HOLY CROSSFIRE, BATMAN!
By Tracey Smith
Have you ever made a list of the stuff you’re battling with?
- Trying to keep everyone happy
- Other people’s problems
- Juggling work and family (badly!)
- Conflict – hate it, run a mile!
- Can’t get on top of deadlines or the to-do list
- Office politics, poor communication
- I need a thicker skin
- Bosses are never satisfied
- Where are you God???
Some days, the struggle is real.
This is a list of someone close to burnout.
Burnout is a state of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion where the usual capacities for bouncing back aren’t enough or pack it in. The depletion is profound, marked by exhaustion, feelings of helplessness or hopelessness and the development of a negative or hardened attitude towards work, life and other people. Church advisors Meryem and Greg Brown call it a “declaration of emotional bankruptcy”.
Some of us are more prone to burnout than others, because of how we deal (or don’t deal!) with difficulties says journalist Lisa Cannon Green, writing for Christianity Today. Sometimes what we do to cope can trip us up. We become authoritarian to get deadlines met, or a workaholic because that’s safer than trusting others. If we can’t do it all, we can struggle with guilt, feeling we’re letting God down. Perfectionists can drive themselves and those around them too hard. Even realising help is needed can bring on feelings of shame and failure, or a battle with pride for needing help at all. A bit oversensitive? Then communicating with others around us becomes the stuff of nightmares, especially if there’s workplace politicking or conflict happening. And if we believe it’s a sign of weakness or incompetence to ask for help – then we probably won’t.
How you respond is part of your identity. But here’s a point to ponder …
What if that battle list above belonged to your pastor?
The truth? It does.
This list is representative of the responses of hundreds of pastors, struggling under the weight of our superhero-like expectations. Yours. And mine.
You may scoff and think “Of course I don’t expect that! Pastors are only human!!”
Yet in reality there’s a mountain of evidence to support the epic battle raging between the expectations of the flock and the reality of what the pastor (minus a superhero outfit) can do. And if you weren’t aware of the battle, then be assured, your pastor is. He or she is living it, and of these 16,700 cape-wearers across Australia, about 25% have experienced burnout and a further 50% are on the edge.
John Mark Ministries quotes London and Wiseman’s book Pastors at Greater Risk with some worrying statistics:
45% of pastors have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry and spouses say the greatest danger they and their families face is burnout.
75% of pastors report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation.
80% believe their pastoral ministry negatively affects their families.
Whilst Australian statistics of the number of church leaders leaving due to this issue are frustratingly elusive, in the U.S as many as 50% of clergy leave pastoral work within the first five years because of it. Much points towards a similar trend here.
As Christians, we’re not exempt from burnout says Steven Kryger, so why should our pastors be? Grant Bickerton notes that the profession has been labelled a ‘holy crossfire’ as leaders attempt to juggle the expectations of self, family, congregation, denomination and God. David Tensen writes that one U.S study showed the rate of PTSD amongst the leaders of one denomination was higher than that of post deployment soldiers!
If you look at yourself or your pastor and see a super hero, you probably won’t see the burnout coming. But there is a way to escape the holy crossfire of our burnout culture. Ellel Ministries is a place to come to when you want to invite the ultimate Wingman alongside you to get victory. Don’t let your battle list be your kryptonite, but instead take some key steps to help wrest the world from your shoulders. Here’s two:
- Prominent Christian psychiatrist Dr Kam Wong will present biblical keys for dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression (close mates of burnout and superseded only by heart disease as the leading cause of illness today) in Overcoming Mental Illness Through Inner Healing on March 22-23.
- Key international speaker Jill Southern acknowledges the pressures in today’s society to compromise our Christian faith at a time when the focus on church size rather than the health of the pastor is a key component of burnout culture. Be inspired by her passionate No Compromise message on August 23-24.
And if you’re a pastor reading this, don’t take my word for it about Ellel Ministries – hear it from one of your own:
If you’re feeling burnout or stressed, discouraged or disillusioned you’ll find genuine care, prayerful support and people who “get it” when it comes to the pressures of ministry and its impact on you and those you love. Peter Wilson, Senior Pastor, Camden Valley Church.
Instead of losing the battle, lose the burnout.
(And leave your cape at home!)
Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016 Census, Employment, Income and Education
Bickerton, G 2011, “Stressors of pastors and leaders”, The Briefing, http://www.matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2011/07/stressors-of-pastors-and-leaders/
Brown, G & Brown M, 2002, Ministry Burnout Factsheet, Synergia HR, www.synergiahr.com.au
Cannon Green, L 2016, “Former Pastors Report Lack of Support Led to Abandoning Pastorate”, https://lifewayresearch.com/2016/01/12/former-pastors-report-lack-of-support-led-to-abandoning-pastorate/
Cannon Green, L 2016, “Why 734 Pastors Quit (and how their churches could have kept them)” in Christianity Today, January 2016.
Croucher, R n.d, “Stress and Burnout in Ministry”, http://www.churchlink.com.au/forum/r_croucher/stress_burnout.html
Edwards, V 2013, “Work burnout rampant among clergy”, The Australian, December 9, 2013.
Ellel Ministries Sydney, Overcoming Mental Illness Through Inner Healing, https://ellel.org/au/events/2019/03/overcoming-mental-illness-with-dr-kam-wong
“Infographic: The Common (Yet neglected) Problem of Burnout”, 2017, https://www.crossway.org/articles/infographic-the-common-yet-neglected-problem-of-burnout/
Kryger, S 2018, “8 Helpful Books on Ministry Burnout”, http://www.communicatejesus.com/books-ministry-burnout/
Lewis, CA, Turton DW & Francis LJ 2007, “Clergy work-related psychological health, stress, and burnout: An introduction to this special issue of Mental Health, Religion and Culture”, Mental Health, Religion and Culture, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 1-8.
McGrath, C 2019, “Burnout in Christian Culture”, Christian Today, https://christiantoday.com.au/news/burnout-in-christian-culture.html
Murray, D 2017, “Preventing pastoral burnout”, https://www.crossway.org/articles/preventing-pastoral-burnout/
Ortlund, R 2018, “Waiting on the Lord to renew our strength: Reflections on Pastoral Burnout”, https://www.9marks.org/article/waiting-on-the-lord-to-renew-our-strength-reflections-on-pastoral-burnout/
“Pastor Burnout Statistics”, June 20, 2011, John Mark Ministries, http://www.jmm.org.au/articles/27347.htm
Rinne, J 2018, “A taxonomy of at-risk pastors”, https://www.9marks.org/article/a-taxonomy-of-at-risk-pastors/
Tensen, D 2018, ‘The Toll of Ministry Life – Emotional Health, burnout and PTSD among clergy”, https://www.davidtensen.com/the-toll-of-ministry-life-emotional-health-burnout-and-ptsd-among-clergy/
Worsley, J 2018, “How my small church hasn’t burnt me out”, https://www.9marks.org/article/how-my-small-church-hasnt-burnt-me-out/