Saturday, May 7, 2022

Stress, burn out, and resignation. . .

It is no secret that pastors are finding their vocation more stress filled and conflict laden than any expected.  The numbers of clergy diagnosing as or self-diagnosing as suffering burn out began its increase long before the pandemic.  Resignations are now common among those in high profile plum positions and parishes as well as those in the trenches.  Only a fool would deny that this is at least epidemic for clergy in this day and at this time.  For every pastor who is vocal about his feelings and admits to considering resignation, there are more whose thoughts are known only to them and to their families.  But the sheer number of conflicts and quarrels in a typical parish today, multiplied by the pandemic, should open our eyes to the cost of this office for those on whom this office has been conferred.

Of course, there are obvious reasons.  Two years of a pandemic that basically declared the Church and all that a pastor does as mostly non-essential are surely influential on the angst that afflict clergy today.  The shrinking dollar in many congregations and the fear that many pastors may find themselves priced out of their jobs is and has been a reality for many small and medium sized parishes.  The ordinary struggles of life -- upon marriage and family -- are only multiplied in a marriage and family lived within the glass house of the pastor amid a congregation of people.  Student debt and middling or small salaries created a battle between the pastor as husband and father and as pastor of the congregation.

But there is another reason and this one is less the subject of articles and blog posts and the news.  This is true primarily of Lutherans and those pastors serving within the LCMS (those whom I know better than any other pastors).  That is the fact that pastors are neither universally or usually respected as highly as they once were.  In other words, the very office the pastor holds is not held in the high esteem it was in previous times -- by those whom he has been called to serve.  Too often, the pastor is treated as a hireling or employee -- someone who works for the people and does what they people think he ought to be doing.  Though we continue to speak the language of call and calling, the people in the pews are less aware of what that calling is and of the duties to which they have called their pastor.  This is in part because we no longer speak in the language of the call documents.  Instead, we have taken up the language of the world and other communions and we now hold the pastor responsible for things that the pastor is not responsible (at least by call).

All of this contributes to a confusion of who the pastor is and what the pastor is called to do -- at a time in which that calling is under great pressure from within the from the outside.  Most of the struggles a pastor faces could be dealt with more easily if he knew his people understood who he was a pastor and what he was there to do -- and they appreciated that service.  Even if they do know and hold his service in high esteem, it is often much less verbalized or obvious to clergy today than it was in the past.  As an example, where I vicared and in my home parish, when their pastor retired, they bought him a house.  That probably would not happen today.  Money is neither the primary nor sole means of expressing appreciation but it is also a tangible sign of esteem.

I would argue that much of clergy stress and burnout and many thoughts of resignation might be allayed by strong and strongly communicated support and encouragement from the pew.  If you esteem what your pastor does as pastor and value his service to you, tell him.  Tell his family.  Encourage him even when financial rewards are not possible.  As a pastor for 42 years I can tell you that the storms of my ministry were weathered easier by knowing my people were praying for me, by their verbal encouragements to me and my family, and by their support as best they were able.

The second thing people can do is to minimize the unnecessary conflicts in the parish.  Yes, too many upsets are completely unrelated to the pastor or the parish and simply the fruit of our discontent with our lives, families, and occupations that come home to roost in the church.  But, good parish leaders and a well organized parish can minimize such things and prevent meetings from becoming complaint sessions.  

To the pastor I say bluntly, preach faithfully, teach faithfully, preside faithfully, and faithfully provide pastoral care to your people.  Make sure they know that doctrine is not up for grabs nor is the Scripture a book defined by interpretation or opinion.  Make them friends with their Small Catechism, especially with the Table of Duties.  They will appreciate it.  Furthermore, stay a while.  The longer you are in a parish, the deeper and broader your support system and the people will show it.


1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

The numbers of clergy diagnosing as or self-diagnosing as suffering burn out began its increase long before the pandemic. Resignations are now common among those in high profile plum positions and parishes as well as those in the trenches."

Is there a link to where such data can be found? Are the data separated according to denominations?