BURNOUT WEEK::looking in the mirror

>> August 29, 2010

What if your PH seems to be doing fine, and the person who is truly burned out in your house is YOU?

It's not ridiculous. We PWs tend to work equally as hard as our PHs do, even if it's in different activities. If you have 1 or 2 or 10 kids, then your job is probably crazier than his - because you not only do the full-time job of PW plus whatever career or employment you may have, you're also a mom. (Which, as any mom already knows, is more like five full-time jobs at any given minute.)

Ministry burns pastors out. Even the secular world has sat up and taken notice.

But PWs get burned out too. And we aren't the subject of nearly as many studies or focus groups or counseling seminars.

Which means we need to support each other. And we need to pray about the best solution for our own circumstances. And maybe not be too proud to ask for some help from a church member or neighbor now and then.

Here are some ideas for you as a PW, to help stave off burnout:

  • ask for a day off each quarter too, where you focus on spiritual rejuvenation. Get a babysitter if you need to. Put the date on both calendars - yours and his. Plan for it like you would for a concert or a church function. 
  • keep a lifeline to the outside world. Find at least one trustworthy friend who is a good listener and has some spiritual wisdom. Nurture that relationship however you can.
  • say "Not this time, but thanks!" to that 15th church job. Get over the guilt - when you let someone else do it you are giving them an opportunity to experience the joy of serving. Or if nobody steps up for a while, you're letting them realize how much someone needs to take over. It's okay if that someone isn't always you. 
  • skip the late night TV, even if it's your favorite way to unwind. Try going for a cup of tea and a book instead - you'll sleep better without the stimulation of TV, and probably get to bed earlier instead of staying up to watch the next show.
  • put exercise on your calendar, at least 5 days a week. Whether you walk with other moms on your street, join a gym for social fellowship, or train for an Iron Man Triathlon... the point is to get positive endorphins flowing, increase your energy, sleep better at night, and feel happier all day (once the soreness wears off, of course!)
  • sing. Hum. Whistle. Belt it out. Whatever your style, singing uplifting hymns or psalms or praise songs can help to make your heart happy and stave off discouragement and loneliness. 
  • get counseling if it doesn't get better. Find a godly mentor who can help you walk through the steps of feeling less discouraged. 
  • most importantly::try to make time for daily prayer and bible reading. If you have little ones, this can be super tough. I struggle with it constantly. We finally settled on two things that help me get a little daily God-time: I do bedtime and Daddy does morning-time so I can have a few extra minutes to pray, and I've started reading aloud from a devotional book when I put the baby down for naps. It's helped!
And be sure to share what you're going through with your PH. Don't expect him to understand how you feel if you're keeping him in the dark. Good communication can only strengthen your marriage and will help him be aware of what's going on at home. 

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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BURNOUT WEEK::the health factor

>> August 28, 2010

Burnout isn't just emotional. It's also mental and relational.

Burned-out pastors get more easily discouraged.
Discouraged pastors make poor spiritual and personal choices from lack of discernment.
Lack of discernment leads to hurt relationships, unbiblical teaching or even scandal.
Hurt relationships and conflict lead to overwhelming guilt.
Guilt leads to doubting one's call to ministry.
Doubt leads to...

You get the general idea.

And burnout is physical, too:

Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. 
Public health experts who have led the studies caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.

But while research continues, a growing number of health care experts and religious leaders have settled on one simple remedy that has long been a touchy subject with many clerics: taking more time off.
(Taking a Break from the Lord's Work, Paul Vitello, NY Times)
If leadership is best executed by modeling an example, then many of us have got some work to do.

We can't tell our church members that God wants them to be healthy in their lifestyle choices if we don't bother to rest, exercise or make smart eating choices. Unless of course, you don't mind being called a hypocrite.

We have to remember that staying healthy so we can serve God to the fullest is more than just making one kind of health decision. It's about living a whole life in balance. Which, as pastoral families, ain't an easy assignment.
Even in the best of times, however, many factors can contribute to clergy health problems.

Clergy routinely work 60-hour weeks, and often have just one day off -- and not the day everyone else is off. Also, every function that a priest or rabbi or imam attends is likely to have food -- and not necessarily healthy fare -- that he or she is expected to share.

