….



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Mark

posted August 13, 2007 at 3:55 pm


Lots of good stuff has been said that covers a huge range of dynamics. I’ve spent the afternoon mulling over what has been said and if I can add anything. I can add a little from my experience.
I have had a wide variety of jobs. Being a pastor is at times one of the most emotionally draining calling. Being a chaplain in a hospital on an ICU was the most draining experience. I suspect that counseling is equally if not more draining. I’m sure there are many others as well. This is not to compare but to say that for me this has been the more draining at times than retail, food service, and teaching in public schools.
Many reasons have been given by many different responders. For me, the most common hurdle has been dealing with unrealistic expectations. If you have a hundred people, then often you have a thousand different expectations (ok a little exagerration). Even if I “self-differentiate” (or maintain healthy “boundaries”) and clarify what I am able and not able to do and what I am willing and not willing to do (or be), church people can make my life (and family’s life) pretty miserable sometimes intentionally sometimes unintentionally to pressure me (I think Friedman talked about the anxiety level increasing in order to keep the system[s] in place)to fulfill these expecations. This of course brings up another issue of emotional maturity and the effects it has on spiritual maturity.
Then again maybe the whole point really is that American Christian church in attempting to transform culture ends of unwittingly conforms to it.
On a different note, an issue with which I have am constantly wrestling is what qualifies as being “on the clock.” I have several considerations to help but these are sometimes very gray and nebulous. After all, a pastor doesn’t exactly clock in and out. For example, does digging a 150′ drainage ditch for my neighbor alongside two guys who are being paid (I volunteered to help her) count as being on the clock?
In Christ,
Mark



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Bob Smallman

posted August 13, 2007 at 4:16 pm


Mark said: “After all, a pastor doesn’t exactly clock in and out.” That is true, but as I discovered in my factory job, neither do a lot of church members. It was not unusual for a supervisor to call me during dinner or after midnight with some crisis. In fact, after I left and moved away, I continued to get calls for help and finally had to tell them they’d have to figure it out for themselves now!
On a related issue, when I first came here I used to give my Board a monthly tally of my pastoral work — number of visits, counseling sessions, lessons taught, etc. But I stopped when I found myself “fudging” some of the numbers to make it look like I was working harder than I was. (For example, to use Mark’s example of helping his neighbor dig a ditch, should I slot that under “evangelism” or “pastoral call?!”)
I do think many of us pastors struggle a lot with being people-pleasers and then burnout because we can never do quite enough to keep everybody happy. I believe I’m (nearly!) at the point in my life where I don’t worry about that too much anymore. I know I’m working hard enough to more than “give them their money’s worth,” and over the years I’ve built up enough personal “capital” that most people accept my weaknesses as the price of having my strengths! (I’m sure there’s a far more “spiritual” way to express all this!!)



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john page

posted August 13, 2007 at 4:21 pm


Nice thread Scot! Maybe have a part two of this discussion….?



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Dan Brennan

posted August 13, 2007 at 4:59 pm


#37,
I love it Bob, that your best friends are in your congregation. You are one blessed individual!



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Josh

posted August 13, 2007 at 5:13 pm


What a coincidence. I was reading 2 Cor. this morning and Paul was “boasting” about his sufferings in ministering to the saints.
As a past and future pastor (in school now), I would say that suffering is part of the ministry and the Christian life. One of my teachers (you know him Scot) said that as he went over the themes of each NT book for his survey class, he found that a common theme was suffering.
As far as “burn out,” who in life does not experience it? It happens in every occupation, maybe not at a the same rate as others. You know, I get burnt out on life in general. It makes me long for our Lord to return and redeem all creation fully.
The 40+ hour work week? What the heck is considered work in pastoral ministry? Who keeps up with the hours? Do you clock in and out? This issue comes up in the free church traditions where the pastor tries out like a cheerleader to be pastor and then is given job assignments because he is the “leader.” I’m a United Methodist and I get sick of some of the mainline junk but I am glad that they protect us pastors.
The time with one’s family is a choice. If I can’t lead a healthy spiritual and physical life and be what God wants me to be to my family, then I will go somewhere else. How can I help people if the relationships that are most inportant in life are screwed up?



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Heidi Renee

posted August 13, 2007 at 5:24 pm


*70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend
That is unacceptable. It makes me want to weep.



