The minimalist guide to clergy burnout

clergy burnout

Are you exhausted? Do you feel the weight of your church? Edwin Friedman used to say, “Stress comes less from overwork than from taking responsibilities for the problems of others.” It’s the most common source of clergy burnout. It’s that simple. Simple, but not always easy to address.

Here are some problems that clergy often take responsibility for:

  1. The relationship between squabbling members.
  2. Whether or not the congregation will still be in existence in a generation.
  3. What people think about them (if it’s negative).
  4. Whether staff members are happy.
  5. What parents think of the youth leader
  6. The relationship between parents and children in a church family (whatever their age, adolescents/parents or adult children/aging parents).

People will do their best to make these your problems. They think that is what you get paid for, and sometimes you think that is what you get paid for.

You don’t have to know everything.

One way to handle these is to get “stupid.” Act like you don’t know the solution. It won’t be an act, because you don’t know. You can’t change how adults behave, relate or think. You can’t know the best answer for someone else. It’s up to them.

Here are a few possible responses:

“Gee, I don’t know what to do about Mrs. So-and-So. What do you think?”

“If I knew what the answer was to make sure we are still in 30 years, I’d ask for a big raise. What do you think?”

“The Lord moves in mysterious ways to put you and me in the same church.” (A classic Friedman line that gets you out of the bind of trying to make them happy.)

Now, you may not have the nerve to use any of these. I’ve found, however, that sometimes simply thinking one of them helps me loosen up and lowers my anxiety enough to consider what I actually can get out of my mouth.

Friedman said that if you keep rescuing people you never get change.

Avoid clergy burnout by focusing on your own goals

What to do instead: focus on your own goals, not on other people’s goals for you or your goals for them. You will be better off. Though it may seem counterintuitive, they will be better off, too. You are insisting they take responsibility for themselves, their relationships and their future. In addition, you are doing the same for yourself.

That’s productive work.

And here’s a post on working a little less hard.

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