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Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Threat Of Clergy Burnout

Taken from

Wichita, Kansas
Friday, October 20, 2006

Editor’s Note: The following article from the Wichita Eagle is in honor of
Clergy Appreciation Month, which runs through October. (Click on “Clergy Appreciation Month” for ideas and information from Clergy Development.)

There are times when Elisha Verge is expected to be more than a religious leader. As pastor of North Ash Church of the Nazarene in northeast Wichita, Kansas, Verge is also asked to be a marriage counselor, help resolve conflicts, serve as a member of community boards and help people get food or clothing.

Not surprisingly, he works 60 to 75 hours a week and he's expected to do it all while also balancing his family responsibilities.

'As pastors, we have to do all of that and we try to maintain a level head, try to smile on the outside knowing you may be crying on the inside,' Verge said.

'It hurts me personally, at times, because I feel inadequate when I don't have all the answers.'
That feeling of inadequacy, and the demands of constantly being available to those in need, affects countless pastors and other religious leaders.

An estimated 1,500 pastors nationwide leave their assignments each month because of ministry-related stress and burnout, according to the evangelical organization Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs.

At least one local group, well aware of that statistic, holds a conference every year to try to help pastors deal with burnout-related issues.

Shepherds' Fold Ministries, a Wichita-based nonprofit organization that provides year-round support services to pastors, held the Day of Renewal VIII conference recently.

The conference encouraged pastors, along with their spouses and ministerial staff members, in their duties. Nearly 300 pastors and others from various denominations attended the conference last year.

Gene Williams, the organization's co-founder, said many clergy endure frustrations with their work in the same way other employees do.

Oftentimes, though, they have no one they can 'vent' to. As a result, he said, many feel alone. It's no surprise, he said, that so many members of the clergy are leaving the ministry.

'The expectations of pastors is that they should be able to fix everything,' said Williams, retired pastor of First Church of the Nazarene in Wichita. 'And as you know, that's totally unrealistic.

'The average church person does not realize how human pastors are and the pressures that they're under constantly.'

Biblical Wellness Ministries in Raleigh, N.C., which provides biblical counsel and teaching and encouragement to pastors, recently launched a program that 'coaches' leaders of new churches on how to handle any pressures they face.

Jerry Lankford, executive director of the organization, said members of the clergy are put in situations that can easily lead to personal problems that can spin out of control.

'The way we've built a church and positioned them is they're the leader of the church, and they're the man of God or the woman of God who's supposed to teach everybody else,' he said.
'And I think that's a setup to a large degree' for burnout.

Lankford said church members need to understand that pastors have imperfections and need 'downtime.'

'And they need a system of support just as the congregation does.'

About 10 years ago, Benny Mevey and his wife wanted to do something to help pastors deal with their stress and frustrations.

They bought a rural Butler County house, called it Shepherd's Rest and made it a place where pastors can go for a retreat.

There are no televisions or telephones, and it's offered at no cost. Shepherd's Rest is not affiliated with Shepherds' Fold Ministries.

'It's a place for them to go and just talk to God,' said Mevey, a retired public school principal and member of University Friends Church in Wichita.

Some pastors are well aware of the possibility of burnout and have taken their own precautions to prevent it.

Philip Wood, pastor of Faith Community Church in Wichita, said he watched his father, also a pastor, go through burnout.

So when Wood started his church in 1982, he decided to train people in his congregation to handle certain responsibilities including finances and counseling services.

By sharing responsibilities, he said, 'I can bring more focus on the teaching ministry on Sunday morning.'

He also has made a point to take a day off each week and to take a vacation. 'That's very important, and the church recognizes that,' he said.

Verge, pastor at North Ash Church of the Nazarene, has found that attending the yearly Day of Renewal conference has helped him deal with the dangers of burnout.

'It convinces me that I'm not alone,' he said. 'It's been a blessing.'
--Wichita Eagle


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