Clergy Burnout Season Intro | Podcast Season 02, Episode 01

by Aug 2, 2022Transforming Engagement: the Podcast

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Welcome to Season 2 of Transforming Engagement, The Podcast. In this series of episodes, we’re discussing the pressing topic of clergy burnout. With increasing demands on their roles, unrelenting stress, and inadequate support, studies show that one in three pastors is at risk of burnout.

How can we provide better support, training, and care to our clergy to equip and encourage them to stay in their calling? 

In this season, we’re talking with current and former pastors, counselors, authors, and advocates. We’re digging in to learn more about the risk factors that contribute to burnout and how pastors and congregations can recognize the warning signs. We’ll also discuss practical strategies for clergy self-care and ways that congregations can better support the clergy that support them. 

Supporting resources:


About this season’s hosts:

Kate Rae Davis, MDiv, is the Director of the Center for Transforming Engagement at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Kate Rae Davis brings a collaborative approach to her current role working with Christian leaders to restore their inner resilience and live into their purpose. Her position allows her to gather with experts from a variety of fields and shape discussions around challenges facing leaders in a complex cultural moment and discern how each might uniquely join in God’s work in the world. Passionate about the church in its many forms, Kate is the recipient of the 2018 Bishop’s Preaching Award and can often be found behind the pulpit of her home church, St. Luke’s Episcopal in Ballard.

Rose Madrid Swetman, DMin, an instructor with the Center for Transforming Engagement at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Rose was a co-pastor with her husband, and also served as the regional leader for Vineyard Northwest, where she oversaw about 46 churches. Today, she coaches and mentors pastors and leaders. 

With a deep understanding of the challenges faith leaders face, we hope that this will be a space where pastors and clergy will feel seen and known. For those of you who are not pastors but perhaps are part of a faith community or congregation, we hope these conversations will be enlightening and give you a greater understanding and empathy for the leaders in your community, and prompt questions as to how we can support these faithful leaders.


Episode Transcript:

Kate: Welcome to the new season of Transforming Engagement, the Podcast. This season we are talking about clergy burnout, increasingly a problem in the post-COVID context. I am Kate Rae Davis, the director of the Center for Transforming Engagement, and this season I am joined with, by Rose Madrid Swetman to co-host us through this season. Rose, would you introduce yourself a bit?

Rose: Yeah. Thanks for inviting me, Kate. So I’m Rose Madrid Swetman and I currently I work at the school in the Center for Transforming Engagement as an instructor. Formerly, I was the regional leader for Vineyard Northwest, where I oversaw about 46 churches for ten years working with pastors. I was 15 years a co-pastor with my husband of a church in Shoreline And today, other than working at the school, I do one-on-one coaching, spiritual direction and mentoring with pastors and leaders.

Kate: Yes. So much. And this is like I hope for listeners, it’s increasingly obvious why Rose is co-hosting this with me. You bring such a wealth of information and wisdom around what the actual practice of leading a faith community entails and what the challenges are to leaders of those communities. Because you’re having the closed door conversations with them about the challenges they’re facing, the emotional experience of leadership, things that their congregants often don’t know. And I think things that a lot of clergy are even hesitant to say to each other out of fear of losing respectability in the field. So I know you have those stories in mind and are able to share those out in ways that are obscuring identities, but still give us the wisdom and give voice to the conversation of the clergy burnout challenges So, so grateful to have you joining me and hosting this season.

Rose: Thanks for inviting me. I think it’s so important we talk about this.

Kate: Yeah. Yeah. So to start us off for the season, we wanted to give you, our listeners, an episode overview of what Rose and I know so far about Clergy Burnout. Rose gave you her background. I should also say I have a background in ministry. I’ve worked in nondenominational mega-churches and local parishes and a mainline denomination. So very different church contexts, and left professional ministry world for the ministry support world when I was designing and leading the Resilient Leaders Project, which was to support primarily clergy but Christian leaders more broadly, and that’s become the Center for Transforming Engagement. So it feels a bit, by the grace of God, that I was saved from my own clergy burnout experience. So this episode, we will do some linking of our stories to the issues and discuss the context that we find ourselves in the challenges of burnout in that and some of the research that’s coming out on clergy burnout as it’s becoming a more recognized and addressable problem that people are finally starting to talk about it more openly. So where should we begin – context?

