Too much work and too little pay, too much stress and too little pray. Many religious leaders today find themselves overwhelmed by their jobs, and can succumb to the very ills that they try to help their congregants overcome. Along with growing evidence of the toll from clergy burnout are efforts to combat it.
By some estimates, up to 1,500 pastors leave their jobs every month in part due to burnout, nearly two-thirds say the pressures of the job have diminished their passion to spread the faith, and almost all say they work too many hours and feel under pressure to have a perfect home life.
Stress is an occupational hazard for underpaid pastors in shrinking congregations, but it can also be a problem for clergy at fast-growing ones where there is an increasing workload and greater expectations.
Moral failure, family breakdowns, substance abuse and spiritual emptiness can result, experts say, and with the same or even greater frequency as for those whom religious leaders are called to minister to.
This edition of ReligionLink provides background and expert sources for reporters writing about this pressing topic.
RESEARCH AND DATA
- The website PastorBurnout.com posts statistics on the problem.
- An infographic, drawn from H.B. London Jr.’s book Pastors at Greater Risk, illustrates some of the data on clergy burnout.
- See the results of an August 2011 survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors by LifeWay Research that details the rewards of their work but also the challenges.
- The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, at Georgetown University, reports that in the United States between 1965 and 2012, the number of Roman Catholic diocesan priests declined from 35,925 to 26,661, while the Catholic population increased from 45.6 million to 66.3 million. Contact senior research associate Mary Gautier, 202-687-8080, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Read the cover story in the Oct. 31, 2012 Christian Century, called “Fit for Ministry,” about what it calls the “crisis in clergy health.”
- Read an Oct. 2, 2012, Christian Today story about ministers struggling under increasing workloads.
- Read a March 15, 2012, account on the Ahead of the Trend blog about new research on “clergy killers” — conflict-filled congregations that are nearly impossible to lead.
- Read a Feb. 8, 2012, story from The Christian Post that says pastor burnout results from “idol-chasing” and neglecting the Gospel.
- Read a Jan. 21, 2012, Florida Times-Union report that blames the problem on unrealistic expectations.
- Read a Dec. 26, 2011, Huffington Post column by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach about a lack of gratitude among congregants and how that affects clergy job satisfaction.
- Read a Jan. 28, 2011, column at EthicsDaily.com about the importance of rest for everyone, but particularly for ministers.
- Read Carol Howard Merritt’s Aug. 13, 2010, post on the Call & Response blog on reasons for burnout. Merritt is a Presbyterian pastor in Washington, D.C.
- Read an Aug. 12, 2010, Huffington Post blog item on the subject.
- Read an Aug. 6, 2010, column in The Jewish Week about the particular pressures facing the clergy. Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnick is the author.
- Read an Aug. 1, 2010, New York Times article about the burnout problem and the benefits of taking time off from ministry duties.
- Read a Sept. 3, 2009, story about clergy sabbaticals on the Insights into Religion website.
- Read a Jan. 23, 2009, interview with Anne Jackson, author of Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic.
- Read a transcript of a June 30, 2006, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly episode about a shortage of younger people interested in pastoral leadership.
- Is there a clergy shortage? Yes and no, according to an article by Patricia Chang posted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Because most churches are small but most people go to larger churches, there are fewer opportunities for upward mobility and more jobs that remain vacant because of isolated location and low pay. The institute posts other articles and research on clergy leadership.
- A national shortage of Protestant clergy is taking its toll on rural congregations, according to a Kansas City Star article published June 11, 2005, by The Washington Post.
- Read a Jan. 8, 2005, Resources for American Christianity interview about the state of pastoral leadership.
- Wayne Cordeiro is the founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship, a fast-growing Honolulu megachurch. He served three decades in ministry before burnout caused him to take a break. That period of rest and reflection re-energized him, and he shared his experience in a 2009 book, Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion. Cordeiro’s presentation on burnout and renewal was the highest-rated presentation at a Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Contact 808-842-4242 ext. 113, email@example.com.
