Mental Health of Clergy

In the last Record, the big story was about the mental health of clergy, and how the rate of clinical depression among Canadian clergy in mainline denominations is twice the national average. The main article presents the facts and the Editor, David Harris, offers an editorial on the subject. At the end of the article, he offers boundaries that clergy ought to follow. Most of them make a lot of sense. Here’s where I disagree:

“Time off is not a perk. (How many people with Monday-Friday jobs are required to go in on Sunday?)” – I actually agree, except that there are many people who are required to work overtime without pay – not that that’s fair, but still. Clergy aren’t alone in this.

“Ministers who spend time visiting will not have time to lead a church to growth.” This reveals an assumption about visiting. I’m in a church plant, and visiting is essential for growth – the issue isn’t whether your visiting, its who you are visiting. Key leaders need to have a relational connection with the minister. When a church is small, new people are more likely to make a connection with the minister. Visits might look different today for many new people – more might happen at Starbucks, but visiting newcomers is essential for growth. This model of visiting means that the regulars might feel somewhat neglected, but I believe that when we can point out who we are visiting, they understand the priority on the new person.

“Ministers cannot be best friends with members of the congregation.” First off, what do you mean by “best friend?” If you mean – “the person you tell absolutely everything to” then you might be right. But my best friends are people who I play sports with, go to movies with, talk to about life and church, study the Bible with, worship with. Yes – I have some of my best friends in my congregation. But, I also have people, trusted colleagues, mentors who I can talk to about things that I can’t talk to my “Church friends” about. My wife is probably the person that I tell the most, who knows the most about me, but it would be ludicrous to say she really shouldn’t be in the same church as me. No best friend in Church? What does that say about the congregation? What does that say about the unhelpful distinction between clergy and laity? The people should all be one body, brothers and sisters in Christ, friends of faith, and the minister, well… I’m not allowed to be best friends with you. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Granted close relationships complicate things in a Church, but should that stop us from developing close relationships? I’m really glad that “complicated relationships” didn’t stop Jesus from befriending his disciples. Come to think of it, when I’m talking to little kids about Jesus and his disciples, I usually tell them that they were like his best friends. Is this wrong?

“A 40-hour work-week means just that, including meetings, worship, visiting newcomers, funerals, weddings and every other duty expected of a minister, plus the preparation for all these.” – Whoa. Hold on there. I know tons of people who work way more than 40 hours per week AND they manage to do church work in their “time off.” I don’t think ministers should be running themselves into the ground, but honestly where are we volunteering? I think we ought to have reasonable expectations of the use of time, but I don’t think 40 hours every week is really reasonable. Who decided that 40 hours is our limit? Was it arbitrary? Yes, clergy need rest, and yes, clergy ought to model for others what is healthy (and guard our day off!) – but honestly, we can’t use a time clock. Some weeks we’ll be well over 40 hours. Other weeks, and lets rejoice in this and not feel guilty, things will be lighter. We have a great gift of flexibility with our time. Let us give thanks for that.

Boundaries are important, but what has helped me far more are some pretty basic things:
1) Reading the Bible consistently. I struggle with this, but when I read the Bible “for fun” or for personal spiritual development, I’m better off
2) Prayer – I started a prayer support group of people outside the church. I used to send them monthly emails – its less frequent now.
3) People – I get together weekly with another minister to chat and pray for each other for about 45 minutes. I get together monthly with a different minister to do the same thing. I try to have a coach/mentor outside of these other two who can help me reflect on what is happening in the congregation and how I am engaging my call as a minister. Sometimes this is every two weeks, or once a month. All of this is time well spent.
4) Exercise. I play sports (which also gives me some extra community that isn’t focussed around worship or study, but fun and play)

Those are my “big four”.

Anyway – thanks for the article, Mr. Harris – it got me thinking.


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