Rose: Yeah. Why don’t, do you want to give some stats from the Barna Report? The recent Barna report just to, just to give us some context of what’s going on right now?

Kate: Yeah, this came out just this March, I believe, just this spring, on how clergy burnout is playing out. I think the biggest takeaway is that it’s really on clergies’ minds: almost half of clergy and I say, 42% are actively considering leaving the field of ministry because of how stressful this season has been.

Rose: Yeah. And it says just in just a few stats from the Barna Report, the, when clergy report what is going on for them, they, 56% the immense stress of the job is why they either have quit or are thinking about quitting. 43% feel lonely and isolated. 38% current political divisions. And then we could go down from there but those are just some of the, the places especially in the last few years that have just amped it for pastors I think.

Kate: Yeah. I think more anecdotally the thing I hear from pastors is it’s impossible to hold a congregation together across difference in this high polarization and fragmentation of masks, racial awakening…

Rose: Vaccinations…

Kate: Yeah. And there’s no I there’s there’s no balance beam of where they can walk a line that’s acceptable to people. Like I’ve heard pastors talk about if they mention racism, systemic racism at all in a sermon, they have people leave both because they talked about it at all. And they have people leave from the same sermon because they brought it up at all. So there’s almost a lose-lose on a lot of these social issues for pastors and as they’re trying to just keep their congregation going, like what’s a survivable living for their congregation? People just opt out.

Rose: Right. Right. I mean, when we think about clergy burnout, we used to say back in the day in the eighties and nineties, I’m I’m old. So I have even, you know, years of even living through the eighties and nineties where there were so many churches that blew up, so many pastors. And we used to say they crashed and burned. They crashed and burned in whatever way that came out, whether it was through sexually abusing someone, using drugs, embezzling money. But I mean, this has been part of the story. And then leading up to the pandemic, got even more intense with all the divisiveness. Then we have the pandemic. And it was a perfect storm for pastors to just be completely exhausted all all the things that pastors have to do anyway. Unless you’re in a megachurch and have a giant staff, the average congregation in America, I don’t even know what it is now. It used to be like 65 adults. Post-COVID, I don’t even know if we have numbers anymore, but declining, even megachurches declining. And so as these pastors of smaller congregations, they have to do everything, pretty much. And then what I hear from pastors now is our volunteers haven’t come back. So we’re left holding, trying to get ministries going, restart or birth or new ministries, whatever. Just get something going. But we don’t. The volunteerism is so down. People are used to being home. And so it’s just even more complicated for pastors now. So much on their plates.

Kate: And people just been home and they found from our lockdown era different ways to feel connected to their spirituality. Their inner world. Like it’s just not the same because we had to cope with other things. Now we found the rhythms of those and don’t have the same need for  gathering that we once felt. To the point of pastors having to do too many jobs, we quote this in our burnout report that’s coming out soon that there are 64 different task clusters that congregations expect a pastor to be able to do, which if you were to create those and actual job descriptions as the market defines a job, those would be 13 distinct working roles. And so if you have a parish, which this is many parishes where it’s one pastor with their 50 to 80 congregants they’re functionally expected to do 13 different roles and no one’s no one’s trained for that many jobs.

Rose: It’s too much and it’s been too much. Now we’re naming because it’s it’s so prevalent now you know it’s not just the 20% now we’re at almost you know 40 something percent so now we have to name those things.

Kate: Yeah. Am I’m about to go back to what you talked about that the behave, the bad behaviors. Yeah. The sins that pastors do to get out of a bad situation. I think we’ve seen that over the years just as like individual moral failures, is often how the news whatever different this the narrative we have is like oh well that one person was bad. Um I think it’s a much more systemic view says the system is unsustainable and the only way that pastors can imagine for themselves to get out from it is to do something where they’re pushed out. Whether that’s your point financial, sexual, spiritual right. Whatever they have to do just to make it stop. Um, and that was, I think, more of a fringe thing or enough of a, maybe just a hidden thing. Now, both because of the MeToo movement, different awakenings in our society, and then the added pressures of COVID, it’s not a crumbling around the edges anymore. It’s the whole thing is starting to collapse under the weight of it.

