You don’t want to be me.
According to a series of New York Times articles* and a plethora of other studies** done on the topic, pastors are ticking time bombs. Here are a few of the more alarming stats:
- Pastors suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.
- The rate of depression among clergy is 11 percent which is about double the national rate.
- 13% report issues with anxiety.
- 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
- 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
- 70% don’t have any close friends.
- 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
- 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.
- 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
Ours is a vocation famous for competing demands, chronic fear of failure and loss of sleep, not to mention loss of weekends. And those are first-world problems. Pastor friends in third-world countries tell me they wake up every day prepared to die.
This is nothing new. In Paul’s two letters to Timothy, he counsels endurance even when it seems crazy. In Paul’s advice we hear Timothy’s state of mind. He is hanging by a thread — tired, stressed out, anxious. “Take some wine for your stomach,” Paul advises, because bearing other people’s burdens will give a person stomach problems. Watching them slide backwards after you’ve tried so hard to move them forward can make a person downright depressed. Competing complaints can send a person over the edge. Battling heresy can wear a person out.
Timothy is tired. So am I. I’m grateful the Bible gives me permission to admit it.
Maybe you are right there with us (Timothy and me) and you are tired, too. Tired of day-in, day-out stresses. Tired of conflicts and misunderstandings. Tired of physical issues and mental issues and marital issues. Tired of the battle.
Are we insane to stay with this, when so much of it is crazy-making?
My experience after seventeen years of ministry and the start of two congregations is that the only thing standing between me and complete burn-out is not success, but the power of God. It is the power of God that saves me from those baser fight-or-flight instincts. The strength of this gospel keeps me bound to this call because in the end I’m convinced that’s where the power is.
Herein lies the difference between crazy and courageous. It depends on the thing you’re fighting for. What sets us apart who serve this gospel is not sheer force of will nor sheer enjoyment. What separates us from “crazy” is the character of what we believe in, which is proven by the character it brings out in us.
It is not crazy to make ministry your vocation. Given the vocational hazards it is perhaps the most courageous possible choice. On this day, may that be encouragement enough to help you begin again.
*Several articles appeared in the New York Times in 2010 addressing the issue of clergy burnout. Begin with this one, and follow it to others. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html