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Jennifer

posted August 13, 2007 at 5:58 pm


Heidi,
I wonder if that is about “normal” for adults.
It seems like lots of adults avoid friendship (real friendship, not acquaintances) either because they ‘re too busy, or because they are afraid of being in an intimate relationship with anyone besides a spouse (even if it’s a nonsexual relationship). When people do have deep and intimate friendships they sometimes have to face charges of being codependent or enmeshed (or worse accusations if the friends are of the opposite gender).
But, I agree with you, its totally unacceptable.



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Peggy

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:20 pm


Heidi and Jennifer,
It seems to me that many family men (with young children) just don’t have time for friendships. This goes back to the whole issue of folks generally being too busy. I think the fact that we no longer live and shop and play and worship near our homes is a big deal. No opportunity to talk over the fence–whatever.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:31 pm


Peggy,
We had a few month conversation about friendship when I blogged on Friday is for Friends through Joseph Epstein’s book on friendship. There were not always lots of comments, but there was some very serious stuff up on those days.



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Dan Brennan

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:38 pm


Peggy,
#54,
I think there are different social expectations when it comes to men’s friendships and women’s friendships in the Western culture and church. I also think that part of pastor’s burnout is the fact that they don’t have close friendships–it’s more complex than just that, but “burnout” has to do with isolation to some extent. I think the absence of the close friendships is particularly related (but not solely to the “lower self-esteem.”



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Jennifer

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:46 pm


Peggy,
Hmmmm….I’m just not sure it is ONLY the busy-ness that keeps people from friendship. Opportunities for contact are now easier to find than ever (cell phone, email, blog, etc etc etc).
The intersection of the statistics about pastor’s friendlessness and the number of pastors that are vulnerable to internet porn would be interesting to consider. I would suggest that intimate friendships may provide a protective factor against destructive things like that.



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Jennifer

posted August 13, 2007 at 7:53 pm


Scot,
Those were some great conversations on Epstein’s book. I still call several of those to mind from time to time :-)



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Geoff Smith

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:26 pm


I agree with Peterson’s idea that pastors, like all humans, need spiritual directors. But it doesn’t change the fact that as a culture we(Americans and American Pastors) are typically whiney. I often have desired to whine about many things that are entirely irrational to whine about, but never the things Paul whined about, the wellbeing of my immediate and not so immediate social context, in other words people’s relation to God. I haven’t felt labor pains for people that they believe the gospel, at least not often. But I have whined about being tired, having a sprained ankle, not having time to take care of the yard and my truck, and so on.
Diane,
I am 20 something, so I may only be able to do stuff like that because I imagine I’m invincible. I have found that numerous nights of little to no sleep in a row eventually take a toll on my body and my brain. But then I just sleep for about 7 or 8 hours and I’m fine.
Rick,
I suppose I define sucess as accomplishing what you set out to do. So if a pastor exerts that much effort into seeing Christ formed in the hearts of his/her people then the effort is worth the burnout.
Another idea may be the model set forth in Love Your God With All Your Mind by Moreland. He proposes the plurality of elders model and have a manner of switching betwixt preachers. This divides counseling, preaching, administrative, and study time up between equally competent folks. It could even give time for second jobs as teachers, university professors, construction workers or extra graduate work and even family time. If I were a pastor I’d be willing to split my pay with other workers of similar vision.



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Jim Martin

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:52 pm


Scot,
I think all of this is very real.
Two observations. On the one hand, ministry is difficult work. Stress, conflict, and suffering are often very much a part of this work. While many other people work in high stress roles, a minister very often feels as if he has no church. This person may feel as if there is no place to retreat and to find comfort or solace.
The toughest years that I ever experienced in ministry were sixteen or seventeen years ago when we lived in another city and with another church. I did not handle the stress of this conflicted church very well. Burnout and some depression were the result. I learned much from that experience.
1. I have treasured friendships outside the church. So very helpful.
2. On at least two occasions, I have taken advantage of the opportunities to talk with counselors.
3. I have benefit GREATLY by what I learned studying under Dr. Edwin Friedman before his death (Author of Generation to Generation– a systems approach to leadership.
4. I am intentional about taking care of myself. Exercise as well as nurturing my mind and soul.
5. Every July, I am away from our church. Two weeks of this is for vacation. Two weeks is for study–anticipating the next 12 months of preaching/teaching. I have been doing this for fourteen years. This began when I came to this church because I greatly feared that I would be out of full-time ministry all together if I did not have the opportunity to regularly get away.



