Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Very Important Question!

Is there a difference between the reasons for pastoral burnout, and other professionals burning-out? I think this is an important distinction. Things are tough all over! Are there any unique stresses for pastors?

I'm asking pastors to respond to this question: What unique challenges, hardships, difficulties are there for pastors, as opposed to those in other professions; including professionals in the medical, counseling, teaching and business fields?

Think about it. Be specific. Let's see where this goes.



Amber said...

Very insightful question...We as pastors have the pressures of serving the very people we lead. Some of us grew up with suffering theology (If Jesus suffered then so should I). This type of embedded theological view makes ministry without burnout difficult. My belief system now tells me that drawing necessary boundaries for ourselves and those we serve/lead is one of the key elements of not burning out. And the toughest part for me is when I draw those careful boundaries is to not feel guilty after. Guilt goes hand and hand with suffering theology.
Another thought is that in my faith tradition salvation is nearly always a concern. When we believe we might be the ONLY person to reach another, we also do not draw protective boundaries. This process is a very delicate emotional surgerical procedure in our lives as pastors. We must be honest enough to admit we have flaws, hang-ups, emotional hooks, and certain people that we will always go the extra the mile to reach. (or certain people we avoid) Some of the toughest part of my journey is exploring honestly my embedded theology why I think and feel the way I do at times. Are any of us really the only vessel of God in another's life?
I have been in full-time ministry for nearly 8 years. For me, those highs of knowing I as the pastor served the least of these in one of their toughest moments causes me to put up with a lot of other abuse from parishioners/the church that I have not in other professions.

David said...

Amber. Thanks for your comments. I see two things I want to mention. First, YES! You said: "When we believe we might be the ONLY person to reach another..."

That is a powerful difference in our stress and another occupation's stress. If we fail, it's not like they lose their money, a job, or even their life. We are taught that our failure could mean their ETERNAL DEATH--mixed with perpetual AGONY. I think it was Ghandi (?) who said if he believed this, he could never rest, he'd do nothing but reach to those who don't know. (I won't take the time here to say how I've dealt with that thought. But,) I believe you've hit on a key stress factor. We are the key to the bliss or agonies--over the next 12 trillion years--in the lives of those we and our parishioners meet??!! YIKES.

Second, I want to hear more about "embedded theology." What you wrote resonated with me, but I need to understand it better. What sources can you point us to? Would you want to author a blog here on that topic?

Thanks again for jumping in. I do think this is an important question, and you've hit on one important aspect of pastoral stress.


Philip Rogers said...

Dave, I'll through in a couple of observations. I'm not sure I would be ready to say that pastoral ministry is any more stressful than many other professions, especially some of the caring professions. I would observe at least a couple of distinctions:

1. As pastors we are expected to hold spiritually accountable many of the same folks who hold us professionally accountable. This becomes almost completely impossible when those who seek to hold us accountable are themselves behaving in their relationship with us in such a way that they need spiritual accountability.

2. There are implicit, if not explicit, expectations on us, both from within us and outside us, that makes psychological weakness unacceptable. This is especially true because of the fuzzy relationship that exists between emotional and spiritual health and vitality. This makes denial, resistance to treatment, and guilt all additional stressors for most pastors.

3. Sadly, I fear the culture of isolation that exists in our profession a real problem. We who seek to assist others in their relationships with God and others, often find ourselves without safe, meaningful relationships. It is amazing difficult it is for us to be in relationships of vulnerability and honesty.

4. I suspect we fail to recognize the real sources of our ministerial burnout and stress. We might expect that we live in someone's crisis about all the time, live with the pressure of a major "speech" to be given every week, and being on 24 hour call to be what stresses us out. However, at least for me, I don't think that's the case. In fact, those are the best parts of being a pastor. It's the other stuff: conflict, criticism, negativity, always feeling like we are on trial, and an overall sense of impending doom that gets to me. I don't think I even mind the "administrative" part when things are working well. However, one belly-acher can pretty much ruin it all for me.

These are just some thoughts I've had that might make pastoral stress somewhat unique.

Philip Rogers said...

I do know the difference between throw and through. Oops.

