National Epidemic of “Clergy Burnout” Pushes Alarming Number of Faith Leaders to Leave the Ministry

(Photo: Hon fai Ng, Getty Images/Hemera)
(Photo: Hon fai Ng, Getty Images/Hemera)

The faith leader who stands behind the pulpit in your house of worship each week may be silently weeping inside, filled with despair and overcome with the exhaustion that comes from unfailingly putting the needs of a congregation before his or her own.

It’s not happening in every church, synagogue or mosque, of course, and many clergy members successfully balance their work and personal lives.

But there is a national epidemic of “clergy burnout,” with an alarming number of faith leaders leaving traditional ministries — or sticking with the job and living unhappily and unhealthily.

It’s a job description not for the faint of heart, and the work schedule is brutal: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In addition to often being a spouse and parent, a clergy member is often simultaneously a writer and orator (sermons), Biblical scholar, chaplain to the sick or dying, teacher, executive director, CEO, human resource manager, therapist, liaison to other community organizations and point person answerable to church hierarchy and the governing bodies of their denominations.

“In most seminaries today, pastors aren’t taught half that stuff,” said the Rev. Bill Buchanan, who left his pastorate at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church to start the Asheville Youth Mission with his late wife and fellow pastor, Aimee Wallis Buchanan.

“We are taught how to interpret the Bible, we are taught theology, how to preach and teach, but ministry and the church is changing so fast it is hard to keep up,” Buchanan said. “All of these expectations are legitimate, but it is virtually impossible for one pastor to do all of those things well at once.”

The Rev. Allen Proctor, a retired Presbyterian minister now living in Asheville, agreed that leadership and management skills are most often learned on the job and from experienced mentors — if the pastor is fortunate enough to have one.

“Seminary prepares pastors to be preachers and teachers and pastoral counselors; it does not prepare them to be leaders of a congregation,” Proctor said. “Saying seminaries prepare pastors (to lead) is like saying cooking school prepares you to operate a restaurant.”

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SOURCE: Citizen-Times
Barbara Blake

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