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Beware of burnout: ‘The entire structure of clergy life and work may be deeply unhealthy’

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Andrew Scott-cc

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 03/07/17

Must reading from Sojourners: 

The work of pastors in this season is to encourage church members to engage deeply, and to resist the culture that has reduced Lenten fasts to easy fads and crash diets. Clergy have the responsibility to cultivate a healthy understanding of repentance, and to reject destructive theologies of suffering and negation. Christians will look not only to their pastors’ sermons for these lessons, but also to how their pastors live their lives. This reality — that clergy’s whole lives are seen as witness and example — is one of the great challenges of ministry. It can often lead to the expectation that pastors are always available to those they serve, always working. And this culture of being overworked leads to alarming rates of clergy burnout, depression, and poor physical health. Though numbers vary between denominations, studies indicate that as many as 1-in-5 pastors leave ministry within the first five years. Research out of Duke University’s divinity school surveyed a group of Methodist pastors and found that many struggle significantly with feelings of emotional burnout and more than half feel a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Perhaps relatedly, the same study revealed that 20 percent of those surveyed had not taken any Sabbath time in the preceding four weeks. The tendency for ministers to have an unhealthy work/life balance is no secret. When clergy gather, they often lament the challenges of finding time for their families, for their own spiritual lives, and even to sleep. Seminarians are warned openly that a life of ministry means a life of isolation and long hours and constant scrutiny. Pastors even joke with one another about the ways they avoid revealing their clergy status to strangers in public, if only to find a moment’s respite from the seemingly endless demands of those needing spiritual guidance and a listening ear… …There is no significant acknowledgement that the entire structure of clergy life and work may be deeply unhealthy — physically, mentally, and spiritually — and might, therefore, need to be completely transformed.

Read it all. 

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