Clergy

Let me know you, O God,
and let me know myself.

Augustine

Working with clergy is a special passion of mine. They have some unique challenges.

Members of the clergy typically expend enormous energy giving to others. However, since they are public figures, they don’t have the same freedom to join a small group or have a friendship that allows them to process through the difficulties of their own lives. The result is that clergy often feel isolated, unknown and uncared for even as they are pouring out care and relational experiences to others.

This can create some unforeseen problems. Research from a variety of organizations (The Barna Group, Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today & The Schaeffer Institute) bears this out. Here’s a summary of their findings:

  • 71% of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living.
  • 70% of pastors stated they do not have a close friend, confidant or mentor.
  • 50% of pastors’ wives feel that their husband entering ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families.
  • 77% of the pastors stated they do not have a good marriage.
  • 30% of pastors said they had either been in an ongoing affair or had a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • 50% of pastors identified pornography as their greatest temptation.

I’d summarize these findings as, “Difficulties in ministry is normal. It comes with the job.”

It’s easy to fall into a trap that says, “struggles with depression, loneliness, sexual problems, marital problems etc., are evidence that I’m really messed up.” Our gut reaction is to hide these difficulties from others and even from ourselves. But these statistics actually say you’re normal. In demanding roles like being a pastor, it’s very common to have some major challenges.

The question is, what to do about it. Often times people in ministry don’t know how to get the help they need. They feel isolated and lonely. They may have numerous people to talk with about ministry strategy and vision but no one to talk with about their personal life, their marital struggles, or their own soul care.

For clergy, individual or marriage therapy can provide that safe, confidential place to talk about their own lives. They may have some important, difficult issues that they want to address. Or they may just want a safe place to download and talk about the natural, normal stressors of ministry life. In either case, they can benefit from working with a therapist who will journey alongside them.