Rose: That’s right. It’s imploding many. And internally, pastors and leaders are imploding, and then the congregation starts to implode and yeah, it is. We have to look at holistically rather than this pastor sinned. Yeah. I mean, many of the pastors that I’ve worked with in the past ten years, if they fell into some sort of moral failure, whether it was through finances, a sexual relationship, sexually abusing or misusing their power, many of those situations, when I think about watching the red flags that led up to that, I could see they were anesthetizing themselves. They were. I mean, this isn’t to give anybody a pass. It’s just to try to say what are the factors that lead to this? So a factor is a pastor can’t stand to get up on Monday morning and face that there was only 20 people in their church on Sunday or the the pastor knows he or she knows they’re not going to make budget or they’ve got a conflict in the congregation that I mean it’s just too much. And so they begin to anestheize themselves. They find a way to depersonalize themselves out of the ministry in in some ways when they’re way like you have to depersonalize in order to do have a sexual relations trip with a congregant. Right. So these are things that lead us into the burnout.

Kate: Yeah. When you say depersonalize, you mean as almost a numbing of yourself. And their presence to yourself? 

Rose: Right. I mean, you have to shut off if I’m a pastor and now I’m having a sexual relationship with a congregant? Think of what you have to shut off in order to have that situation go on. And for some, it goes on for years. Before they’re found out. I mean, we don’t even have to report just in the documentaries that are on Netflix right now about all of the stuff that’s going on behind the doors.

Kate: So and it really started, I think, so much of that that sexual abuse concern started with the Catholic Church, and it’s really becoming increasingly apparent that Protestantism is in no way exempt from these issues. Yet. So OK, and everything you just listed as the factors of things that keep pastors up at night that Sunday attendance budget and 

Rose: conflict.

Kate: Conflict. Those three things since 2020 have become Sunday attendance. To your point we don’t even have metrics like the Facebook likes the Facebook views like we don’t know what to use in my church certainly. Budget as people have been unemployed or differently employed than they used to be, nothing is as reliable as it was. You know, if you have a budgeting process or donation commitment process. And conflict is just almost nothing remains un-politicized.

Rose: That’s right.

Kate: So it’s it’s almost hard even just to know how to dress because you’re what you wear is going to signal something to your congregation about who you are, which then makes every choice you make.

Rose: Yeah.

Kate: So burdensome.

Rose: Right. Your words that you use now, it wasn’t like this before. I mean, as to your point, if if if you’re preaching preaching a sermon on how much like every tribe, every nation, whatever, like that’s the text. And you talk about wanting that kind of diversity in your church, people are going to be mad at you like like you played the race card or why do we have to care about multi ethnicity like there’s like, is that the new thing now? Like instead of like, you know, this is the gospel, this is actually the gospel.

Kate: Yeah.

Rose: So I think it has been said. Another thing I think for pastors this struggle is over and over. It has been said that: are people being really discipled in our churches? Are they being discipled by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC?

Kate: Oof. Yeah. Yeah.

Rose: And that’s a huge question. That we have to be asking so.

Kate: Many more hours per week of formation. Yeah. In our media spaces than in our spiritual life spaces. For many people. Um.

Rose: And I would just say because of that discipleship being through media is why many pastors get so much pushback when they think, I’m just preaching the gospel. Like, Where is this coming from? Yeah, that’s even hard for pastors to… This is what the text says.