"Doughnuts will be the death of me," several Methodist pastors told researchers with the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, a seven-year project with Duke Divinity School that is looking at the health of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina.
(No Rest for the Holy, David Gibson, Politics Daily)
It's not impossible to choose a lifestyle that help prevent obesity, heart disease and depression. A good place to start is with adequate rest and regular exercise.

Eating smarter helps too. Check out our own Jenah's column on HOW TO::eat healther in the PW home for tips on better food choices.

When you live long enough to keep on meeting their needs, your church will thank you. (Hopefully!)


© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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BURNOUT WEEK::the battle of priorities

>> August 27, 2010

It seems that any time we plan a date night, someone ends up in the hospital. On family days, there's guaranteed to be a call for emergency counseling. Or someone will drop by unexpectedly for a visit.

Which is all okay - we know we can't control when crisis will strike. But we still learn to hold our breath when scheduled "family time" approaches.

I'm blessed to have a PH who intentionally tries to set clear boundaries for family time. More than once his church elders have shooed him out of a late evening meeting so he can get home to say goodnight to our son.

But he also has a soft heart and a generous impulse - which makes him a fabulous pastor, and a devoted husband and father - and often leaves him torn between the two. I can't even begin to imagine the heartache many fellow PWs feel from PHs who aren't so sensitive to family needs.

It can be hard to keep priorities straight, especially if your congregation tends toward the needy side. "You start thinking of things like your church being your legacy instead of your family, and you just get all out of balance, all out of whack in your own relationship with Christ, allegedly for good reasons." (Pastor Rich Teeters, as quoted in "No Rest for the Holy")

As a PW, you can encourage your PH to take one day each quarter for spiritual rest and rejuvenation. Get him to actually put it on his calendar. Otherwise you know it'll never happen. My husband loves to drive out of the city, tie his hammock to a tree on a hillside somewhere, and just read and pray and listen to God. And yes, sometimes he misses a quarter, but it's a good goal to have.

Check and see if your church has a policy for sabbaticals, too. Our denomination offers a 6-month paid study sabbatical after 7 years of service. Other churches have similar policies:

While recent research has focused largely on mainline Protestant churches, some Jewish leaders have begun to encourage rabbis to take sabbaticals.

“We now recommend three or four months every three or four years,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, a past executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis. “There is a deep concern about stress. Rabbis today are expected to be the C.E.O. of the congregation and the spiritual guide, and never be out of town if somebody dies. And reply instantly to every e-mail.” (Read the rest at No Rest for the Holy, NY Times)
No matter how demanding church duties become, help your PH remember that his priorities should be God>Family>Church, and not the other way around. "Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way... Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer." John Wesley August 7, 1760

If we get kinks in our lifeline to God, we can't pass on His love and teaching to others. If our families are neglected and lonely or out of control, we cannot lead by example.

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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BURNOUT WEEK::the case for a sabbath rest

>> August 26, 2010

God may have rested on the seventh day, but for a growing number of his ministers, there is more work -- and stress -- than ever, and less chance to unwind. (David Gibson, in his article "No Rest for the Holy: Clergy Burnout a Growing Concern", Politics Daily)
Our family believes that sabbath is a big deal. But we freely admit that, as a pastoral family, it's the toughest day of the week. Sometimes, we joke that "We may be Sabbath-keepers, but we are Monday-resters!"

Even so, we try to make our sabbath experience special. Call it old-fashioned, call it romantic memories for the way we were raised, call it an unusual fascination with scripture's definition of having a weekly 24-hour date with God... Call it whatever you want, but it has definitely helped us with the challenge of make the weekend run smoothly.

We see our sabbath as a whole 24 hours of time for relationships with God and family and friends, away from work, away from shopping, away from errands or chores or household maintenance. It takes a little more work during the week, but to our family, it is SO worth it!

During the week, we get the house clean, the grocery-shopping done, and the errands finished (or we postpone them for later). Our church clothes are ready the night before, to minimize fuss in the morning. I try to get some yummy food made ahead of time - ready to warm up so there's a minimum of kitchen chores. (The hubby and I have a deal - I cook up a storm, and he scrubs bathrooms and vacuums and mops, etc.) We even leave the dishes in the sink all day - no washing up allowed!

Whatever we can do ahead of time, or leave for later, we forget about it. (Check out Jenah's column on HOW TO::get to church on time(with less stress) here.)

