Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Burning Out

From David Murray:

Pastors used to be some of the happiest and healthiest people alive, with better life expectancy than the general population. But...

Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

So reports the New York Times. The stats are scary:

A continuing survey of 1,726 Methodist ministers in North Carolina. Compared with neighbors in their census tracts, the ministers reported significantly higher rates of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. Obesity was 10 percent more prevalent in the clergy group.

Internal surveys by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which found that 69 percent of its ministers reported being overweight, 64 percent having high blood pressure and 13 percent taking antidepressants.

A 2005 survey of clergy by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church also took special note of a quadrupling in the number of people leaving the profession during the first five years of ministry, compared with the 1970s.

The article touches on a number of possible causes:

•Cellphones and social media expose the clergy to new dimensions of stress
•These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7
•A misperception about serving God...They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no
•Larger social trends, like the aging and shrinking of congregations
•The dwindling availability of volunteers in the era of two-income households
•The likelihood that a male pastor’s wife has a career of her own

However, most research shows that the usual reason is simply not taking time off. Pastors are not taking a day off a week. They are not taking vacations. They are not taking care of their own bodily and spiritual needs.

The NYT report simply confirms what I've seen both in the UK and the USA. Pastors seem to think that "six days you shall labor" applies only to non-pastors. Pastors can, of course, take steps to remedy this situation themselves. However, the NYT reports that many institutional churches are now imposing daily and annual breaks on their pastors. I would also encourage pastors' wives, deacons, and elders to intervene aggressively. Make a weekly "sabbath" a non-negotiable. Insist on a lengthy annual vacation without any possibility of being contacted about congregational matters. Make it a matter of morality for which the pastor is accountable.

And maybe also address the spiritual problems that may be at the root of this. Is there man-pleasing behind it? Is the pastor trying to impress hard-working people in his congregation that he is just as tough as them? Does the pastor really depend on the sovereignty of God or does he think God is dependent on him? Does he want people to think he is indispensable? Is he being defined by his work, rather than his relationship to God? Is he really resting in Christ for himself and for his congregation? Is he trying to keep up with Pastor Popular down the road? Is he trying to impress his fellow-pastors with glowing statistics?

If you are really resting in Christ, you will be resting your body, mind, and soul from time to time.

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