- Anne Jackson grew up as the daughter of a pastor and later experienced serious stress as a church leader herself. She is the author of Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic (2009). Jackson is based in Michigan. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Leadership Network in Dallas fosters church innovation by working with leaders in a variety of denominations. It has support groups for pastors in different stages of their careers, and its website includes resources related to burnout. Contact 800-765-5323 or 214-969-5950.
- Terry C. Muck is interim executive director of the Louisville Institute in Louisville, Ky., which encourages the revitalization of American religious life, including among clergy. Contact 502-992-9341, email@example.com.
- Eugene H. Peterson is professor emeritus of spiritual theology at Regent College, British Columbia, and spent nearly 30 years as a pastor near Baltimore, Md. In his 2011 book The Pastor: A Memoir, he calls the pastorate “a way of life that is in ruins.” Peterson lives in Montana. Contact through publicist Kelly Hughes, 312-280-8126, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Daniel Sherman is a former pastor who founded the online ministry PastorBurnout.com. He also serves as the North Central regional director for PastorCare Network, a support network for pastors and their families. Contact 810-406-1543, email@example.com.
- Jean M. Smith is director of the Lilly Endowment’s National Clergy Renewal Program, which provides grants to congregations offering their pastors breaks for rest and renewal. More than 700 congregations and their pastors have benefited. Contact 317-916-7302.
- Steven Smith is dean of the college and professor of communication at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also holds the seminary’s James T. Draper Chair of Pastoral Ministry. Smith is the author of Dying to Preach: Embracing the Cross in the Pulpit (2009), in which he discusses “why the preacher must die to self, die for others and die in Christ so that congregations may live.” Contact 817-923-1921 ext. 5800, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Charles Stone is a longtime pastor and the founder of StoneWell Ministries in Aurora, Ill. His award-winning book 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them (2010) examines the major causes of frustration and burnout for pastors and church leaders. Contact via his website.
- Kenneth L. Swetland is senior professor of ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he also leads the Oasis counseling program for seminary alumni facing a crisis or transition. He wrote The Hidden World of the Pastor: Case Studies on Personal Issues of Real Pastors. Contact 978-468-7111 ext. 4121, email@example.com.
- The Rev. James P. Wind is president of the Alban Institute, which provides ecumenical resources for congregations, and his expertise includes trends in clergy supply and demand. Contact 703-964-2700 ext. 224, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The website for the National Clergy Renewal Program includes links to information about its grant recipients; search for clergy from your area who have benefited from the program.
- Nancy Ammerman is a professor of sociology of religion and chair of the sociology department at Boston University. Her books include, as author, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners. Contact 617-358-0634, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Kirk Byron Jones is an adjunct professor of ethics at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass. He was a pastor for more than three decades. Jones is the author of Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Adair Lummis is a sociologist of religion who is on staff at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. She is co-author of Healthy Clergy, Wounded Healers: Their Families and Their Ministries. Contact 860-509-9547, email@example.com.
- John Frederick Lehr is a pastor, consultant and counselor and the author of Clergy Burnout: Recovering from the 70-Hour Work Week and Other Self-Defeating Practices. He is based in the Baltimore area. Contact 410-766-3283.
- Roy M. Oswald is an ordained Lutheran pastor and the executive director of a parachurch organization focused on effective leadership in the church, the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills. Oswald, a former senior consultant with the Alban Institute, is the author of Clergy Self-Care: Finding a Balance for Effective Ministry. He lives in Boonsboro, Md. Contact 301-432-8933.
- Donald Paul Sullins, an associate sociology professor at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has called the U.S. priest shortage overstated. Sullins, who is a married former Anglican priest ordained into the Catholic priesthood, says the data has been skewed by comparing it with the 1960s, when the number of priests was at a high point. Read an article he wrote on the topic. Contact 202-319-5943, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lovett H. Weems Jr. is Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and directs the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Its 2012 report on clergy age trends in the United Methodist Church found that the percentage of middle-age elders continues to shrink, falling from 65 percent of active elders 12 years ago to 41 percent now. A previous report examined a dramatic drop in the number of young United Methodist clergy. Contact 202-885-8757, email@example.com.
