I’m participating in a free virtual conference for church leaders entitled: Grace for the Broken: Preventing Ministry Burnout. Conference sessions are free when shown live. For those who want an all access pass for viewing later, they offer the entire conference for $47 until March 11. Here are the links:
Tag Archives: burnout
Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with three pastor couples on retreat in idyllic New Albany, PA. The retreat house, The Haft, is the kind of place that has little to no cell service and your GPS unit won’t find. While it was Spring mud season, the weather was warm and we had a good amount of time for walking in the woods.
I led the first discussion of the retreat on the topic of discouragers. There are common things that can discourage a ministry couple: chronic criticism, ministry with no boundaries, endless needs and no support leading to burnout, vision conflict, family struggles and no place to talk about them, unmet expectations/desires, poor finances, and much more.
Family struggles can be incredibly discouraging for ministry leaders. When kids act up, ministry leaders often feel they should be able to handle–and fix–these problems. the same goes for marital conflict. Sex can be a significant discourager in one of two ways. You serve others (in church or family) and then when you are emotionally and physically tired, you discover your spouse wants intimacy while you just want to be left alone. Or, you work hard all day and you want intimacy only to discover your spouse does not. The one little desire you held to throughout your day comes to naught and you find you are completely defeated or angry about not getting your one little pleasure. Actually, this can be very true about other kinds of pleasures. Wanting to watch TV without the kids, wanting to have just a bit a down time, etc.
After we discussed the many kinds of discouragers (especially un-evaluated expectations), I reminded the participants that Heb 12:3 reminds us that spiritual rest comes with mental activity, the activity of meditating on Christ. While we need sleep to deal with physical tiredness, spiritual tiredness needs activity.
As a final activity, I had each person recall and write down 2 “stones of remembrance.” These were things that happened to them that they clearly remembered God’s handiwork in their lives. It recalls the stories in the OT where Israel was asked to set up piles of stones to remind them of God’s rescue (e.g., crossing the Jordan river). When we are spiritually tired, we gain perspective by remembering what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do. This activity prepares us to better reflect on changes we might need to make, expectations that need altering, or boundaries that need re-drawing.
A couple of people sent me links to a recent news item out of Britain concerning the value of teaching counseling skills to pastors. Researchers there found that pastors who do a lot of emotion laden work with parishioners bear a heavy load (pretty obvious so it is nice to see that research doesn’t say otherwise). Those pastors with counseling skills training seem to cope better with the distress. I’ve not seen any in-depth description of the study so I can’t comment on why this might be the case. It could be that pastors with counseling training are more self-aware. It could be they are more positive on the benefits of talk therapy and so utilize it for themselves. It could be they feel more effective in their counseling work and therefore feel less helpless.
Whatever the case, I’m happy that it supports my coursework teaching counseling skills to pastors.
I am working on a talk for pastors and church leaders regarding the problem of conflict with parishioners. One of the surprises for pastors is that Kingdom work means facing attacks from those who are supposed to be on the same side. We know from work with military, NGOs, and missionaries that the most difficult aspect of personal sacrifice is not threats from outside but lack of support from supposed friends and teammates.
So, when a pastor finds him or herself in a conflicted situation and feels burned out, where might that pastor turn? There are a couple of local options for help:
1. C4ML Coaching. As a mission of Biblical Seminary, Mick Noel provides coaching regarding matters of leadership and church culture. His coaching isn’t a substitute for counseling or needed retreat but Rev. Noel is keenly aware of burn-out and church conflicts and can guide the pastor in making a plan to address leadership matters in the church. C4ML also provides opportunities for small cohorts of pastors to meet to discuss how to handle culture change in the church and wider community.
2. ServingLeaders. David Wiedis is an attorney and counselor who provides coaching, consultation, and counseling for ministry leaders. The link will connect you to his thoughts on burn-out.
3. You might consider preventing such burnout by doing some education/personal work with a new ministry called, The Identity School for Christian Ministry. Rev. Bob Miller is offering material he believes is absent from most MDiv programs but necessary for survival in the pastorate. The courses are described on the website and run for 2 days at a time.
4. Retreats. There are a number of locations that provide retreats. Use your search engine to discover these. Some are low cost, some are free if they accept your application. Some leave you alone while others provide counseling and/or coaching. While retreats are good in that they provide a break, unless there is a change in how the situation is being approached, the pastor should not expect miracles.
5. Counseling. Lastly, a good spiritual director or counselor ought to be able to guide the pastor in personal assessment, re-orienting priorities, and choosing a new response set to the difficult situation.
Part of my sabbatical is designed to understand how better to help pastors and their families avoid the crash and burn. There are many pressures (finances, conflict, loneliness, the fishbowl, etc.) on ministry families and while any one of them may not be overwhelming, together they can bring a minister to his/her knees. Worse yet, they can tempt the leader to seek comfort in ungodly ways.
But a friend of mine who cares greatly for ministry leaders was recently talking to an African pastor. This pastor has NOTHING. He ministers to those who have NOTHING, to those living under trees. They live in a country that is in the midst of a civil war. He has his wife spend months apart ministering to the poor. When my friend asked about pastoral burn-out, this pastor could not comprehend the question. It didn’t compute–and not because he didn’t understand the concept.
Why? Are we Americans soft and weak given that we live in the land of plenty? Probably. But are there other explanations? I think so. Foremost in my mind is the place of expectationsin the life of Western pastors. Expectations of success, growth, contentment (from self and church community) create pressure and when expectations are only partially met, it leads to the temptation to discouragement and looking to greener grass. Secondly, I think living in constant crisis without hope for change rarely allows for collapse–unless it is to die. It is common for the greatest emotional collapse to happen when one has the opportunity to pause and reflect. In crisis, we do not reflect. When the crisis abates, then we reflect and see that our assumptions and expectations do not fit with reality. It is that point that leads to either leaning on the Lord while changing our expectations to match his OR either trying harder or choosing another assumption that causes greater pain.
What do you think?