I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary and looking at the research question, “What can be done to support the decrease of pastoral attrition within the first five years of ministry?” My research surveyed and interviewed ministers who serve in local church settings. Over seventy-five percent of the pastors interviewed said they have seriously considered leaving the ministry at one time or another. There is most definitely an array of reasons for the thought of departing the ministry, but as I continue to examine the findings through the research, one predominant observation has emerged. The importance of supporting clergy during personal times of crisis surfaces is one of the most significant pieces of the study. It is at this critical juncture when pastors begin to feel ministry burnout and often consider leaving the ministry with no intent to return.
Several of the ministers surveyed and interviewed showed external pressure from a death of a loved one, marital issues, recent diagnosis of an illness of either the pastor or a family member, increase in debt, and other extraneous factors as reasons for leaving ministry. This article will discuss five ways faith communities, regions, and other stakeholders can support clergy during some of the most difficult times in their lives.
It Is Okay to Be Authentic
Congregational settings are not always a safe space for clergy to be authentic. It seems as though a faith community should be a place where individuals can express themselves genuinely. In many cases, it is not this way. It is imperative for congregational members to show it is okay for their pastor to be human. In times of predicament, being human can mean outwardly expressing emotions, asking God questions in light of circumstances, and having doubt, fear, worry, anxiety, and concern.
We Are Praying for You
This point should go without saying, but it is essential your pastor knows you are praying for them. For the ministers surveyed, knowing congregational members were praying for them became increasingly important when they experienced times of personal crisis.
It Is Okay for You to Get Outside Help
Needing outside professional help with a tragedy is not easy to admit to anyone, but it is a tough feat for clergy. Members of faith communities typically view pastors as those who give counseling advice, not ones that need it. This mental model can cause those in ministry not to ask for help. This fear most certainly can cause ministry burnout and the thought of leaving ministry altogether. Congregations should offer outside support during times of crisis rather than waiting for the minister to ask for it. Faith communities can provide resources for counseling sessions, coaching sessions, time off, and other initiatives that could help alleviate the burden of the situation. These suggestions need fair financial compensation. The healthier a pastor is, the more effective he or she will be in his/her work with a congregation.
How Can We Effectively Support You and Your Family
During times of hurt, pastors expressed their church members did one of two things. Some individuals said nothing at all, while others spoke too much. The research noted that when pastors felt nagged, congregational members were saying the wrong words. Articulating incorrect language during tragedy can be very easy to do. The interviews showed members of faith communities were often judgmental, acted like it was not a big deal, and gave unfair criticism. The pastors interviewed stated the best question congregation members could ask would be, “How can I (we) effectively support you and your family during this difficult time in your life?” Ask this question often, but not too much. Be caring, kind, considerate, and sacrificial during this critical juncture in a pastor’s ministry.
We as a Congregation Are Committing to Live at Peace
In the research clergy shared at some of the most trying times of their life, major events were happening in the faith community. Ministers told stories of budget meetings, building projects, theological debates, program initiatives, and other crucial moments within the life of the congregation. In many of these situations described, constituents did not live at peace with each other. Heated discussions, people leaving, unfair criticism, anonymous letters, and gossip delineated some of the unhealthy system behaviors that took place. These clergy members shared, as the internal conflict increased, the ability to heal through times of personal crisis became arduous. If your pastor is going through a personal crisis, pledge as a congregation to live at peace with them and with each other.
The thoughts that run through the minds of many ministers are:
How much longer can I continue to do this?
Am I able to do effective ministry anymore?
Will I get fired if I admit my struggles?
Is my congregation going to understand if I tell them I am spiritually drained?
In the most crucial moments for clergy, it is of utmost importance that faith communities, other pastors, region staff, and other people of invested interest come together to see pastoral attrition become pastoral retention.