Kate: So yeah, yeah. And with the rise in Christian nationalism, what the text says is no longer, what people think the text says it’s no longer fully aligned. What the tag says I want to dive into the system and culture of churches, clergy, um, and how those contribute to clergy burnout. And we’ve named a lot of the stressors that clergy carry. Um, like in my denomination, the budget and Sunday attendance pieces are how you become if you’re a mission like we are, it’s how you become a parish where you’re then have responsibility for your own land instead of the regional leader being responsible for it. So the whole system is geared towards making pastors really care about these metrics that are not about spiritual growth or spiritual maturity or togetherness of a community the reasons that pastors often get into that role are forgotten because of what the church system demands that they give their attention to.

Rose: Kate, so important because as you describe what the Episcopal Church metrics are, I mean, the Vineyard was birthed out of the church growth movement of the eighties, right? So the early eighties, late seventies church growth movement. So, yes, so many pastors, that’s the metric. How many people? What Sunday morning attendance is like the biggest metric for how you’re doing and then giving is a second.

Rose: Yeah

Kate: Yeah. And when you there’s some some piece of that that I really want to honor of if you’re your mission as a church is to reach nonbelievers and to bring them into the fold of your community. Lovely. Like yeah a good way to have a metric. But once you become more focused on the number than you are on the stories and the lives touched, it’s a different burden to bear.

Rose: It is very it is very burdensome because you always feel like a failure. And as to your point, most pastors did not come into wanting to be clergy in order to grow a large church. They they wanted to come and provide soul care for for their people and disciple and and as to your point earlier, instead they have 13 different jobs. And maybe one of them, the denomination or even if you’re nondenominational, the bottom line, how many people and what’s the budget? Right. And that it’s not sustainable. And we’re seeing that. We’re seeing it. 

Kate: Yeah, I think of those 13 jobs maybe one is in that social care realm. Right. And that means that you have 12 other jobs that you’re doing that are just draining your energy and not aligned with your purpose necessarily. 

Rose: Right?

Kate: Yeah. Um, so we’ve seen the word stress a lot and obviously stress the accumulation of stress leads to burnout, leads to chronic depression, there’s statistics on that. I believe in the Barna Report about chronic depression and pastors. I think it’s just so important to name ministry always exists in a body. We, we are followers of Christ, who is the divine, who took out a body to show us what leading a ministry in a body looks like. And so our stress is also in our bodies. It’s not just a spiritual stress. It’s not just in our heads. Like the impacts of stress are very real in our hormone levels, in our muscles, in our hearts. Like our physical hearts, not our metaphorical hearts. And, and learning how to manage those stress responses is not something that the church has had good practices around, much less trained their spiritual leaders for. It’s in some ways like a really a culture that encourages you not to care for your body, because then you have to acknowledge that you have a body. And, you know, all of our dualisms come out, our bodies bad and everything. Spirituality good.

Rose: That’s right. Well, when I think about that, I think about you’re right. Pastors don’t get trained. And in many ways, pastors theologically are trained to ignore their bodies.

Kate: Yes.

Rose: Right. And their hearts are evil. Deceit. So you can’t trust your heart or your feelings. So the other thing that we know is that pastors are under, they, chronic stress. There’s there’s studies that have been done even pre pandemic and pre insurrection, political divide, all of that – studies were done on how much stress pastors carry chronic stress, secondary trauma from listening to being at hospitals with people dying or all the stuff that pastors carry causes stress in their bodies. So factors. But so what do we do with that stress? Pastors are trained, I will say, in denial, theologically, deny our bodies, magical thinking, like, oh, we’ll get through this without thinking how you’re getting through it.

Kate: Or we’ll pray about it. And that will be enough to soothe your body.

Rose: Yes. We we are I don’t know many pastors that were trained to listen to their bodies as part of their spirituality and part of their wellbeing. I don’t in fact, yeah, mostly we’re taught to deny them.

Kate: Yeah.

Rose: And to your point, all these things that cause stress, the factors well, that stress sits in our bodies and affects all of the systems, right? Our digestive system, the hormones start going and they need someplace to go. So our hearts are are affected. Our digestive system, people get headaches. I know of a pastor in I think he’s in his late thirties, maybe early forties, that recently was having such terrible pains, went to the doctors. He thought maybe he was having heart problems, heart issues. Well, after many tests, the doctor said you have ulcers and it’s from stress.

