Sunday, August 8, 2010

Clergy burnout: a rant

This morning in the NY Times there's an editorial, written in response to a recent study that more clergy are suffering from burnout than they used to. "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" suggested the article reviewing the study.

In contrast, in his editorial, UCC minister and journalist G. Jeffrey MacDonald says, "yeah, yeah, they're not getting any time off, but what's really burning clergy out is they don't get to tell people they're miserable sinners like they used to." OK, so I'm paraphrasing. But it certainly seems to be what it boils down to.

I don't buy it at all. Within the editorial, MacDonald seems to be ignoring huge swaths of stressors in order to support his pet theory. He writes:

Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found.

His claim is that this shows that "Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason." Those darn Americans! Allowed to make up their own minds instead of sitting quietly in the pew like they're supposed to!

But doesn't this indicate another source of stress: dwindling resources--not only financial, but person-hours. The societal pressure that required one to be in church went away. All those lovely volunteer hours of the women's guilds got taken up by the workplace. And fewer people attending church or doing volunteer work means both less money and more requirements on paid clergy to do work previously done by volunteers. None of this has anything to do with congregational dabbling. It has to do with trying to do a great deal more with a great deal less. Of course clergy are burning out. And of course that makes taking time off much harder, leading to further stress and burnout.

MacDonald seems to have compassion neither for clergy nor for the laypeople he ostensibly serves. I worry about any congregation who has to deal with a pastor who sees his primary role is "to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires" as MacDonald writes. Ick! No wonder they wanted him to keep his sermons to 10 minutes. I doubt I'd last that long.

As a comparison, check out the fabulous ladies at Dirty Sexy Ministry's entry on Sexy Ministry versus Dirty Ministry.

Sexy Ministry says catch phrases and important sounding words that often confuse the listener so as not to disappoint the listener. Dirty Ministry speaks the truth even when the truth is not safe, even when you will be punished for the truth.

Are there dabblers? Are there congregations that mistreat their clergy? Are there consumer-based church goers who look for entertainment? Sure. But to suggest that everything would be all right if only parishioners would behave themselves like they used to--as if there were ever a time when people weren't people--is absurd. MacDonald seems to want to tell the truth (or perhaps more accurately "say whatever he wants") and not be punished. I think someone should suggest to him that there's a higher calling and save his soul.

1 comment:

it's margaret said...

you are good. very very good. getting to the root of the presuppositions.

Thank you.