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Mariam

posted August 13, 2007 at 8:53 pm


While it is probably true that burnout for pasters is partly as a result of the frenetic pace of our society, I think that many people in the “helping” professions feel these same pressures. I have seen exactly the same sort of quoted statistics for teachers, social workers, nurses, doctors. Business people put in long hours as well but those hours are to benefit their company and ultimately themselves financially. There isn’t the same “guilt” associated with working less. When people in the helping professions put in long hours it is for the benefit of others. There is a notion held by both the pastor/teacher/nurse etc and their clients that they should be willing to put in long hours because they are practising a “calling” and those who are called should be unselfish and always available. Often those who are called to these professions believe this themselves and have a hard time setting personal boundaries. In short, they feel guilty saying no.



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Georges Boujakly

posted August 13, 2007 at 10:37 pm


I read this a while back when on the verge of burnout in Clergy Self-Care (Alban Institute publication I believe) that made sense to me back then and I think it still does. The issue with ministry is how one sees his/her calling. If one believes she is called to serve, then every time a serving opportunity comes along she is compelled by the calling to serve (and of serving there is no end). If one does not serve guilt ensues. A feeling of failure develops. However, if one sees calling as first and foremost a calling to become whole (one who is at shalom with God and self) and to model this state of being, and teaches how to be so, I wonder if the pressure to perform and expectation to be superhuman would not lessen.



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kent

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:23 pm


First off I echo Jim Martin’s (#60) about Edwin Friedman’s work and would highly recommend his book recently published Failure of Nerve. It was published posthumously, and is even better than Generation to Generation.
Secondly, having done this for over 26 yuears I would say that yes ministry can be stressful. But so can be being the regional VP for sales or trying to make partner in law firm. There good churches and crappy churches, and there are good firms and crappy companies. I also know that the benefits of ministry are singificant. We do something that matters, selling propane doesn’t come close. Neither does selling advertising.
Third, yes we can get fired, we can be dismissed for no valid reason. Yes we can be lonely and isolated. Or we can have friends and build relationships. It is our choice. Yes we can work unreasonable hours but so do the majority of the people we serve. And yes we do not make the same money, but didn’t we know that going in? If the churches we serve refuse allow to set boundaries then we serve some sick congregations. Part of the problem is that we rarely take stands for ourselves.
Finally, I have nothing to complain about I am almost through a 3 month sabbatical, and it has been nice.
Ooops. Sorry. My bad.



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Peggy

posted August 13, 2007 at 11:29 pm


Wow…so many thoughts swirling around!
Scot, I will have to go back and look at your Friday friendship series. Thanks for the tip. This conversation is very much along the lines of my chapter in the Wikiklesia book…about how we actually learned stuff and how we’re sharing the stuff we learned with others.
Everyone…I still think that we have an underlying paradigm issue that I’m trying to pinpoint. What I am reminded of, however, is the conversation we had a while ago about hospitality and my comment about how difficult it was for me in my situation of extreme exhaustion/injury/young children etc. while I was on staff at the church. I mentioned that I had no family nearby and few consistent friendships–especially since we were new to the area. No one really wanted to understand our need and walk with us until it was resolved. Hmmm….BeckyR knows what I’m talking about ;)
I’m hearing some talk about whining, as well, and it also takes me back to the same hospitality thread and my conversation with Diane about the ungraciousness of those around us when we needed help with our children–but instead we got slammed for not having everything together and interrupting the service and ruining their worship experience….and that they remembered how terrible life was when their kids were that age–but they survived and so would I….
Somewhere, somehow, I keep feeling that we are all telling each other to “snap out of it” and “life isn’t fair” and “everyone else has the same problems”–but I don’t hear all that much grace and mercy for EVERYONE’s pain and sorrow and loneliness in the midst of their life.
When I (or anyone, for that matter) desperately need help or understanding or encouragement, it may be truthful but it isn’t necessarily loving to tell me that I should have better boundaries or that I should have better friendships or that I should have found a dynamic mentor or that I should have read this or that book or attended whatever seminar…the fact is that people answer the call of God to feed his sheep who aren’t as fully trained and expertly coached as we would like.
Don’t get me wrong….I am not saying that everyone here is doing that (or that anyone is, particularly). But I do want to remind everyone of the high percentage of “lurkers” who come here to listen and be encouraged. And I would grieve terribly for some precious servant to leave this conversation downcast rather than lifted up. Like we talked about over on the finding/losing faith thread.
This is a very complicated issue…very complicated. There are more tangled threads here than most have the patience to untangle! So too often, out come the scissors and SNIP…no more tangles–but a lit of ragged edges!
Perhaps some of the paradigm problem has come to me as I’ve been rambling on here. I think that the paradigm that must be shifted is one where the fear of man is no longer greater than the fear of God. This is an issue of faith. We are too often afraid to speak the truth in love lest some “man” take away our “job”–back to the congregation as boss…or the ceo pastor as boss…or the board of elders or trustees as boss…and while we may no longer stone the prophets, we sure do fire them or offer them the chance to resign….and this is the pathetic heart of our current suffering servant model that we think we are called to take up. We are suffering at the hands of our brothers and sisters…and this is just not right.
But somewhere we also need to be educating people that WE are NOT to cause suffering to our brothers and sisters. Let’s have one more knowing laugh over “friendly fire” in the church, as we shoot our wounded and send them away rather than bind them up and be instruments of healing and reconciliation. People are precious…they are not to be used up and discarded in this manner.
Everyone has responsibility for this…the body of Christ is one body–and when one part suffers, the rest is supposed to feel the pain and help the healing.
whew…sorry…off my soapbox. ;) Your graciousness toward me in listening is appreciated.



