The Care and Tending of Clergy

Seedling in the palm of a handWhen I was pastoring a church full time I heard many of my pastor friends talking about burnout and dissatisfaction with their vocation. As a seminary professor I hear students excited about entering into ministry but hear from them several months or years into their calls who say “you did not tell me about all this stuff I have to deal with.” (I know I did tell them but they were so idealistic they only heard the good stuff.) I teach students that pastoral ministry is the most blessed and holy thing they will ever do – but it is the most frustrating and draining thing that they will ever participate in as well. I often hear some stories of vocational celebration and blessing – but all too often the stories I hear are heartbreaking.

Taking on the mantle of spiritual leader, pastor, chaplain, or minister is a major life decision. It means taking the risk to respond to the call of God on your life.  It will affect your family and your personal relationship (as seen in the data below).  It will affect your spirituality and your health.  It will bring you amazing fulfillment and take you to the depths of despair.  It will cost you friendships and potential relationships.  It will test your limits and limit your vision, especially on bad days.  These are realities – unfortunately – of this vocation. 

But it will also bring you closer to God and to the people of God.  It will bring you into moments of sincere need at the bedside of a dying person and into moments of beautiful grace at the baptism of a new baby.  It will take you to the altar to celebrate the Eucharist and to the pulpit to preach the Gospel of grace and love.  It will allow you to bless relationships at their beginnings and to celebrate the lives of those who have died.  It will offer moments of amazing connection and possibility.

I pray for all of those who answer the call to pastoral ministry.  I was asked to lay hands on a friend at her ordination last night and felt so blessed to be asked to do so.  I said yes because I believe in persons answering that call to serve God.  But I also know the toll it can take on the person who answers and all who love them.

The way to answer and not become a statistic like those below is to pray daily, take a day off weekly and weeks off each year, rest your body, mind your relationships, spend time with God, nurture your creative side, pray, take care of your body and soul, play with your kids and other children in your life, go to the movies, pray, go on dates with your spouse or significant other, read a good mystery, pray, spend time with a friend, and stay connected to God. 

Don’t become a statistic.  Take advantage of your relationships with other clergy to watch out for each other.  Find a place to talk with someone who can help you.  Do not Lone Ranger your ministry.  Do not become a statistic of pastoral ministry – be enriched by it.

And to all laity out there – take care of your clergy leaders.  Make sure they take their days off – you get your weekends, clergy usually do not.  Ask them about how they are doing and pray for them daily.  Love your pastors but hold them accountable for their self-care.

The care and tending of clergy takes a village – treat yourself and the clergy in your life with care.  God chose, called, equipped, commissioned and sent them – God deserves the best from us in helping them answer their call.

Stunning Clergy Statistics:

  • 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
  • 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
  • 95% of pastors do not regularly pray with their spouses.
  • 33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 75% report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged as role of pastors.
  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
  • 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 33% confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
  • 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
  • 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
  • 94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor’s ministry.
  • 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
  • 80% spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose a different profession.
  • 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than them.
  • The profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman.”
  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
  • Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
  • Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
  • Many denominations report an “empty pulpit crisis.” They cannot find ministers willing to fill positions.

(Pastoral Statistics provided by the Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.  Thanks to http://barefootpreachr.org/2011/10/12/pastor-are-you-simply-a-statistic/ for this information)