Burnout prevention

In a recent edition of Southern Cross, there was excellent and timely coverage of clergy burnout, the incidence of which is certainly on the increase.

It was good to read of the Diocese’s recent initiative with the introduction of the Clergy Assistance Program. We need to see a greater emphasis on prevention of burnout as well as cure.

Who is responsible to care for clergy (including bishops) and other church workers? The Apostle Paul writes, “Carry each other’s burdens, and this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). True love for God and our brothers and sisters will be seen in helping to carry each other’s burdens.
While I acknowledge a little overlap with Ben McEachen’s helpful article, I want to suggest  five people or groups of people who should be caring for our ministers of the gospel:

1. Bishops. Our bishops have such a responsibility of care. In the Service of Consecration of a Bishop in An Australian Prayer Book the exhortation includes these words: “Be to the  flock of Christ a shepherd... support the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken”. While these words don’t specifically apply to care for ministers, surely it includes them! While country bishops might have time to pastorally care for their much smaller group of ministers, our Archbishop and his assistant regional bishops in this Diocese have a very heavy administrative workload, which militates against spending much quality time with their ministers (and their spouses). Regional bishops need to be relieved of much of their very heavy administrative responsibilities by the Synod or the Standing Committee. Surely there are competent lay leaders and retired ministers who could chair some of the boards of our Diocese?

2. Churchwardens and other leaders within local churches. Bishop Peter Brain’s excellent book Going the Distance (commended by Mr McEachen) includes a chapter designed to help local church leaders care for their ministers. In North West Australia we gave every minister a copy of Peter’s Brain’s book and we distributed bundles of that chapter – which Peter had arranged to be printed separately – to every parish. Parish councils could consider giving their ministers some annual study leave and encourage them to attend at least one ministry conference each year as well as CMS Summer School, which ought to be in addition to their annual holidays.

3. A minister’s own peers, who know what it’s like at the ministry coalface. This can be done informally or more formally through such things as the Focus on Ministry groups, which are run within the Diocese. These supportive and encouraging groups contain up to 10 ministers, who meet regularly over a three-year period then divide and invite others to join them. I found belonging to such a group of great help.

4. Retired ministers, who could be invited to encourage and, if needed, mentor a few parish ministers, with no reporting back to the regional bishop or Archbishop. Such involvement of experienced retired ministers could be a way of preventing burnout before it happens.

5. Ministers themselves. Peter Brain’s book is so helpful, touching on ministers looking after themselves and their wives and children, being regular in personal prayer and Bible reading and, while continuing to work hard, taking regular days o , learning to relax, taking regular holidays and long service leave when it falls due.

Of course, in this brief article I haven’t touched on the same need for care of those in ministry as chaplains in schools, prisons, hospitals, the armed forces and retirement villages as well as youth and children’s workers.

Gospel ministry is a great privilege but it’s hard work and sometimes lonely. It’s a marathon and not a sprint.

New strategies are needed by bishops, local church leaders and ministers themselves in order to go the distance, because, for many, the old strategies are clearly not working.

Come on Sydney! With prayer for God’s wisdom, we can do better.

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