Clergy Burnout: the Truth our Souls are Telling us
There’s no doubt about it, the past few years have been very hard. They’ve been especially hard on clergy. The organizational church is in steep decline, with many congregants not coming back after the return to in-person worship. Church budgets are tight, and many clergy fear for their jobs. In the meantime, we’re struggling with new technology, and doing more work with fewer resources and people.
Clergy burnout is real – many of us are exhausted, overworked, and anxious. There is lots of advice about how to take care of ourselves in this state, but I also think it’s important to pay attention to the underlying cause:
We’re not burnt out because we’re working too hard (though that may be true…). We’re burnt out because the system is failing and we can’t hold it together all by ourselves.
We may feel like walking away from ministry (understandable!), but we can also take this opportunity to really pay attention to what this pain is telling us we need to walk toward.
Here’s a few ways to really listen to what our souls are telling us – where God is calling us – into the future of church.
1. DO LESS
‘If I don’t do it, who will?’
I like to call this the ‘overfunctioner’s theme song’. Institutional church service has trained us well to do a lot of things that are actually other people’s jobs and a lot of things that really don’t need to get done.
Let go of what is not essential – and get really honest about what is essential. Give yourself the space and time to hear God’s voice – for yourself and for the people you lead.
Things will fall apart. Let them. Witness to what is most important.
Sabbath is a commandment (either the 3rd or 4th, depending on how you count).
It’s almost a badge of honor among clergy that we’re ‘too busy’ to take sabbath, or our days off, or vacations (leaving your number ‘just in case’ is not a vacation).
As my favorite seminary professor was fond of saying, the overall theme of the Bible is: ‘I am God – and you are not.’
We need to believe this with all our heart as the church changes drastically around us. We need to rest and know that SO much – everything, really – is in God’s hands.
The word ‘repent’ is sometimes hard to hear, but we know it simply means ‘turn around’, or literally ‘return to your higher mind.’
Our higher mind will help us remember why it is that we are called to serving God and our neighbor. It will reconnect us with the joy of our ministry.
Returning to our own calling story, our own spiritual practice, our own deepest relationship with God will help us hear that voice that lets us know it is ok – and we are on a journey where we do not know exactly where we are going.
Here’s an age-old truth bomb: we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. And we can’t hold up a dying institution by the force of our wills.
Maybe it’s time to consider what we CAN do. We can do the deepest, most meaningful work – bearing the Scripture, sacraments, and traditions of the faith, sharing the Good News of God’s love in the world – and we can do it in new places and ways.
We are in the resurrection business. Now is the time to know that we cannot save what is dying, but we can let ourselves be saved, and in this, witness to what is being born.
Are you ready to reimagine your ministry? There’s never been a better time.
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Thank you for this! I’m so exhausted and nothing I do is enough. I feel Ike quitting but what can I do? Wish we had a place where we could talk to other clergy in safety.
I’m glad the article was helpful. I worry about clergy! There’s a lot of pressure. Please join us at Bring Church to People – it’s a new group and definitely a place you can speak freely and safely. Click the ‘join’ button at the top of the page.
Spiritual direction is a place where clergy may find the deep listening that is vital for rest, clarity and renewed energy. Group spiritual direction, with colleagues offers a brave* space (as Brene Brown says) to share the enormous weight of ministry in these uncertain times.
Thank you for this! I wholeheartedly agree that spiritual direction is helpful for dealing with the effects of burnout – and I especially appreciate you including your services so others can contact you.
I still think it’s possible, though, to find the causes of this burnout and minimize them.
I wholeheartedly agree that spiritual direction is a way for clergy to deal with burnout. I also think it’s possible to get to the root of what is causing clergy burnout, and minimize that.