Combating Clergy Burnout in a Pandemic

Mary Frances
FaithX Senior Missional Consultant

It’s become a regular refrain lately from my coaching clients:  This just isn’t what I signed up for.  I don’t recognize ministry anymore.  I don’t know how to do ministry anymore. Maybe it’s just no longer my call.

The spring flush of the Covid-19 crisis has turned into the late Summer dog days of ministry.  Let’s face it, back in March when we all locked down, no one believed for a minute that we would still be here. According to recent research from the Barna Group,  

What Clergy Are Reporting

struggling with ministry to children and youth

struggling with a hybrid model of ministry

facing challenges to maintaining growth and momentum

fear they are nearing personal burnout

concerned that outreach efforts will be disrupted by the pandemic

concerned that fall worship will be disrupted by the pandemic
and that there is nothing they can do about it.

Barna Group (August 2020)

Certainly, this is a time of uncertainty and change.  Going back to the way things used to be isn’t really an option.  If you are among the 40% of churches open for worship, you know that it doesn’t look or feel the same as it did back in February.  The longer this goes on, the harder it is to imagine what the future will hold for congregations, for denominations, for faithful people.  It is precisely in this kind of uncertainty that we need to grow our resilience muscles.  

I never thought much about resilience in my life until I was preparing for ministry.  When I received the results of my required psychological exams, there was a whole section on my high level of resilience.  I had sought support during my divorce.  I went to counseling when faced with life’s challenges.  I had a mentality of picking yourself up by your bootstraps.  But, in the years since I received that report, I have, of course, faced other adversities.  And in the back of my mind, this little voice reminds me that I have a high level of resilience.  And another voice says, “it sure doesn’t feel like it today.”

It turns out that resilience is best when cultivated.  It’s a tool that gets stronger the more we use it and the more intentional we are about it.  Research on resilience shows us that resilience is more than persistence, more than picking ourselves up and brushing ourselves off.  There are actually six domains of resilience and we need some of each in order to survive and thrive during turbulent times.  The six domains are:

  • Vision:  purpose, goals, and congruence
  • Composure: the ability to regulate emotions, stay calm and in control
  • Reasoning: problem solving and resourcefulness
  • Health: Eating well, sleeping well, moving well
  • Tenacity: the ability to bounce back, persistence
  • Collaboration: good support and social networks

If you are feeling a bit unsure about the future of your ministry, why not start to focus on your resilience muscles.  A clear vision for the future might just be for the next few weeks or months but it will help you feel more grounded and purposeful.  A Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report from FaithX can help you identify needs in your community.  Or seek out a supportive community to bounce things off of, set out for a long walk, call a friend, get a good night’s sleep.  This too shall pass — we don’t know when, but it will. In the meantime, trust that you have what it takes to see it through.