There has been much talk lately about clergy burnout.
Barna Group reported at the end of 2021 that 38% of clergy considered leaving ministry during the pandemic. Personally, I have spoken to numerous ministers confirming that data.
While most of the attention to clergy burnout has been focused on senior pastors, the church would be remiss to ignore the burnout felt by children, youth and college ministers.
Good Faith Media traveled to Montreat, North Carolina, this week to attend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Oasis 2022, a retreat for children, youth and college ministers.
Let’s just begin with this statement: children, youth and college ministers are closer to God than any senior pastor I have ever met. These creative and hard-working souls are absolutely saints!
Hearing their stories about navigating the last two years has been heartbreaking, challenging and inspiring. Anyone trying to conduct Zoom Bible Study lessons with seven-year-olds deserves a month sabbatical involving daily massages and evening cocktails.
Youth and college ministers utilized technology in unique ways, but teens and young adults desperately missed the in-person community and relationship that is so vital to mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Many of these incredible ministers continued following their callings and doing their jobs without complaint. However, they are frustrated and exhausted. Churches and lay leaders need to pay attention to the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of their entire staff.
At the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Oasis 2022 retreat, conveners told GFM that the purpose for the retreat was to provide time away from the day-to-day grind of ministry, offer in-person community after two years of professional isolation, and create a safe place for ministers to be honest and authentic about life, church and ministry.
Participants told GFM about the importance of this specific retreat. Oasis 2022 was an event marked on their calendars, as they looked forward to spending quality and intentional time with colleagues in ministry.
Getting away from the grind of church-related work was also critically important. For two years, many had little to no significant time away from ministry. The grind can zap energy and deflate morale.
Some ministers confirmed how doing ministry during the pandemic also took a toll on their families. Ministers who are also parents struggled with balancing at-home school while trying to minister to other children. Married couples revealed that tensions ran high when church-related problems arose, creating an unhealthy environment for marital growth.
Almost all the ministers we talked to told us that the only way they have survived thus far has been trying to carve out personal time for themselves, their marriages and their families. Going on walks and runs, reading books for pleasure, and finding personal space was significant for them to refresh their minds, bodies and souls.
In addition, they established boundaries. During the pandemic, they quickly realized that boundaries were essential in protecting themselves.
Churches often have a tendency to step over and around boundaries. Of course, there are times of emergency, but most issues can wait to be resolved. A clear boundary can create a healthy and safe work environment.
So, what can churches do to help all ministers? Here are four suggestions.
- Implement required weekly and regular time off and vacation.
All ministers need time away. Most ministers are selfless, willing to give their time and resources to their ministries. Most ministers never take all of their allotted time off, because ministry never, ever stops.
Therefore, churches could provide a great gift to their ministers by implementing required time off and vacations. This is a more difficult task than it seems. So, churches should hold ministers responsible for taking time off. Clergy cannot minister effectively if they are exhausted.
- Respect boundaries.
Ministers are always ready to serve and tend to their sheep. They are selfless disciples ready to teach classes, host lock-ins, plan camps, oversee mission trips, lead worship, visit hospitals, attend extracurricular activities and carry out all other duties. Therefore, when they take time off and away, for God’s sake, let them take it. Respect those boundaries!
- Show grace and practice mercy.
Our ministers are exhausted and frustrated (like most of us). Even though we look at them as superheroes, they are also human. They are giving 110% to our kids, youth and college students. They literally cannot give anymore.
So, when they make a mistake, when they do not respond to a text or email, when they misspell a word in the newsletter or mispronounce a name in the Bible, when they are late for another Zoom meeting, when they cry at a remark you made, please show mercy and practice grace. They are children of God; please never, ever forget that truth.
- Fund resources for self-care and vacation.
While many churches and leaders acknowledge the problem and genuinely want to care for their ministers, the church could provide a life-changing gift to ministers by funding self-care and vacations for them.
Providing resources for coaching and therapy will be life-giving for some ministers. Some insurance companies do not cover such services and when they do they are often lacking. Also, some ministers cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with these opportunities. Churches could establish a fund that provided supplemental resources for ministers needing coaching and therapy.
In addition, what would happen if churches set aside resources to provide grants for their ministers to utilize for vacations? This would not only be financially beneficial to them, it would also incentivize vacation. An extra $500 for ministers to go to the mountains or the beach might provide a greater return on investment than any church could imagine.
David Woody, the Oasis 2022 preacher, told GFM, “These ministers are tired and exhausted. The church needs to acknowledge that and seek ways to minister to them after they have ministered to us so faithfully.”
Oasis 2022 was important for me, personally. As a senior pastor for over 20 years, I worked with some amazing men and women working with children, youth and college students. They were humble and giving souls, prioritizing their students.
With the pandemic hopefully entering an endemic stage, the church would be wise to develop and fund programs offering clergy opportunities for self care for themselves and their families.
This group of ministers is too important to the gospel of Jesus for us to forget or ignore them. They are absolute saints. Therefore, let’s remember to take care of all of our clergy.
CEO of Good Faith Media.