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Diane

posted August 14, 2007 at 12:20 pm


Peggy,
I agree with you and I may have been the first to bring up whining, though my point was that legitimate issues such as burnout can be perceived as whining until we reach out and care for or acknowledge other people’s hurts. I too know what it’s like to desperately need help with young children and have the response, from church groups, be “not my problem.” The point truly is not to “get over it” but that we’re all in it together. Of course, the old cliche of heaven being the place where we feed each other with long spoons comes to mind … My point is not that pastor’s problems are illegit, but that if the focus is on pastors alone, the battle is lost. I recognize, eg, that I can have a meltdown at work and it’s OK, I’m surrounded by kind people who don’t expect me to be a saint, but if I were pastor, I might not feel able to express temper, stress, angst, neurosis, so openly … but then I have my own set of restraints … I do think the pressure on pastors can be intense, but to address this we need to address the culture that all live in.



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pam w

posted August 14, 2007 at 1:53 pm


I have not been able to read all of the comments, but I agree with many of you in the recent ones (57-64). Pastors and church leaders – yes, even emerging ones – are still setting up the hierarchical, ‘expert model’ of organizational systems in their structures and that creates burnout.
I coach pastors as well as corporate executives, and there is not more stress on the former than the latter! Leadership is stressful. Period. It is only stress that causes growth however (think of training a muscle – stress, rest, stretch, nourish, stress, rest, stretch, nourish…). Most of us are in leadership because we are wired to seek growth. How we set ourselves up as leaders determines growth or burnout. Parts of the corporate world is far ahead of the church in learning the leaders’ role is to get OTHERS to completely show up with all of their gifts in service of the community as a whole.
I have moved to the position that there should not be one senior pastor. It is not a healthy ecclesiastical structure for the ‘head’ or the ‘body’. I don’t think that metaphor ever meant one ‘human head’ of the church, and 2000+ members of the body. From a systems thinking perspective, that would be a very unhealthy human with a very small head, and an ‘obese’ body. Especially with the ‘modern’, mechanistic, industrial age way we define ‘head’ or leadership in the church today. The leaders set/maintain the systems that create their burnout. Well, to be fair, we have inherited them, and we don’t know anything else – yet. But they provide a safe, comfortalbe structure that we are fearful of relinquishing. And it takes a great deal of work and courage….
Once again, great thread!



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Scot McKnight

posted August 14, 2007 at 2:24 pm


pam w,
You’ve set me up to say this: In Paul’s use of the body of Christ, Christ is the head. Maybe burnout can be alleviated when the pastor lets that happen or maybe it is trying to be the head that leads in part to burnout.
Still, I don’t want to blame pastors here. It’s a demanding, demanding, and demanding vocation that we need, I admire, and that we need to honor.



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Anonymous

posted August 14, 2007 at 2:43 pm


The Boar’s Head Tavern »

[...] Sheesh, did you see the statistics Scot McKnight posted? I know, they are from HB London (isn’t he from FOTF?), but still… [...]