Kate: So yeah.

Rose: And he ended up having to resign his job, his pastorate. In order like it took weeks for him to recover from the pain in his body that was caused by just continued chronic stress over especially the past two years. I mean, you think about in the Northwest and I’m sure this has happened in other places when I think about 2020 and the COVID shut down and we were all sort of just you know we didn’t know how long that would be. We’re just kind of going along and and then here in the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest, we had fires then we had to shut down because the smoke was so bad. I remember just thinking like this feels like the first days of shut down. Like I can’t go outside, I can’t breathe. Like and I know pastors that lost homes, they lost their congregants lost homes. I mean, it was just one thing on top of another in the last few years.

Kate: Yeah. Derek, our President of the Seattle School, keeps saying that we’re living between COVID and collapse.

Rose: Yes.

Kate: That COVID was really a wakeup call, an invitation for us to do something differently. Societally. Globally.

Rose: Yes.

Kate: And if we don’t and I think the wildfires are very much, you know, early I mean, early, late stage climate change of what we’re going to be increasingly facing in our communities. And again, the I think the cultural narrative we have around a lot of that is how do we prepare, hoard our resources. And really, pastors could be our people who teach us to share resources  together as people who will have to share water with one another. And and when we don’t have any sense of safety or resting ourselves, it’s it’s really hard to offer that to others to give from an empty well.

Rose: I think when I think about too burnout in the clergy and pastors; lives, it’s like, you know, you do we don’t talk about how what it feels like to be in burnout.

Kate: Yeah. I mean, I’m hoping that you share –

Rose: You want me to share my story. Well, because I think like the causes we can talk about unmet expectations. I mean pastors we talked about that so many expectations of how they’re supposed to show up all this stuff. But another thing that I think causes that is just pure emotional exhaustion and the stress factors. And if we don’t know what to do with that stress in our bodies. So that happened to me when, I remember sitting in a class. So I had heart failure, congestive heart failure in 2016 after a year of chronic stress in the ministry. So my heart gave out and I remember I was in recovery and doing better and we were sitting in one of our early Resilient Leader Project with Linda Wegner and she was talking about the effects of the hormones, and when you’re under chronic stress, the hormones that are going off what’s happening to all the systems in your body. And I remember she said, if that if those hormones don’t have any place to go, they turn to sludge in your body and you’re either going to have a stroke or a heart attack. And I was like, Hello, that’s exactly what happened to me. And because I wasn’t taught what to do with that stress in my body, how to get rid of it, and which I think. Do you want to talk about this, the stress response cycle? Like how we and before you say that, I don’t know who quoted this. I want to say it was Richard Rohr, maybe it was Dallas Willard. But I just remember this stuck with me after like, wait – we are not human beings trying to learn to be spiritual. We’re spiritual beings trying to learn how to be human, which means we have bodies. To your point, when we opened up, Jesus had a body.

Kate: So it’s through our bodies that we attained some of that more, living the life that God wants for us. Yes, that’s that’s the best theological language I have for it. Yes. It’s not to abstract ourselves from, but to live deeper into. Yeah. The stress release cycle. So the very short version, this is something we talk about in some of our events and offerings on practices. So, you know, go, go check out our website. But essentially we used to think that the human body had a baseline of rest and then we became stressed. And we’ve really learned over time that humans today have a baseline of stress and you have to actively seek ways to get your body into a state of calm. So to release that stress, you really, action is the only way to get out. When you see my dog get stressed out whenever another dog comes nearby and then after the dog passes, she’ll be all bristly and she’ll shake and then she’s fine again. Humans don’t have the shake response, so we have to do other ways of moving it instead. But it’s the same principle. It’s you have to do something physical to get out of your body because the alternative is you essentially put your body into a forced trauma state. There’s in Bessel van der Kolk’s [The] Body Keeps the Score, he summarizes a study of soldiers who were evacuated from a context and in the evacuation. They’re in this hyper stress state, and then they had to pack into this tiny airplane so they could not move, they could not help, they couldn’t do anything that their stress responses were telling them to do, which was fight or flight. Instead, they were just stuck. And then their brains, their bodies stewing in their stress response. And that’s what causes PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. So if you’re not moving because that’s just how your body is, you’re literally causing yourself trauma and the long term health impacts that go with that.

