Being a member of the clergy can be -- and often is -- a terribly stressful job.
The old joke about how Christian pastors work one hour a week, on Sunday, never was very funny. For one thing, a well-researched, thoughtful, challenging 20-minute sermon, properly done, can take up to 25 hours of work to prepare (to say nothing of the theological education that preceded it). And then there are the hospital visits, the counseling, the teaching, the committee meetings, the community engagement and on and on, to say nothing of somehow trying to be a good spouse and parent.
A new study of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina has drawn some interesting conclusions about how pastors can keep a positive mental attitude and not -- as many clergy everywhere do -- fall into depression and burnout.
As the story about the study to which I just linked you reports, researchers "discovered that the factors associated with a lower likelihood of negative outcomes such as depression and anxiety are not necessarily the same as those associated with positive mental health. By identifying factors and pursuing strategies that relate to both, churches can decrease mental health problems among clergy and boost pastors’ positive mental health at the same time."
One way congregations can help their clergy is by building in time off. For instance, the pastor and associate pastor at my congregation, Second Presbyterian Church, get both vacation time and study leave each year. And after being on the job for five years, they may apply for a sabbatical of several months.
Indeed, our senior pastor, Paul Rock, will be going on sabbatical starting next month. He deserves it. He's been running full-tilt-boogy for close to six years as we have tried to discern how to be an effective 21st Century church in post-modern America.
If you are a member of a congregation and don't know what steps are being taken to help your clergy stay healthy mentally and emotionally, you'd do well to find out and fix things if they need fixing.
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METHODISTS DEFY THEIR CHURCH
Speaking of keeping clergy mentally healthy, it's important for them to acknowledge who they are. And that's what 15 United Methodist clergy or clergy candidates have done by coming out as gay this week. Why is that important now? Because, as I wrote here earlier this week, the United Methodist Church is considering changing its stance that currently stands against homosexuality in various ways.