Keeping Clergy Healthy

That person that you see in the pulpit every Sunday (or more often), the person you call when there is a birth, a death, a sickness, a pet to bless or to have a listening ear, has most likely been educated in a few highly specialized degrees and probably works in some capacity to consider how they can be more relevant and refreshing every Sunday , thinking about sermons or reflecting on the relevance of the latest movie they have just seen. On top of that they are likely to have additional responsibilities to the governing bodies that create structure in the church, and, there is study leave to take to brush up on new theological ideas.

They are also spouses, parents, siblings, children, friends, and, have lives of their own.

Ministers have to work when everyone else is on holiday- Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter to name a few.

The statistics on clergy burn out are alarming. The causes for this are many but here are a few:

  • feeling pressured from congregants
  • feelings of unrealistic expectations
  • insufficient time with their spouse
  • work more than 50 hours a week
  • Burnout Stats

Most clergy end up leaving ministry within the first five years, if they make it that long at all.
Enough with the stats- here is what you can do to help clergy (and in turn, help the church)

  • Give feedback, the right feed back, at the right time. Letting your minister know their sermon was worse than Letitia Cropley’s anchovy cake as you head out the door on Sunday morning is not helpful.
    • Letting your minister know ANYTHING immediately after worship service is not going to be effective and that includes reminding them you have a coffee meeting planned on Tuesday at 1000am.
    • if it was a good sermon, elaborate on why it was a good sermon. “I appreciated that sermon because of _____and how you explained______” Sometimes if someone says it was a good sermon I will say, “Why was it a good sermon? Can you tell me more about that so I can repeat what I did right next time?”
    • instead- if it was not a good sermon, let them know a few days later and explain if it was an issue of content or delivery.
    • Clergy brains are often foggy after worship. During the service they have probably thought a few or all of the following: who did we say is taking up the offering? Why is there a ten second delay with the organist? Did I announce the right hymn? OH NO, I think the Scripture lesson got transcribed and they are reading Matthew 12 not Matthew 21!  Dear God, please don’t let me forget the words to the Lord’s Prayer. Why are the police at the back of the church? I think that Elder ____ is holding the bulletin too close to the candle at the Communion Table. They are also presiding AND worshipping at the same time. It is worship for them as well.
    • Respect their time. 
    • Days off should be days off. Unless it is a dire emergency, texting or ringing your minister should be able to wait for a better time. Ministers have social lives, families and their own interests that are vital to good self care.
    • While your minister may look like they are ‘just making coffee’ in the church kitchen, they may be on the way to a meeting. Most people try to be polite and not cut you short, so asking, “Is this a good time for you?” is always helpful.
    • Ministers deal with a variety of people about a variety of issues through the day. To keep the pace, they may need to mentally or emotionally shift gears. Allow them the time to shift gears before moving on to the next thing.
    • it takes approximately 10 hours to craft a good sermon. Out of a 40 hour work week, that is 1/4 of their time. The other time is usually spent in administrative work, planning ahead, pastoral care and attending church events. That does not include the unexpected such as illnesses and funerals.
    • Respect their energy levels.
    • There are a lot of types of fatigue- physical, mental and emotional to name a few. Ministers often deal with very emotionally demanding situations and can become compassion fatigued or emotionally fatigued. This can come over time with many small issues or over one issue. Funerals, especially for children, suicides and accidents are especially difficult. Ministers can often reach a level of exhaustion that cannot be articulated and can lead to depression.
    • Allow them processing times. Each person deals with difficult situations in different ways.
    • Recognise that pastors are a vault of secrets that they will take to their grave. Holding all that information is a privilege but it also takes a lot of energy to hold that within the self.
    • Clergy often cannot talk about a lot of things that relate to themselves or other people. A great deal of self awareness is required for clergy, and pastors are constantly processing and reflecting.

    • Allow them to be people.
    • Clergy have their own interests, fashion choices and social circles. While it may seem abhorrent to you for your minister to wear a leather jacket…it is just a leather jacket. In the grand scheme of the world’s problems, your minister’s fashion choices, are the least of the world’s worries. And so is their hair colour.
    • If your minister is into things that make no sense to you, it is likely a way for them to escape the same way others might knit or build model trains. I have very good clergy friends that enjoy COSplay, dressing up in medieval clothing and attending medieval fairs, or some of them also enjoy playing in rock bands. Allow them some fun! Even Jesus did that once in a while!
    • Ministers, like all humans, are going to make mistakes. The good ones will come forward and say, “I made a mistake” and try to correct it. Be gracious about it and your minister will be more inclined to learn from mistakes more effectively.
  • Allow them to change their mind.
    • Clergy think and reflect a lot. It is part of the job. Their relationship with God may change and evolve over time. Allow them to evolve in their relationship with God and don’t hold them captive to a theological reflection from ages ago.
    • Allow them to continue to discern their call. What God may have been asking of them ten years ago may not be what is being asked of them now.
  • Allow them to move on.
    • No matter how good the relationship with your pastor, sometimes they need to move on. Sometimes their call changes, other times they are no longer suited in the relationship with that church. Other times they have accomplished what they have set to do and other times they want to be closer to family.
  • Allow them to do their job.  
    • Just because they are not doing things the way that Rev. Apple did things twenty years ago does not mean what your minister is doing is disrespectful to you or the church they have inherited. Chances are your pastor has observed, listened, respected and spent a lot of time to give the congregation what it needs. And sometimes that is change.
    • If you have hired the minister to grow the youth ministry and the minister has identified one of the reasons the youth are not staying in the church is because they feel excluded, then shooting  the minister down for wanting children to be present for more things negates the very thing they have been hired for.
    • Speaking for myself, I cannot write effectively in the church office but I can write them well in a coffee shop. That is because in the office I can be interrupted (even if the calls are held and the door is shut- I often feel that I am somehow closing off people) and in a coffee shop I sometimes have a conversation with someone that has a seed of a sermon in it. If your clergy writes better sermons in the cafe, let them do it and not feel guilty for it. Most ministers are very aware of how they spend their time. I used to record the hours I spent per week and colour coded them. Once a quarter I would put that in the bulletin so people knew how I spent my time. It helped folks realise the scope of the work that was being done.
  • Respect their privacy. That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour or other things that could compromise their position of authority. It means if they are in a new relationship or ending one, have some family issues going on or other personal things, try not to ask questions, give advice or make remarks that are too probing.
  • Pray for them. Most ministers I know have their own prayer rota and some of them keep daily office, depending on their tradition. While most clergy pray for each other, it is also nice to be held in prayer by others as well.

Until next time, God bless and no stress.

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