- Lianna R. Bennett is a clinical psychologist in Fairfax, Va. She earned her doctorate at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., where her training focused on the integration of faith and psychology. Bennett’s dissertation was titled Social Support, Life Satisfaction and Burnout in Roman Catholic Clergy. Contact through Alpha Omega Clinic, 301-767-1733.
- Brad Hoffmann is pastor at Cool Spring Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, Va., and co-author of Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers. He and co-author Michael Todd Wilson, a counselor, work with pastors removed from their place of service because of burnout or other problems. Contact Hoffmann at 804-746-1625, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- George Jacobs, a Presbyterian minister, and Gordon Jacobs, his wife, are the founders of the Davidson Clergy Center in Davidson, N.C., which provides programs for clergy experiencing burnout. Contact 704-895-6487 ext. 104, email@example.com.
- Sally Moran of Charleston, S.C., is the author of a print-on-demand book, Women of the Covenant: The Case for Female Roman Catholic Priests. She says important issues include the isolation of priests who live alone and serve several parishes. Contact JPMSMC@aol.com.
- Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell is an assistant professor of health research at Duke University and research director of its Clergy Health Initiative. The program seeks to improve the health of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina and includes a two-year holistic health intervention called Spirited Life. Contact 919-613-5442, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C. He wrote a column for EthicsDaily.com about the importance of rest for everyone, but especially for clergy. Contact 336-716-9722, email@example.com.
- Reginald A. Bruce is associate professor of management at the University of Louisville’s College of Business. He has done much research on pastoral leadership, including a 2005 paper titled “Leadership in High Performing Congregations: Uncovering the Secrets of Success.” Contact 502-852-4682, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Michael Lane Morris is associate professor of management at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He has studied the effects of stress on clergy and their families. Contact 865-974-6291, email@example.com.
- Licensed marriage and family therapist Barney Self counseled ministers and their families for eight years through a program run by the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources. He is now pastoral counseling minister at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville. Contact 615-373-8074, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Rev. Donald B. Cozzens is writer-in-residence in the religious studies department at John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio. His books include The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest’s Crisis of Soul. Contact 216-397-1731, email@example.com.
- The Rev. Lolly Dominski is president of the Academy of Parish Clergy, an ecumenical organization that encourages excellence in ministry. She is also pastor at Morton Grove Community Church in Morton Grove, Ill. Contact 847-965-2982, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas is a physician and associate dean of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She is the author of The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy, in which she discusses the stress and other health threats faced by many clergy members. Halaas is married to a Lutheran minister. Contact 701-777-2744, email@example.com.
- Charles W. Mueller is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He has written about clergy-congregation mismatches and clergy job satisfaction. Contact 319-335-2491, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Christine Schenk leads FutureChurch, based in Ohio, which advocates ordaining married Roman Catholic men and women as priests to alleviate priest shortages. Contact 216-228-0869 ext. 4, email@example.com.
- Kent Ira Groff is founding mentor at Oasis Ministries and the author of Clergy Table Talk (2012), in which he discusses physical, spiritual and emotional burnout among clergy. His home office is in Denver. Contact 720-949-1598, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- H.B. London Jr. is vice president of ministry outreach/pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo., and co-author of Pastors at Greater Risk: Real Help for Pastors From Pastors Who’ve Been There. London is also a fourth-generation minister. Contact through the Focus on the Family website.
- The Rev. G. Lloyd Rediger of Albuquerque, N.M., is an author, speaker and trainer and is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His books include Coping With Clergy Burnout and Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack. Contact 505-821-4856, email@example.com.
- A. Richard Bullock is an associate clergy member at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland, Ore., and co-author of Clergy Renewal: The Alban Guide to Sabbatical Planning. Contact 503-284-7141.
- Patricia M.Y. Chang is a lecturer in the sociology department at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. She has studied clergy career characteristics and the supply of ordained leadership in some Protestant denominations, and she co-authored Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Edmund Gibbs is professor emeritus of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. His books include LeadershipNext: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture. Contact 626-794-6393, email@example.com.
- Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer leads the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, Calif. He has spoken out about the problem of rabbinical burnout. Contact 805-895-6593.