By J. Hogan
-Gains & Gleanings-
I love my vocation, so let me get that out there to start. I was asked to write on this topic a few weeks ago, and needed some time to think it through, because my only experience with this is through others I know and love who’ve opted out.
Why do pastors quit the pastorate? There are a thousand answers to that. One guy I know got a job offer he couldn’t turn down, making deep into six figures, and, personality-wise, that had more appeal than slogging it out in the ministry. Another inherited his brother’s estate, with an active llama farm, and he hung up his collar for cowboy boots in California.
I believe the heart of the question I was asked to address was about why pastors leave burnt out.
That’s a narrower field to cover, but burnout is something most ministers fight. I know I have to plan breaks to get away, and when I leave town it truly feels like I’ve stepped out of the boxing ring and quit taking blows to my head. In fact, I’m typing a block from the beach in Melbourne, Fla. right now.
We usually give all the workers at Faithbridge Monday-Saturday off for the last week of the year, so my wife and I took the kids who are still at home and hit the road. It’s been nice.
Pastors burn out for many reasons, one of which is that many of us are workaholics. There’s always need, and we can get confused and think we’re somehow able to meet every one of them. We can’t, but the “Messiah Complex” is common when you actually work for the Messiah.
Another reason is that, like therapists, we deal with a lot of people and their issues. We’re rightly expected to be there for folks at their worst moments.
Your child crashed into a family while driving drunk and the doctors say the mother’s not likely to make it? Yep, call the pastor (but call a lawyer first). Your loved one died unexpectedly? You just got word that your company is closing for keeps and your career is a casualty? You just found out your spouse is leaving for a co-worker they’ve decided they prefer over you? All of it ends up at the minister’s door, and it should.
That is rough on a minister, but it comes with the territory. You know when you answer the call you’re going to be at a car crash victim’s bedside at 3 a.m., at a hospital 50 miles from home.
There are a couple of things that burn ministers out more than the wear and tear of tragedy and travesty, though.
One is pettiness.
When you’re in the midst of trying to help save a couple’s marriage when it’s hit an impossibly difficult season after 24 years of matrimonial peace and adults come to you wanting you to referee arguments so petty they’d embarrass a middle schooler, that can be wearying.
Especially since most of what you’re helping others with isn’t anyone else’s business, so you can’t yell “Grow up! Dontcha know I’m up to my neck in Dan and Marlene’s infidelity issue and I don’t have time or inclination to settle whether you or your brother should be able to park in your dad’s garage during the winter?!”
The other thing that burns out pastors is unrealistic expectations from the church council, the board of deacons, or whatever powers that be behind the curtain dangling the minister’s job over their head. I’m blessed that I don’t deal with much of this, but I know many ministers who’ve left the ministry after dealing with it as long as they could.
Some boards seem bent on saying no to everything that would help the minister accomplish the mission and yes to everything that hinders it. Ironically, most of these structures are found nowhere in the bible.
I tend to recommend fighting to streamline or scrap them, or moving on to more amenable circumstances when I counsel pastors dealing with such. Life’s too short of spent all your time banging your head off a wall.
Pray for your ministers. Ignorance isn’t always bliss, but not knowing all that they have to process, help with, and carry is a blessing.
They don’t have the privilege of not knowing what troubles abound in the homes that make up the body… and they certainly covet your prayers.
Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.