Philip Rogers said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I want to write so much here. I believe there are few differences. One website says that 1500 pastors are leaving their assignments each month. What about other professionals? When I shared chapter 1 with a business owner in my church, he said, "Trent could be anyone." Ministry is difficult. Is it any more difficult than any other job?

I need to read some more to have an intelligent answer. My gut feeling is there are other professionals who are asking the same question...What makes our profession lead to high burnout?

What do you all think?

david said...

Check out the October 3 blog. It is called "Helpful Articles." The pastors (and spouses in the second article) reveal some of the things that stress them.

I'd like to see all these comments turned into one-sentence-nuggets we could consider together. I think Amber and Phil R. have hit on some real truths, and a few differences. You are both articulate. Would you try to build a list from what you see so far, one concise sentence per difference? Any one is welcome to tackle that assignment if you like.

Anonymous said...

Depression seems to be a reality for all of us. If the statistic is true (10% of men suffer from depression vs. 40% of pastors) almost 1 out of 2 pastors suffer with depression. When I read Arterburn's signs of depression, I did a quick checklist. There are some of those symptoms that I relate to. I am still trying to discover what that means.

Are there certain seasons in your life where the symptoms of depression are more real? What is going on in your life? in the church? What pressures bring out these symptoms more than others?

david said...

This is where I need to learn more. Is there a difference between burning out and being depressed. I thought I knew the difference. I thought "depressed" equaled "sad." My counselor told me different. Something like, when you are depressed, your systems are pressed down. It's not sadness per se, it's more like suppression.

Here is how I described my entrance into depression/burnout in an earlier blog entitled: WHEN THIS PASTOR BURNED OUT.

Most people assume this means I was tired of ministry, or I was bored, or exhausted. No, it meant that one day I was running ten miles for fun; and the next week I could not walk fifty feet without rest and gathering my bearings. It meant I went from being a people-person with no fears; to being a guy unable to walk into a restaurant--or any public place--without an overwhelming dizziness and a threatening panic attack. I needed naps, long ones throughout the day. A counselor told me I was in a "major depression," and I was not able to argue, I could only sob.

I am responding to your question: "Are there times in your life when depression is more real?" For me, I had long wondered if I was depressed--every since I started being a pastor I've had that since of dread or doom, and deep sadness. But when I "crashed," it was like nothing I've ever experienced before. I've never been the same way in any sense: health, confidence, or in a social sense.

David said...

Perhaps these are some shelves where we can organize some of the things you've written here. If you haven't noticed, I'm looking for sifted verbiage, and clean, clear statements of what is different about pastor-stress, than other stress. I believe these exist. I want to see us wrestle a few of them to the mat, and identify them for all the world to see.

So here we go...these are only ATTEMPTS. They are still way more wordy than I want, but we can keep boiling them down:

1) Proper relational boundaries are unacceptable to our people, because they make us seem less than Christlike in our caring.
2) Proper relational boundaries are unacceptable to us, because our "embedded theologies" teach us that suffering, even being misused and abused, is a sure sign of Christ-likeness.
3) And so we a) Take abuse and internalize the pain, or we b) refuse the abuse, and i.) experience the pain of our own guilt, or ii.) fear the resentment of our congregants.
4) "As pastors we are expected to hold spiritually accountable many of the same folks who hold us professionally accountable. This becomes almost completely impossible when those who seek to hold us accountable are themselves behaving in their relationship with us in such a way that they need spiritual accountability."
5) Psychological weakness is unacceptable because many of our people consider this a spiritual malady. This makes denial, resistance to treatment, and guilt all additional stressors for most pastors.
6) Vulnerable and honest relationships for pastors are extremely difficult...why?
7) Conflict and negativity eat on us. Like mosquito bites, never a chunk of flesh agonizingly removed...but incessant nibbles and itches. We are aware of much of the discord behind the scenes in our churches, and thus always wonder of how much we are unaware...and how much is perhaps aimed at us?
8) "Always feeling like we are on trial..." That is so true! OUCH!!
9) "An overall sense of impending doom." Is this a sign of depression? Or is it a natural hazard of number 8, or choose your number!? All I know is, I wake up with it every morning, and live with it much of my days.

Well, I'm not sure if this simplified anything. However, it is a start. Can you crystallize any further for us?