The Perfect Storm–Emotional Exhaustion in Pastoral Ministry

By Keith Farmer

12 dimensions of pastoral ministry in the current context which combine to create the perfect storm facing pastors. Keith introduced these in his session at this year’s mentoring network conference.

  1. Ministry is relationship intense

  2. Ministry regularly is present at the extremities of life e.g. sickness and grief

  3. Ministry is has few boundaries, in that the person is perceived as being ‘on call’ 24/7

  4. It is often hard to discern distinct progress from week to week, month to month or even year to year.

  5. There is an expectation that the person will hold themselves together emotionally in all situations. One or two situations where the minister ‘loses it’ could have repercussions for their ongoing tenure.

  6. Ministry involves significant work of leading, guiding and motivating volunteers. This requires special capacities and expertise.

  7. Ministry does not hold a place of honour or even trust in the Australian societal values any more. There is therefore little support or recognition in the wider community.

  8. The ‘consumerist factors’ in church life lead to regular disappointment from people leaving, sometimes suddenly – either without explanation or with a ‘parting negative communication’.

  9. Public speaking, particularly preaching, has a significant emotionally draining impact even for those very experienced.

  10. Many leaders in Denominational churches are denied reasonable opportunities to lead through inadequate leadership/governance paradigms, while Pentecostal network pastors sometimes experience great pressure from the expectation that they will lead ‘brilliantly’.

  11. Most churches have very tight financial situations which means that staffing may be very stretched and the opportunity for resourcing of such refreshment opportunities as Sabbatical leave quite difficult to provide.

  12. On occasions, although a strong sense of ‘call’ to ministry is mostly necessary and positive, it may keep a person persevering when they could well have a break and/or seek some help.

  13. Many church leaders today need to be, or are expected to be, ‘change agents’. This is often draining emotionally as there is great skill needed to effect and handle the nature and pace of change.

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