Monday, August 9, 2010

Buffet Religion and Pastoral Burnout

There is an interesting op-ed in the New York Times by G. Jeffrey MacDonald a pastor in the United Church of Christ. MacDonald makes a connection between the rise of consumeristic religion and pastoral burnout.

THE American clergy is suffering from burnout, several new studies show. And part of the problem, as researchers have observed, is that pastors work too much. Many of them need vacations, it’s true. But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century. Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason.
Read the entire article HERE.

I do not fully agree with some of MacDonald's statements about the real purpose of church and pastoral ministry. For instance, he writes: "Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires." Um, I'm not sure how we 'save souls by elevating people's values and desires.' The Scriptures make plain that the pastor is to proclaim the Word of God with an emphasis on the centrality of the Gospel which is the power of God to save all who believe. That said, I believe that MacDonald is correct in connecting increasing depression and burnout among pastors and the growing demands of congregations for their pastors to make them happy.

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