Our iPod has a special "sabbath" playlist. The baby gets extra bubbles in his bath on sabbath. We light candles all over the house and have yummy snacks and read stories out loud together.

Yes, church day is busy, sometimes downright exhausting. And yes, we eagerly anticipate our down-day on Monday when Daddy gives us his undivided attention. But there's still something special about the day of sabbath that we just don't get from any other day of the week.

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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BURNOUT WEEK::the measure of "success"

>> August 25, 2010

Pastors who are effective and get things done are considered "successful." Denominations ... focus on results that can be measured (e.g., increased membership and the congregation's financial well-being). Yet numerous studies over the past 20 years reveal that this approach is, literally, killing clergy and, by extension, churches and denominations. (Anne Dilenschneider, The Huffington Post)
If you've never felt that your husband is under too much pressure to achieve visible results, just go ahead and walk away from the computer screen. We forgive you. (We might wonder about your sanity a little bit though...)

In her article, "Soul Care and the Roots of Clergy Burnout" Anne Dilenschneider lays out a bit of the history of how we got here. During the 1900s pastoral ministry transformed into a career that was measured by administrative and financial achievements rather than a "cure of souls".

Instead of acknowledging that we ourselves must be "made different" in order to "make a difference", by daily time in prayer and spiritual disciplines, pastors tend to feel that they have to do things, run lots of programs, and raise money.

Time spent in personal devotions and prayer is easily overlooked. Time that is just "wasted" with parishioners often has the greatest long-term return on investment, but it doesn't usually show dividends right away.

These aspects of our lives that truly make a difference in relational ministry get overlooked because we can't quantify the results with attendance numbers or offering dollars.

And our ministries could be so much stronger if we could just measure our success a little differently...

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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BURNOUT WEEK::the juggling act

>> August 24, 2010

It's almost the end of summer.

Have you and your PH (and your PKs, if you have them) had a vacation yet? Have you escaped the hustle and bustle for some quiet rejuvenation? Have you gone camping and danced in the woods? Have you lain still on a blanket and watched the clouds float by?

If you're like us, it's hard to plan vacation time and make it actually happen. Unless you're lucky enough to work in a larger multi-pastor church, it can be nearly impossible to get away for rejuvenation. Who will preach? Who will plan the service? Who will answer the phones?

Burnout is actually a huge, HUGE issue among pastors and their families. (See tomorrow's post for the latest studies on this.) It's in our job description to give. After a while, it becomes part of our nature to just keep on caring for people - often at the cost of our own well-being. And every now and then we need to make sure to get away and have some fun.

Now I'm not advocating that all hard-working ministers should just sit back and ask to be waited on hand and foot. But how can we serve others in a healthy way if we are worn down and beat up ourselves?

Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, a family physician who is married to a Lutheran minister and who wrote a 2004 book raising the alarm about clergy health (“The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy”), described the problem as a misperception about serving God.

“They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no,” she said.  (Taking a Break from the Lord's Work, Paul Vitello, New York Times)
I'm the workaholic, never-take-a-vacation type, usually because I can't figure out how we'd pay for it. I tend to see time off as wasteful, and travel with a pre-toddler can be more work than it's worth. My PH on the other hand, sees vacation as a necessary aspect of healthcare. It doesn't have to cost much, but he knows that we can't serve the church well, make wise spiritual decisions, or stay harmonious at home when we are running in burnout mode.

And my PH's district supervisors agree with him. They actually asked him point blank halfway through the summer: "Have you put your family vacation on the church calendar yet?"

So we went up north for a week, to attend a friend's wedding. And we made a big loop, stopping to visit old friends and fellow pastor families along the way.

I'm still recuperating from all the fun we had. But I'm glad we went. (And it was super cheap, too!)

Have you had YOUR vacation yet?

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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back in the saddle...

>> August 23, 2010

 You might have noticed...

CLUTCH has been on a bit of summer break. Our regular columnists, including DEAR ABIGAIL and THE GOOD STUFF, sort of went into hiding for a few weeks.

But with the start of school already passed (at least on the eastern seaboard), the season of summer frolicking is screeching to a halt. And it's time to get back to business.

DEAR ABIGAIL will be answering letters about how to deal with burnout and blackmail. THE GOOD STUFF is going to enlist you for reader input.