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pam w

posted August 14, 2007 at 5:40 pm


Scot – I completely agree with you on both counts. and thanks for bringing up the ‘blame’ issue. I don’t want to come across blaming anyone.
Pastors aren’t educated in systems or organizational development. They are ‘trained’ to step into the systems already set. The models have been inherited from multiple generations. As someone who has been on staff at 5 churches, and spent 20 studying and working with leaders in organizational systems, I recognize the responsibility of leaders to create, support, endure or change the systems in which we are abused (or that abuse others). I don’t mean to be harsh. It is my job as a consultant to get leaders to realize we are always reinforcing behavior. There is no ‘they’ out there that is going to change the systems for us. This is ESPECIALLY true in the church! We don’t have parishionerws who want to abuse those in ministry. We have people who are hurting and reaching out to ‘professional friends’ because they don’t have any more time to develop friends in their stressful lives than the pastor does.
We have broken systems. It’s not about blame, but it is about responsibility to lead change. Am I communicating that distinction? I have been in the corporate world teaching these things since seminary, so am learning different language stepping back into ‘the church’.
Those trained theologically must understand the impact they have on how others view the ecclesiastical structure.
I alway tell my clients that some people who do their graduate work in psychology (mine was psychology and theology), spend their time comforting the afflicted, and some of us spend our time afflicting the comfortable….
Pam



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dan wilt

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:21 pm


The deepest, and possibly root issue evident in these statistics may be found here:
*70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend
Real friendship, unrelenting goodness to one another expressed in accountability, may move many of these other struggles off the map of the pastor’s life.
I as well felt a great love/disgust relationship with the rich writings of Richard Baxter.
Loneliness results from feeling misunderstood often – thus we isolate ourselves, and take the role of the mini-messiah, tending to needs and wants and never disclosing.
And yet, what does this say for the kind of friendship that church attendees offer to pastors? A natural result of the selfishness’s perpetuated in many evangelical brands of faith may be the inability of most congregants to embrace the utter humanity of the great “orator” pastor.
The spiritual authority that comes with effective pastoral leadership is inevitable; the choice to increasingly disclose to close friends as levels of influence increase is an intentional choice of the pastor.
*70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend
What if a community of friends, sharing vibrant mission, walked into th world to bring healing? For many of us, that may be our reality. For most of us, it may not be.



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Peggy

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:40 pm


Thanks for your comments Pam…I join you as one who at times comforts the afflicted and at other times afflict the comfortable. 8)
Your comments are particularly timely for me because it looks like next week (after two years of patient prayer and cultivation) I will have the opportunity to lead rather than blame (I certainly hope I can help them understand the distinction) my church’s leaders toward seeing exactly what has been happening for years right under their noses.
No one is trying to be hurtful, but as it has been said so well: “hurting people hurt people.” And right along with that is this one: “doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.”
That we are constantly reinforcing behavior (consciously and unconsciously) is so important to realize. What we have to come to grips with is the variety of behavior that is in play and the perception that the particular church’s culture holds about that behavior. I am always amazed at the variety of unrighteous behavior that many folks in church leadership reinforce as acceptable–like gossip, for instance, or bearing false witness. I’ll just leave it at that… ;)
Anyone who feels inspired to pray for me, I will be grateful for the support–that I would hear clearly and discern the move of the Spirit clearly and speak clearly and communicate effectively and lead in such a way as they would be willing to consider following–not me, but the Holy Spirit.



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Diane

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:44 pm


Pam,
I appreciate your comments. I too hope I don’t come across as bashing pastors, since they are some of my favorite people.



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pam w

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:44 pm


I will also add that I understand ‘pastor burnout’ from an historical perspective. My grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather were pastors. My grandfather was born in 1880 and pastored until his death in a car accident (well, stopping to help a woman with a flat) on the way to a golf game at 86. He pastored through two world wars and the great depression with 8 children. My aunts and uncles were always very bitter about the church because they never saw their father. When I decided to leave and engineering job to attend seminary, my uncle pulled me aside and said ‘I hope you know what you are doing, that is a very tough life’.
The generational impact on my family was the burnout of the rest of the family. My grandfather, the pastor had all the energy in the world for the demands of the church.



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Diane

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:47 pm


I will pray for your discernment Peggy.