Rose: Which could be hearts, it could be strokes, it could be headaches, chronic headaches, ulcers, I mean, eating disorders. I mean, we could go on.

Kate: And even the dissociative numbness that we talked about earlier.

Rose: Yes, it can.

Kate: Just be we start coping in ways that help us check out just to cope with the stress and trauma that’s held in our bodies.

Rose: I mean, when we think about that response rate, the fight or flight, which is an early response from back in the day when wild animals could be chasing you. And so what do you do? You you run, you run, you run, and then you get home and you’re home and you go, [sighs], but your body moved and you moved through the fright.

Kate: Yes.

Rose: And got to a place where your body went, OK, we’re OK now.

Kate: You are in a safe space.

Rose: Exactly. But now we don’t really have wild animals chasing us. It could be one of these things that we’ve talked about. So where is the body movement? And it could be as simple as you know, taking a five minute walk. It could be just finding ways to feel your body again. Be in your body like a walk, breathing, different breathing exercises. So I don’t know if we wanted to jump to that, but just as the stress release cycle, we have to do something with it.

Kate: And I want to I’m going about you in a second to talk more about the theologies of, the theologies that keep us in denial, the theologies that so many of pastors are trained in that keep them from being able to acknowledge or then release the stress in their bodies. And I think part of the theological frame for why this work is so important is it’s really hard to love your neighbor if you are so stressed out by your neighbor to the point of the conflicts and social tensions we have right now. IIt becomes really easy to just say, I’m going to be on this side of the culture wars, whichever side that is. And I don’t have to worry about loving my neighbor, or at least in my stress, enough to love my neighbor. I’m going to dig in further here. And our society really rewards that kind of behavior, really rewards people who do that otheroing the other side.

Rose: Yeah, I, I, I don’t know about theologies, but what I do think about is, you know, Jesus said if you’re going to be a servant, you’ll be a servant to all. And if we read the texts in Timothy and like what it means to be clergy and all that, OK, but if there is this this theology that says something about I’m more holy and more righteous, if I sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice, even my own body, my, my kids, my, you know, my family, my ministry, like there is some kind of framework that we got out of this. What it means to be clergy is that you sacrifice but I don’t believe Jesus ever, I mean, one of my favorite taxes in Matthew 11 where Jesus said, are you tired? Are you burned out? Come and get away with me and I’ll give you a rest learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Well, so what are those unforced rhythms of grace? I don’t know many pastors that really have them. I think they have forced rhythms like I’ve got to do, do, do, because everything could collapse if I don’t. And they’re burning themselves out.

Kate: I think this is like a common misconception. A common misconception about self-care is it puts one more thing on your to-do list. It’s one more force rhythm. It’s I have to wake up an hour earlier and have my time with my Bible and God in prayer, or I have to at the end of my workday, go for a 5K run, like whatever the thing is that we’re adding on to having to do for our lives. If it’s one more forced rhythm, that’s not grace.

Rose: No, it’s not. Which is why in our program we talk about how do we have how do we get these rhythms and practices that actually enable us to be well, rather than adding something already on to a really busy life? Like, no, I mean, actually, part of it is what can we take away? What can we like these things that are forced on us? How can we get rid of them? And, and, and just small little ways of embracing the unforced rhythms of grace they can be really small. As to your point, I don’t want to train for a 5K. I mean, I just need to walk twice a week, you know what I mean? Like that is a good start and another thing I think that happens for pastors is when things aren’t going so great, especially in this climate, they work harder and harder and harder and feel like they need more grit. Well, really, what they need is more help. Not more grit. They need people. They need. Which is another thing that we the research has shown us. Who are your people? Who is the community, especially for clergy? Who can you be with and tell the truth to? Probably not your congregants, probably not the best idea. I mean, in some places that might work but I have found that that is not the best place to, like, scream and yell about how much you hate your job.

