Thursday, July 19, 2007

Burnt out clergy

A topic close to my heart, as you know (see here and here, for example).

Tom Allen tells a sad tale of a priest who has had his ministry destroyed by the process: "I sat this morning with a broken man, exhausted by the competing expectations of a diverse multi-benefice parish, and the failure (with the exception of the person mentioned above) of anyone in his Diocese to provide any kind of empathetic support or forward thinking guidance. And so a priest of great gifts and spiritual insight (who remains a man of great faith and with a profound sense of God's love for him and all people) will move onto other things in the near future - to a role which I am sure will value him for who he is and what he has to offer.."

I know people who have had precisely this experience - in fact, it was watching this happen that made me determined not to follow it. Tom provides an interesting link to this page, from which this quote comes:
Burnout may be mistaken for laziness, incompetence, instability and various types of mental illness; in particular, the symptoms of burnout are frequently mistaken for those of depression. As burnout progresses, a person's efficiency decreases, and bullied clergy may find it increasingly difficult to fulfil the obligations of their ministry. Clergy experiencing burnout may find that the expectations on them seem to increase as their energy and efficiency decrease, as congregations, unable to see that their pastor is exhausted, bring to their constant attention all those people who have yet to be visited, jobs that have yet to be done and so-on. The normal tendency in these circumstances is to try to work harder in order to meet these expectations, but this only increases the exhaustion and so compounds the problem. Growing congregational dissatisfaction with their minister's performance is readily exploited by those perpetrating the abuse, who will point to the increasingly obvious symptoms of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion as evidence that the minister is lazy, ineffective, uncaring and spiritually deficient.


I was told a few days ago that there is a group of people in the parish who welcomed my arrival but who are now eager for me to be gone. Strangely, though, I am starting to care much much less about these slings and arrows. The whole issue of vocation has been very much in my mind recently, and in part the conversations about lay presidency have helped to unearth core elements of this. Two quotations from books I've read recently, which I've pondered a lot and found helpful:

The apostolic role within established churches and denominations requires the reinterpreting of the denomination's foundational values in the light of the demands of its mission today. The ultimate goal of these apostolic leaders is to call the denomination away from maintenance, back to mission. The apostolic denominational leader needs to be a visionary, who can outlast significant opposition from within the denominational structures and can build alliances with those who desire change. Furthermore, the strategy of the apostolic leader could involve casting vision and winning approval for a shift from maintenance to mission. In addition, the leader has to encourage signs of life within the existing structures and raise up a new generation of leaders and churches from the old. The apostolic denominational leader needs to ensure the new generation is not "frozen out" by those who resist change. Finally, such a leader must restructure the denomination's institutions so that they serve mission purposes.

Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be. And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.

The other thing that has really been helping me is getting stuck into 1 Corinthians. Poor Paul! Hence 'My Heart's Desire': becoming less popular isn't comfortable, but following God's claim upon me IS.

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