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Peggy

posted August 14, 2007 at 7:05 pm


Dan (#71),
Yes, your comment is striking…but I think the root goes one level deeper: 70% don’t have a close friend and I bet they have never experienced unconditional love, either–because they probably have never been truly and fully listened to, accepted for who and where they are in their journey toward Christlikeness and affirmed as a precious Eikon.
Then there is the mobile society we live in…I went to eight different secondary schools–three different high schools in three different states. How does a person establish strong friendships when moving around that much?
How does this weave into the 2-5 year cycle of most ministries? Yikes!
And Diane (#65),
Yes, we need to not separate out groups–we all need to own all sides of this issue and do more to listen well and speak the truth in love in our church culture so that we are actively reinforcing Christlike behavior.
My time here at Jesus Creed has been remarkable. I am becoming a better listener. I am asking better questions. And I am benefitting from being listened to so that I can better understand what I actually think.
I can never say it enough, Scot: thank you for your tremendous hospitality in inviting the world to gather here and ponder the challenge of living like Christ.
Blessings.



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Peggy

posted August 14, 2007 at 7:11 pm


Thank you for your prayers, Diane.



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Dan Brennan

posted August 14, 2007 at 7:15 pm


Pam W,
Although I am sure I would not subscribe wholeheartedly to “systems and organizational development” (I have a postmodern, er, “Trinitarian” aversion to the language of “systems”–I like “dance” or perichoresis–better) I agree with your overall observations I nevertheless agree with you and Scot about not blaming pastors and brokenness. Pastors. it seems, need the “fountain of life” coming from the “Head” (Scot’s observation) and “incarnational” intimacy–tangible, concrete friendships, in the congregation and beyond.



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pam w

posted August 14, 2007 at 7:25 pm


Peggy – Prayers your direction for discernment, ability to create a deep level of dialogue and the ability to build collective recognition. I think that is where we are the most handicapped in our individualistic society: the ability to see and recognize what is going on collectively, how it impacts people, and how the Spirit is moving in us as a community/body to lead us in a new direction. THAT is a huge leadership need today whether it comes from paid pastors or lay…kudos to your willingness to start dialogue.
Shalom,
Pam



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Diane

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:45 pm


I just had an encounter tonight with someone who is living an authentically Christian life, and as always, he completely stuns me and challenges me to rethink how shallowly I live. So much just fades away when I focus my whole heart and soul on Jesus or at least this is the example I see in this person’s life. So Scot, yes, I agree the headship of Christ is key, but that is not to disregard the struggles of pastors and the irony that the problems of pastoring can keep pastors from that total devotion.
I also had an encounter on the way out of work tonight. An employee I didn’t know stopped me, and on the weight of what he perceived as my Christianity, asked me to pray for him and his wife, who are having a hard time in their relationship. I was so moved and humbled that he would ask me to do this. And I thought, wow, pastors probably get asked this all the time and that is such a gift if you can recatch it fresh. Not that it makes up for all the bad stuff but we get so many gifts.



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David Reeves

posted August 15, 2007 at 6:51 am


massive pity party on the part of professional christians. I meet with a group of very successful and hard working businessmen, we average 50 plus hours a week at our workplace, building a business, helping workers and doing community service, only to go to church on Sunday and be told we need to serve God within the four walls of the church. Many of these men, on top of running a business, loving their wives and raising kids, also volunteer as Elders, teachers etc, using up much of their precious spare time within the church. When pastors start volunteering their days off to work in our businesses, then we in the business world may start listening to their stories. I say stop the whining. Stop the whining pastors and do your job. Personally it seems to be a societal moaning about work and the stresses of everyday life. What a crock. So much of the stress of the pastorate or any job is usually brought on by the worker themself.
by the way I have been in the pastorate and have chose instead to be backin the business world, slugging it out on a daily basis with the ethics and back biting of the business world and bringing the light of Christ there, the pastorate was way too slow and boring of a job. Personally I think, part of seminary training should be an internship in the business world.



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Michael Bird

posted August 15, 2007 at 4:40 pm


Scot,
In Australia the life-expectency of a Baptist Pastor is four-five years before they burn out and never go back into the ministry. Scary stuff.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 15, 2007 at 4:51 pm


Michael,
Sad to hear this. LOL: Must be the dingos.



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Anonymous

posted August 17, 2007 at 11:38 am


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