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Are pastors in crisis? If so, why?

Are pastors in crisis? If so, why?

Here are some depressing numbers from J. R. Briggs’ recent article at Faith Street, “Why Half of All Pastors Want to Quit Their Jobs”:

1,500 pastors leave the ministry for good each month, citing burnout or contention in their churches.

80 percent of pastors (and 84 percent of pastors’ spouses) are discouraged in their roles.

Almost half of all pastors have seriously considered leaving ministry for good in the past three months.

For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry.

50 percent of pastors say they are unable to meet the demands of their job and are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

For our money, the article does a better job laying out the scope of the problem than speaking to the structural issues that cause it. What do you think about the article and the problem it describes?

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Eric Bonetti

I recently have been thinking a great deal about the relationship between laity and clergy, and how we as laity can best support clergy. To Rod's point, my thoughts remain inchoate on this topic, perhaps because it's such a large and complex issue. But a few early conclusions:

- We tend to take clergy for granted. There's a lurking presupposition that clergy are like utilities--there's an obligation to serve. The reality, though, is that in most parishes demand far outstrips the ability of clergy to meet that demand. And it's okay for clergy to recognize that there's only so much one can do.

- Clergy and laity often have differing views of the challenges they face, and it is good when these issues can be discussed openly. For example, laity don't always understand how thick-skinned clergy have to be to survive. At the same time, laity cringes when we hear clergy talking about work/life balance in an economy when many laity haven't had a vacation in years, but clergy faithfully takes several weeks every year. For many, we have a hard time remembering when work/life balance last came up in the for-profit world (I think I last heard it discussed in 2001, when at AT&T).

- Ironically, clergy often have a hard time asking or allowing laity to help in the face of challenges. Suffice it to say, it's important for both sides to respect boundaries and to remember that clergy are human beings too, with very real pains, joys, sorrows and suffering. And to clergy, I would say, don't be afraid to ask when you need help. In a healthy parish, we will love you all the more for allowing us to help, and you'd probably be surprised at how careful we are to respect boundaries and treat issues with discretion.

- A healthy parish can love its clergy dearly and still transition appropriately when retirement occurs; the two aren't mutually exclusive.

- It's amazing how often individual parishioners feel that they have some special connection with clergy. But having a healthy relationship with clergy really involves recognizing that a certain distance is healthy, and not trying to wiggle around that paradigm. And ironically, the more careful laity is to respect those boundaries, the more likely to have a strong relationship with one's clergy.

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Rod Gillis

This is a vast subject, and something like peeling an onion. Two things (1) I wonder how we compare to social workers, public school teachers, police officers, public defenders, nurses, in terms of people who leave their jobs ("quit" is a rather judgmental term). (2) How man pastors become so captivated by their own spiritual issues that they lose sight of the people entrusted to their care i.e. its not about changing them, its first and foremost about loving them?

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Wayne Rollins

Clergy and congregations involve themselves in ministry in many ways, and we (clergy) often take literally Paul's desire to "be all things to all people." We often lose sight of our own humanity in this quest, and find that our fear of vulnerability separates us from those we attempt to join in ministry. I took a year to engage in a CPE residency to help me discern what it is within me that caused the feelings Briggs names. During a period of learning about covenants (real and implied) we make, I discovered the impossibility of meeting the demands I placed on myself. I learned to replace the "ifs" with "when", as in "when I am open to my own vulnerability and that of others, I feel God's love in amazing ways" rather than "If I am open . . . then God will love me." Check Dennis Kenny's "The Promise of the Soul" for help in discovering the very real covenants that guide us and how we can renegotiate them, if needed, mostly with ourselves.

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Sue Sommer

I wish the author had cited sources for these depressing numbers. Reminds me yet again of how important it is for us clergy to have good spiritual direction, be members of effective (supervised) consultation groups, meet regularly with a therapist, and develop/engage a good sense of humor. And that's just for starters...

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