In the past month, I have had five clergy friends think about quitting, look for a new (non-pastoral) job, or actually leave the church for good. And there have been a few times I have thought about joining them.
What is going on?
It’s Clergy Appreciation Month, but not a lot of clergy appreciation seems to be happening. Instead, it seems more like Clergy Expectation Month:
--Expectations of working a 9-5 work week plus evenings and Sundays
--Expectations of pleasing everyone, of not making waves, of getting along
--Expectations that if the pastor is effective, more people should be coming in the doors
--Expectations that pastors have a special gift to handle more stress than others
Perhaps I’m just exaggerating… or perhaps you have been there, too. With clergy salaries frozen or cut, and the cost of seminary education continuing to rise, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it to tell those who are thinking about ministry to maybe think about some other way that they can serve God.
But I know the truth. When you are called, you know that if there was something else in life you could do that would make you happy, you’d do it. But there isn’t, and that’s why you are here. Because this is who you are.
So how do we make it through? How do we make it through the terrible meetings, the exhaustion, the emotional toil? How do we make it through when our blood pressure is (literally) rising to unhealthy levels because of the stress? How can we serve God best when we have these unrealistic expectations loaded onto our shoulders?
I’m not saying anything new here, but it needs to be said again.
We feel so alone. We feel that there is no one we can turn to.
We cannot allow ourselves to become isolated. And the best way to do that is to make sure that others aren’t isolated either.
Clergy friends, we need each other. We need prayer partners, we need accountability groups, we need retreats. We need respite care for ourselves. We need to be able to talk and laugh and cry and hug and care for each other. We need to share our crisis of faith as well as our frustrations about church life. But most of all, we need to lift up one another, to listen to one another, and be there for one another.
But I think we need to take it a step further. I know that in this last move, I have had a hard time finding clergy groups to be a part of. Within my own denomination there are groups, but I’m more removed from the urban center so there are few near me. I’m also limited because I’m part-time and have other community events, parenthood and other commitments. But I’ve never been invited by another local clergy person outside of my denomination even for coffee. I have introduced myself to a few clergy members, but nothing has ever come of it. It’s been easier to be isolated than ever before, it seems.
But then I get that green light on my email and see that there is a Google Hangout of clergy friends from back in Oklahoma, or a Skype call from clergy back in Massachusetts. I receive a prayer card in the mail from a retired clergy member I knew when I started in ministry, and that Facebook message that says, “Thinking of you.” And I remember that I’m not alone.
Friends, we cannot be alone. We need each other. We need to know that there are those who will help us through the tough times. Perhaps if we can reach out to one another and help bear each other’s burdens a bit, we can slow down the thoughts of giving up, and instead give to each other.
My prayers are with you.