// you’re reading...


Pastoral Pressures

It is suggested this is an area of the life of God’s people in
which we need to make a significant breakthrough. The wastage and
lost opportunites are just too great. In this context, many
ministers need to learn more about ‘permission giving’ and using
the gifts of their congregations as the bases for organising their
own ministries.

(The following messages appeared on the <insights-l> list
of the Uniting Church in Australia.)

The following is an article from the LA Times.

How would this compare to what ministers experience here in
Australia? What is your experience?

What about the pressures of lay people? Is it any different?

How can we alleviate the pressures of full-time ministry? What
are the creative ways that people have found to stay on top of

Pastoral Pressures Take Their Toll

“Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in
America,” says Southern California psychologist Richard Blackmon,
quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times story on the demands faced by
today’s spiritual leaders. Roughly 30% to 40% of religious leaders
eventually drop out of the ministry, according to Blackmon. About
75% go through a period of stress so great that they consider
quitting. The incidents of mental breakdown are so high that
insurance companies charge about 4% extra to cover church staff
members when compared to employees in other businesses.

Pastor John Huffman of Ventura, California, said he could empathize
with Ron Dybvig, a 55-year-old pastor who ran away from his
congregation a week ago and spent three nights wandering the snow-
covered mountains in San Diego County. When found, Dybvig told
authorities he was overwhelmed by life and just needed to get away.

The demand to be on-call for a congregation 24 hours a day – as
personal confidant, marriage counselor, crisis interventionist –
puts church leaders in a constant whirlwind of stressful events,
says the article. And when the phone rings, a pastor is expected to
answer the call no matter how tired or strained he or she may feel.

The profession is often characterized as more stress-ridden than a
doctor dealing with a terminal illness, since the doctor can walk
away from the situation when he leaves the room. The pastor, how
ever, unlike other professionals, normally has emotional links and
personal ties to those being helped and suffers with them.

Pressure is also applied since ministers live under tremendous
scrutiny by their congregations and the community, and are expected
by them to conduct a life far more holy than their own.

Additionally, religious leaders, especially those heading up small
churches, wear several administrative hats – worrying about
attendance, bills, building repairs, staffing issues and volunteer
recruitment – on top of preparing multiple sermons, messages and
Bible lessons each week. “Their strong religious beliefs mean they
won’t kill themselves, “says pastoral psychologist Archibald Hart.
“They just spend their time wishing they were dead.”

Pastors need to set limits for themselves if they are to avoid
burnout, warn the experts- They also need to have hobbies and
interests outside of the church. Finding or creating a regular
support group with other religious leaders is also important.
[Source; Los Angeles Times, 1/29/99]

“Ray Cotsell” <>

Forgive the intrusion of a lay voice, but I have had a number of
friends/close acquaintances among the clergy, and I am widely read
on religio-social issues in Godzone, so feel mildly qualified to
comment as an observer.

Firstly, I would not expect – as a general rule – problems in the
U.S.A. to be reflected to the same degree in Australia. An
American cleric will routinely have more parishioners to look
after, and a higher percentage of active (or at least vocal)
persons to attend to. I suspect also, that the intensity of those
persons is likely to add stresses of a more extreme nature than
most of our parishes would present.

Please note, I am talking in generalities and assume exceptions.
But on the whole I think that a comparable survey would reveal an
existing, though lesser, problem here.

Second, there are many (including some well-publicised) cases of
Australian clergy succumbing to the stresses of the task (and I am
excluding moral or theological lapses of judgement). There are
examples of clergy treated for mental health problems, or who have
left the vocation, or switched parishes – even denominations – as a
result of perceived pressures. I suspect (though these are less
apparent) that cases will be found also among the para-vocationals
(those in support roles such as deacons, lay-preachers, etc.).

Yet, for each problem that can be identified, there are examples of
clergy who thrive on the self-same factor. Some achieve a higher
sense of achievement and satisfaction in situations that would have
crippled others. (Just as priests have left the Roman Catholic
church because celibacy is a problem, others find their place

I think of one parish I know where the pastor left feeling weighed
down and dissatisfied, to be replaced by another pastor who
blossomed and thrived. Interestingly, pastor one went on to have a
great deal of reward from his next posting.

I agree that having some other diversion or interest may assist
many, though I think it is trivialising to call this a hobby. It
might be wood-carving, it might be listening to Wagner, it might be
singing Victorian parlour ballads, but it might also be meditation
or even having a family life.

To me the problem is a management problem, and I apologise in
advance to any bishop who might be listening. An individual will
have his/her own personality, and that will be more or less in tune
with the needs of different vocational settings. It is a matter of
finding the right parish or other setting for each individual, and
achieving an appropriate resolution for problems that may generate
unacceptable stress.

To which

“Howard Groome” <> responded:

Ray has put his finger on some important issues here. I’d like to
add soem refelctions from another ‘different’ perspective.

I have been a community minister within my own congregation for the
last six months. Prior to that I worked as a principal of several
schools and have been a university lecturer with managerial and
counselling loads as well as teaching ones.

On the face of it my previous jobs were very similar to the
ministry. There are however soem significant differences which I
have become aware of.

The first is the lack of regular daily collegiality with folk in
the congregation. I am very fortunate that I am ministering to a
marvellous group of long established friends who chose me to pastor
them. However during the week I feel the lack of the kind of
collegiality that one finds in most work places, the regular formal
and informal meetings, the talks in the tea room which keep the
real business going and which serve many personal needs. I see a
real need to create that supportive and enriching culture within my
congegation, not only for my own sake.

The second is the problem of home being inescapably a work site.
It’s hard to find ways around this, but we do need to create
physical, mental and emotional boundaries here.

The third is the old temptation to try to do it all oneself. I’m
having to relearn the need to roll work back on to others and not
to do a job just because it won’t get done otherwise. This is a
factor even though we have a delegated team structure. The baby
boomer members of our congregation just have very little time in
the week to think creatively and constructively about church
affairs. Their lives as professionals and parenst are just so

Then there is the capacity for small issues to become raging
bushfires – churches seem to have a special penchant for making the
minister an Aunt Sally in these kinds of things. We can’t afford to
own other people’s negativity and small mindedness.

Finally, I have found a definite spiritual agenda behind many of
the pressures. In this new role I have become much more aware of a
spiritual warfare than I ever knew in my previous work, even though
many of the tasks wre almost identical. The struggles in doing the
job have become much more tangibly focussed as ones against the
forces of darkness.

Howard Groome
Community Minister, Port Adelaide Uniting Church


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.