Kate: It’s a rare congregant who can hold that friendship space.

Rose: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah, so who are your people? Who are the people that will let you cry and be mad and and know that you you actually do love the ministry, but you’ve got to get this stuff out and so.

Kate: And will let you process your doubts and failures and let you be asked about where you feel like you don’t know what to do next.

Rose: Exactly.

Kate: And not to be a strong leader.

Rose: OK, yeah. No, that’s exactly right. And so we need people. So when I say we don’t need more grit, we need help. It’s who are the people that will allow you to be human sized and be with them even as a clergy person?

Kate: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The grit metaphor always takes is like perseverance. Like, just keep like pushing your way through.

Rose: Which is the bad theological point that is a forced rhythm of grace, not an unforced rhythm of grace. Where I just have to make, it make it, make it. One thing, a cardiologist, my cardiologist said to me in my recovery, because of my heart, the weakened condition of my heart, I was never sure how much I could do. Like I had to really pay attention the first two years after my heart failure of what could my heart take? I couldn’t put any stress on my heart as it was recovering. It’s a hard thing to get rid of, but my husband was great. Like he got rid of all stress. Nobody was allowed to bring stress around me. I was in a cocoon for a year, but but I remember one day asking him, will I ever be able to do this or can I do this? Or what about this? And he turned to me. He said, Rose, you can’t be so afraid of dying that you quit living. So here’s what I want you to just remember. Whenever you catch yourself thinking, I just can push through this. I just can push through this. I have to push through is when you need to stop. That is your body telling. You know, you need to stop and take a break, rest, whatever you need to do to get your, your energy back. So, yeah.

Kate: And our bodies really do protest against the stress we put them under if we know how to listen to, to those protests, which often can start much smaller, like you’re the pastor who had ulcers. If you listen to the early stomach pain. So then it gets to that point like I will get headaches that will escalate into migraines. I had a stress induced drug reaction once that once, once it hit that I was like, oh, all the things I was taking for stress were part of the problem. I should have listened to my body sooner and said no to a lot more things. And it’s so hard when what you’re doing feels so purposeful and so meaningful and other people need you and it feels so good to be needed.

Rose: Oh, hello. Let’s go there for just a moment because I think most clergy or people in helping professions. There’s a reason they go into this work, this ministry and so many of us, it’s because we need to be needed. And so working that all out and realizing you can say, no, you aren’t the savior Jesus is like -.

Kate: Jesus already saved. 

Rose: He already did all that work.

Kate: We don’t need you to die. 

Kate: So yeah, yeah, yeah. But I mean, those are factors for you. It’s and, so in this I maybe more teaching than I planned on doing in our Resilience Report which came out a few years ago. But also on our website, along with our clergy burnout report, we outlined three essential components of resilience people, practices and purpose and it was shocking to me in this recent Barna report about clergy burnout, how much those categories overlap in exactly the ways that we expected, which is the thing that keeps pastors in ministry is purpose. And it can become, what sounds really lovely like, oh, all these ways of giving back, but it can be tapped into these very unhealthy parts of ourselves and can become such a hard crutch that we ignore what’s happening in our bodies. We can ignore what’s happening in our own sense of isolation. Um, and those were the two, the practices and people, which is exhaustion, isolation, where the top two reasons that people leave ministry. And in a sense this report was so validating of the work that we’ve been doing for years.

Rose: Right.

Kate: Because it’s, it’s really how do pastors get connected to a community when they’re in a role that is by definition isolating often as people who got into the role because they were looking for a sense of belonging and you never fully belong to the thing that you create. How do we help pastors create unforced rhythms and unforced practices that care for their bodies? And relieve some of the pressure that they put on the purpose for themselves? It’s important to have a sense of purpose, but it can’t be where you live.

