Minding the Minister – Clergy Burnout

Easter comes in April more than 80 per cent of the time this century. This year it comes at the end of March. For me it means Lent comes quickly after Advent and the Christmas season. It seems that one is barely over and planning for the next begins. It didn’t take me too long in ministry to realize the importance of planning my vacation and study leave carefully to ensure that my breaks were well timed.

Here is my concern. I have heard too many ministers say they have neglected to take off the time to which they are entitled. They always give reasons. Some are good; but most are insufficient. It’s not the only reason for burnout but I am willing to venture that it is a major contributing factor.

Minister burnout is a major concern. Congregations that dream and pray for turnaround and renewal will be thwarted and disappointed if this happens to their ministers. Then finger pointing and blame laying aren’t far behind. The frustration of all this can lead to the kind of conflict that can damage ministries and relationships for the long term.

Instead, we need a culture of loving care for all our leadership. Congregations need to ensure that their ministers are leading balanced and healthy lives. Everybody needs to ensure that the load is not piled onto too few. Presbyteries need to take their responsibilities for pastoral care of their members more seriously. There should be accountability of ministers to their presbyteries for their time off, including ensuring proper days off.

There is more. I am not the first person to discover that ministers often have unsatisfactory spiritual lives. It is hard for many ministers to find time and energy for personal worship, prayer and Bible study when so much of their lives are spent in leading these activities for others. How ironic that spiritual leaders experience the very spiritual dryness they work so hard to help others avoid.

Let me shine light into one more corner. Our ministers experience relationship and family stress that can reach beyond what most people could understand or believe. With the emotional, spiritual and time demands, a minister can survive only when there are very intentional checks and balances. The members of his or her family can too easily be the victims of the results of someone doing their very best to do what they believe God has called them to do. They deserve all the love and care we can give them.

Let me encourage all of our clergy to find a small peer group where they can be vulnerable, transparent and held accountable for their lifestyle and choices in ministry. Let me encourage sessions to have a pastoral care committee to ensure every effort is made to support their minister. Let me encourage presbyteries to take their pastoral responsibilities seriously. Let me encourage all to ask for help when things are headed out of control. There are resources from the Centre for Clergy Care and Congregational Health at Knox College, Toronto, our denomination’s Employee Assistance Program, and the appropriate committee of your presbytery.

We at the Renewal Fellowship are committed to pray for our denomination’s ministers and congregations. We believe that prayer changes things and we encourage you to join us.

Published in The Presbyterian Record on March 1, 2013.