Church consultant and coach Eddie Hammett has written a number of recent articles on this problem because he is seeing more of it in his work. I read another article last week saying that there is an increase in clergy depression that is quite troubling to denominational leaders. The problem for all of us is that no one seems to know a solution to the problem.
I can identify some of the causes, but I struggle knowing how to resolve them. Some of the causes I've seen are
- People have not been adequately prepared by their seminary training for ministry in the real world. As I've written before, too many are trained to be research theologians, not pastors, so when they arrive at their first church they are not prepared for what will be expected of them.
- Churches and clergy may not be a good fit. I've seen many good churches and good pastors find out they were not good for one another. When the expectations of the church and pastor are at variance with one another, and the pastor does not have the gift mix to meet the expectations of the church, problems are sure to occur.
- Too many ministers and churches have not learned how to properly deal with conflict. When conflict is on-going it takes a toll on everyone. Clergy and churches need to learn how to address conflict and be willing to bring in outside assistance early in the conflict.
- Many clergy have unrealistic expectations of what ministry will be. Ministry is often messy work that doesn't normally occur within the safe surroundings of the pastor's study. There can be a lot of drama in ministry, and healthy ministers need to quickly learn how to deal with that drama or it will begin to eat at them.
- Many churches have unrealistic expectations of their pastor. One pastor asked his board to list what they believed his primary tasks in the church were and how much time he should spend on each task. When their lists were compiled the hours that were listed totaled over 100 hours and did not include family time, meals, sleep, or any other personal activity. He used that to point out to them the need for the church to begin to develop more realistic expectations of his role in the church.
- Clergy often underestimate how difficult introducing change into a church will be. Most all church systems prefer the status quo and will resist change. My experience has been that it takes much longer to bring about change in a church than I would have originally thought when I began the process. Systems tend to always try to revert back to what was familiar, and that struggle can be very tiring on the minister.
- Some churches are dysfunctional. They are led by controlling lay leaders who are simply mean-spirited. One thing denominational leaders can do in such cases is to refuse to assist them in pastor searches until they are willing to become healthier.
- Some pastors are dysfunctional. I've known a few pastors who were also controllers who felt it was their call to beat the sheep, not feed them. However, not all dysfunctional ministers are abusive. Some are manipulative, and they abuse their congregations through manipulative means to get what they want. Again, denominational leaders have a means to address this. We should feel no obligation to assist such people as they search for a new ministry position.
- Some pastors should have never gone into the ministry. They lack the giftedness and the calling to serve as ministers. The reason such pastors struggle so much is that they are out of their element. The individuals should be helped to recognize this and encouraged to find other employment outside of ministry. Such persons may find that they will be excellent lay leaders in a church, but they are not the right person to pastor a church.