Rose: Exactly. Exactly. And I would say in the life span of a clergy, like for me being, you know, a clergy person for like 30 years now, your purpose changes over time. You know, and so I think sometimes pastors are like No, this is what I’m going to do until I die without ever checking in again with the spirit to see maybe you’re being invited to something else at this stage of your life. Maybe all of this was onto something different. So, yeah, but I think a lot of times pastors cannot let go like, no, this is the calling. This is and it may well be.

Kate: Yeah, but maybe, you put so much weight on this, this particular calling that can be hard to see the calling could become a pedestal and sort of a stepping stone to another something.

Rose: I remember one time years ago talking to a young pastor here in the city, and he came to see me and we were just talking through and he could not tell if he was in burnout or if he was experiencing “holy discontent” is what he said. Like maybe, maybe the spirit is calling me out of this. And that’s why I’m so tired and I’m so exhausted. And anyway, he ended up taking a sabbatical to try to discern and did not come back to the pastorate.

Kate: Yeah.

Rose: But yeah, you just don’t know. That’s why prior to burnout, doing these kinds of this kind of work, before you get to that stage, you can discern maybe.

Kate: Yeah. Well, that’s also having that back to the systems of the church an adverse effect because there are many congregations who are now hesitant to give pastors a sabbatical because of the fear that if you have space to really think about your call and what you’re doing, you won’t come back. So they’ll deny sabbaticals just to get a few more years of.

Rose: Right.

Kate: Crispy, toasty on the edge of burnout work out of their pastor. Before that pastor’s then totally spent and leaves often in a either a blaze of shame of all the failures that we talked about earlier, or just in frustration. And often those pastors not only leave the professional ministry, they leave the church altogether, which is a devastating loss. And the investment that’s often put into those pastors as far as education and training and mentorship. It just leaves with them and the knowledge and wisdom of the spiritual tradition leaves with them.

Rose: Right. So if we started earlier creating systems for pastors to be able to survive and actually flourish in their ministry because we have support around them, around these things that we’ll be talking about as we go through the podcasts, like what are the things that we could put in place? How do we change the system? We’ll talk about those things, but it’s so important for, I don’t know, you know, different denominations, non denominations have different polity and how they do this, but so important for whoever is the decision making body in your church is an agenda always should be. How are we caring for the pastors health? Holistic health. Not just spiritual because if you have a pastor that’s physically not healthy, then that’s going to we know all of these systems are connected, spiritual, social, mental, emotional, all of it. So how are we holistically caring for our clergy?

Kate: Yes, and knowing that caring for our clergy will come back to caring for the congregation because the way, how the leader is doing.

Rose: Is how the congregation is doing –

Kate: is how the organization is doing, yes. I just want to wrap up. But I wanted to end on asking you about you know, we’re looking forward to a few conversations with some content experts and a couple of panels, one with current clergy, one with former clergy. What are you hoping to learn or explore in those conversations this podcast season?

Rose: Well, I think one of the things that you and I have just talked about is like as we listen, rethinking systems, like what what are the systems that will support health and thriving and flourishing in the ministry? How might the spirit be even starting to work those things out because of all that’s happening, like the, you know, sort of awakening to this this the way the environments that pastors are living in, that they’re being brought up in. So I’m hoping to learn how can we help with the systems and especially the work that we’re doing here at the Center can help inform us of how do we how how can pastors flourish and thrive? What do they need? What do boards need to know? What does leadership need to know? What do congregants, congregations need to know?

Kate: Yeah, I have similar: a lot of questions around recovery or pastors who are able to find ways to nest themselves into the system in a way that their body is has space for themselves. Like a robin working themselves into a nest. And then I think I also because I because I’m always interested in the what works, what helps. I’m encouraging myself to also slow down and listen to what are the pain points. What are the that the actual because it’s one thing to talk about theologies, philosophies, systems, but like how are those things enforced or what are the actual behaviors and how do we socially reward or punish pastors to get them to keep living into the system that increasingly we recognize is not humane. So I’m really listening for the pain points in a really on the ground, concrete embodied way because those will be where we can start having some impact, right?

Rose: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, I’m looking forward to hearing from the guests that will have in the panels. Yeah, absolutely.

Kate: Me too.