And we're looking to fill our calendar with two new columnists: 1)to review books, music, and resources, and 2)to interview PW mentors for advice, and to profile regular young PWs to share their stories.

Any volunteers?

Write clutchtalk [at] gmail [dot] com to let us know how you want to get involved.

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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what makes a church healthy?

>> August 5, 2010

A few days ago, beliefnet.com published an article about a recent study of 32,000 congregations, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct. The article, "Methodists Study the Hallmarks of Healthy Churches" shares some of the study's conclusions. They were careful to point out that there is no guarantee that the study's findings can apply to any other denomination, but it's likely that there is plenty of crossover.

Top two challenges churches are facing:

  • economic pressure of the cost of the infrastructure, which is increasing at a rate that is greater than the giving
  • a creeping crisis of relevancy, (the number of) young people not growing as a percentage of the participants
The article says that the study found four "key areas that fuel vitality:
  • small groups and programs; 
  • worship services that mix traditional and contemporary styles with an emphasis on relevant sermons; 
  • pastors who work hard on mentorship and cultivation of the laity; 
  • and an emphasis on effective lay leadership.
These four factors 'are consistent regardless of church size, predominant ethnicity, and jurisdiction,' the study concluded. "

Interestingly, the study also found that "it did not matter whether ministers held seminary degrees; whether pastoral ministry was a first or second career; or how long the minister had been engaged in pastoral ministry."

In other words, effective pastoral ministry results from following a calling, not from pursuing a career.

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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HOW TO::get to church on time (with less stress)

>> August 2, 2010

I am a Weekend Widow. 

And I'm sure that many of you are part of the club.  Unless you are super lucky to have someone who has made it their personal ministry to help you get your kids dressed, fed, in the car and safely to their respective classrooms by 10 AM.  But me? Not that lucky.

I have adapted.

Some people would think it is impossible or not worth the trouble, but I can do it, sometimes one-handed.  (Just kidding, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.) 

I remember one Easter when I had both kids (I only had two at the time) ready for church.  They were sitting quietly watching Kipper or something, so I ran upstairs to put the finishing touches on my look.  I suddenly got that "OH CRAP" feeling deep down inside of me. You know the one. I ran back downstairs in what seemed like slow motion to see Aiden COVERED in red nail polish.  All over his little seersucker suit.  I was devastated, and luckily had something else clean and appropriate for the occasion. 

This list might not stop that sort of thing from happening, but here’s a few tips on how to be prepared and (the operative word here) CALM:
  • Prepare clothes the night before.  I know this seems like a no-brainer, like it might not take up a lot of time on the morning of church, but it can be checked off the list the night before, so why not?  And this way, if you realize that every pair of your daughter’s tights have a hole in them and your son’s dress pants look like he spent the night in a cage fight, you’ll have ample time to take care of it.
  • Wake up a little earlier than normal. Or not. Its up to you. But you might not notice the dryer sheet stuck to the back of your cardigan if you choose the latter.
  • Let the kids eat breakfast in their jammies.  This is the one morning a week that I allow this, and I'm sure the reason is obvious. 
  • Get the diaper bag/purse/sack-of-items-to-return-to-people ready the day before, and set it in FRONT of the door so you don’t forget it. That way, you’ll have to trip over it to get to the car.  Either that or you'll sprain your ankle. In that case, you’ll get a quiet morning to yourself in the emergency room. You’re welcome.
  • Plan to leave with a full ½ hour extra of time.  I know, I know, this seems ridiculous.  If you need to leave the house at 9:45 to make it on time for church at 10:00, plan to leave at 9:15.  You think I am completely nutty? But here’s the thing. Kids and babies take more time than you think.  So most often, a 9:15 departure gets pushed to 9:25.  Then someone forgets something (now it's 9:30) and once, I even had to DRIVE ALL THE WAY BACK HOME because I forgot to switch my Adidas sport sandals for something a little more church appropriate (now we're talking 9:45)! So there you have it... my mathematical equation for getting to church on time. Its super scientific, I know.
So there are my tips on keeping your sanity intact, and looking good while doing it!

Now, if I could only figure out a system for surviving weddings alone….

© CLUTCH, 2010 unless otherwise sourced.
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