The article had the headline, Beware work that’s your ‘calling.’ The subheading was, You could be prime for burnout, risks to health.
OK, that gets my attention.
See if you think these quotes make sense:
Churches need to help staff temper their passion and “deal constructively” with challenges inherent in their work.
Lay leadership needs to be alert to their staff members having an overwhelming sense of defeat or emotional toll that their work exacts…
Church staff need encouragement and reminders of the little victories along the way.
Prospective church staff need realistic information about the challenges inherent in the job.
Actually the article, not linkable at the moment, was in my local newspaper and was completely secular. In the quotes above I have substituted ecclesiastical terms for the secular language. Instead of “Management needs to help…” I wrote “Churches need to help…” and so on for each one.
The article was a journalistic summary of research by some business professors who studied workers in animal shelters. These people were found to deeply care about their work with animals and to have a burning passion for their job. The gist of the article was that such “called” workers, and this is the term used by the academics, “are more likely to leave their jobs than workers who take a more practical approach to employment.”
In our work, and I recognize that some object to any comparison of secular jobs to serving the Lord and His church as pastor or staff, one constant is that there needs to be a deep sense of calling. I agree even though any calling is inherently subjective.
What clergy and prospective clergy might learn from the research looks similar to what might be learned by secular workers: Be passionate but also sensible and pragmatic; there are difficulties and challenges inherent in the work; try and temper your emotional investment in the work with a sober evaluation of what such entails.
LifeWay puts out a good bit of material on burnout and clergy stress. Their research reported that only “one percent of pastors abandon the pulpit each year.” I don’t know how this compares with other occupations but the article on the research said that “few” quit. Burnout was down in the list of reasons for quitting and was given as a reason 10% of the time but I’d expect that 100% of us get in the neighborhood occasionally.
Their articles generally follow the template, “‘Seven ways to avoid burnout” or “Five things a church can do to help their pastor avoid burnout” and the like and get a bit tiresome to me but here are a few things worth considering:
The pastor or staff needs more than a couple of Sundays away from the pulpit and church each year.
A church near me is in the process of calling a new pastor. Their agreement calls for the standard two weeks paid vacation and four additional Sundays away for revivals, mission trips, conventions, conferences and the like, the best part is that they actually hire outer banks rentals to get the vacation ready, so there is no need to stress about planning it. Take them all. You need the time away. Your church will manage without you even if you are in the pulpit only 46 Sundays a year. The megapastors can take every July or August off. You can’t. But I’d bet most congregations would accept the combination of vacation and other reasons for absence.
There’s nothing wrong with a sabbatical and a lot of things right about one.
After five or ten years faithful service perhaps your church would look favorably on a longer absence, could be several Sundays or a couple of months. Negotiate. I’d be the pastor could find allies for this. Of course, this presumes longer pastorates.
Find some things in ministry that you can look on with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
One thing about cutting my grass is that when I’m done, I can look back at it with the satisfaction that I’ve accomplished something. The reality of the pastorate is that often the humble and faithful pastor cannot finish a Sunday, or a week or a month, and look back and see what he has accomplished. A neighboring pastor would occasionally share the frustrations and difficulties of their church and work. The church was struggling, had been for a long time, and he was also. While the closest megachurch that had gone from 20 people to several thousand was the expected pattern for success, more realistic goals should probably be set. I advised him that while the Lord had him in that church, it might be helpful for him to find a few small things that he could accomplish, like mowing the lawn, where he could see that he did something.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a realistic look at the challenges and opportunities of your work.
Brethren, we can’t all be megapastors, seminary professors, entity executives, denominational workers, or make a living with an independent ministry. Most of the jobs are church staff. Most churches are single staff. The average size for an SBC church is around 125 in primary weekly worship attendance. The median size is around 70. The pastor has a tough job. His opportunity for landing a much larger and better paying church is limited, since 90% of SBC churches average less than 225 or so. You are required, as a part of your work, to deal with difficult people, lazy people, weird people, and folks that just ain’t right. If you want to see what churches are paying clergy who have a master’s degree and a decade of experience, take a look at the LifeWay Compensation Study, if you dare. Trigger warning: you might not like what you find. But it’s a calling, right?
So, what the few, the called, can learn from animal shelter workers. Clergy too. In another context one might compare the two jobs and find not a few similarities.
Like Adrian Rogers used to say: Don’t back up, put up, or shut up…until you’re taken up. And while you’re at it, take care of yourself.