Why are our pastors getting sick? 1. The list

We need and want people to offer for ordained ministry yet we also know that clergy are burning out and leaving ministry or taking early retirement in increasing numbers. The question we want to ask and seek answers to in these articles is can we describe and address some of the causes behind this drain on the life of the church?

Mike Flynn with Chris Brown – August 2021

I worked in a church that hosts a counselling service (keriva.org.au) specialising in caring for church workers across denominations and ministry settings. Recently I (Mike) had several conversations with the lead counsellor (Chris Brown) regarding his own experience of the significant and sustained increase in the number of clergy workers planning to leave ministry or take early retirement. According to Chris the features of this change are:


1. A rise in workplace distress over the last five years

2. Development of a relentless workload due to increased administrative requirements that are difficult to avoid or delegate

3. A trend in church and community where volunteerism has been in sharp decline while expectations for professionalism have risen

4. Local congregations and their denominations have not measured this change or employed more administrative or ministry support to address it

5. An ineffective response to increased bullying of clergy, especially in congregations of professionals who are experiencing increased stress and change in their own lives.

The practical problem is the growth of relentless work

Making any occupation meaningless through overwork has long been a temptation for human beings (Ecclesiastes 4:4-8). Yet the trap of relentless work caused by unmetered expectations is a reality of the modern workplace. The business and IT academic, Cal Newport in his most recent book, A world without email – reimagining work in the age of overload, lists research which shows workplaces have become less productive and more miserable in part because the technology that was meant to serve us is now master of our days. Our tech, or its designers, have trained us to be reactive rather than strategic, responsive rather than focused in our work.

Newport’s work prompted me to think about the expectations I have adopted from clergy conferences, theological training, ordination vows, denominational rules and guidelines, government legislation, congregational plans, technological change and private conversations. These expectations require processes (workflows) to meet them. Below is my list of the chief processes that are now ideally required to run an evangelical, congregation in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne with professional expectations and a membership of under 200 people.

Main processes in a local church – the ridiculous list

Pastoral

Worship

Regular Services (adult) 

  • Ensure variety – Liturgical, non-liturgical, charismatic, varied music styles, professionalism yet lay involvement, possible languages (English, Mandarin, Indonesian)
  • Arts/ Creativity (Music ministry, Drama, Art, Poetry, Writing, A/V… )
  • Prayers/Readings (in services)
  • Sacraments – right administration (on-line/on-ground) and Covid compliance
  • Daily office
  • Rostering/Coordination of volunteers

Occasional services

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Baptisms
  • Commissionings
  • Mothers’/Fathers’ Day/Remembrance/CWA etc

Off campus worship

  • Nursing homes
  • Home communion
  • University groups
  • Chaplaincy roles

Children’s worship services (messy church / craft church)

Youths’ worship services

Prayer meetings for special causes

  • Healing
  • Missions
  • Planning events
  • (On-line, on-ground)

Teaching

  • Adults
  • Languages (see Worship)
  • Children
  • Youth
  • Printed/online (A/V) resources (see Publicity)
  • Small group/personal resources

Staff formation

  • Personal prayer
  • Study, apart from teaching preparation
  • Professional development requirements (e.g. first aid training, workshops)
  • Retreats
  • Conferences we want to attend
  • Staff reviews
  • Diocesan reviews
  • Professional supervision sessions
  • Spiritual direction sessions

Member follow up (pastoral care)

  • Visiting
  • Phone calls
  • Practical care
  • Small group membership
  • Farewells
  • Referral to specialists

New member outreach 

  • Visitors to services
  • Welcome team (gather information)
  • Follow up (staff/volunteer team)

Evangelism

  • Markets (definition and approach)
  • Courses (e.g. Christianity explored, Alpha)
  • Outreach services/events

Other contacts

  • Referrals
  • On-line contact
  • Open church/events
  • Occasional services (see worship)

Training & integration (Discipleship, Roles and Relationships)

Discipleship

  • Courses for new believers
  • Theology (Bible overview)
  • Growing in Christ (godliness & prayer)
  • Small group membership
  • Leaders’ training

Roles

  • Discernment of gifts
  • Training for volunteer involvement
  • Rostered roles (training)
  • Committee induction
  • Other team roles (e.g. pastoral care team, hospitality team)
  • Ending roles

Relationships

  • Defining membership and signing new members onto membership systems (see IT support)
  • Welcome events (hospitality team)
  • Small group integration
  • Joining short term teams (see Roles)
  • Joining ongoing teams (see Roles)
  • Referral to pastoral care
  • Ending ministry involvement & farewells

Social justice & support of local poor

  • Agency support (see agencies and missions under external relationships below)
  • Events & lobbying in support of local causes
  • Food bank support for homeless accomodation
  • Food hope project etc

Administration

Meetings

  • Ministry meetings
  • Administration meetings
  • Staff meetings
  • Ad Hoc admin meetings (e.g. contractors, project leaders)

Compliance/Legal

  • Child Safe
  • OH&S
  • Covid safety 
  • Risk management
  • Professional standards
  • Prevention of Violence against women program
  • Registrations & Reporting
  • Copyright
  • Privacy laws
  • IT security laws
  • Insurances
  • Staff awards and conditions

Financial management

  • Budgeting
  • Cash flow
  • Reporting
  • Congregational updates
  • Diocesan enquiries (payroll)
  • Charities commission
  • ATO
  • ASIC
  • Encouraging giving

Property management

Access management

  • Keys register
  • Electronic access register

Rentals

  • Variety of contracts
  • One off events
  • Regular use of halls
  • Specialist use of facilities (e.g. worship centre)
  • Residential leases
  • Certificates of currency
  • Insurances

Maintenance

  • Managing regular contractors or volunteers
  • Doing cleaning, gardening, maintenance
  • Vetting and professional standards (see Legal)

Minor upgrades and refurbishments

  • Diocesan building committee
  • Archbishop in council
  • Local council
  • Neighbours
  • Historic Buildings register
  • National Trust
  • Parish Council
  • Church Wardens
  • Church members

Property projects

  • Major upgrades and refurbishments (see Minor upgrades)
  • New property projects (see Minor upgrades)

External relationships

  • Diocese/Denomination
  • Board memberships
  • Synod
  • Clergy conferences
  • Deanery meetings
  • Meetings with Bishop et al
  • Responding to regular correspondence
  • Reworking central requirements for local application

Agencies & missions

  • Promotions
  • Board memberships
  • Responding to regular correspondence
  • Support projects for missions work

Event management

  • Hospitality/Catering team
  • Tech team (A/V, network access)
  • Bump in/Bump out team
  • Content team
  • Publicity (see Publicity)

IT support (not media content)

IT policies

  • Security
  • Email use
  • Social media use
  • Network access
  • Administrator rights
  • Compliance – Privacy and IT reporting laws

Network set up and maintenance

  • Integration of security system
  • Integration of A/V system (worship)
  • Network security (firewall, filters)

General software

  • Web site set up and maintenance
  • Social media set up and maintenance
  • Content management (office and A/V files)
  • Office software (licenced)
  • Pastoral management software
  • Production management equipment/software
  • App for members only information about church life
  • Covid 19 safety login and records maintenance
  • Financial management software

Publicity & communications (content of published materials)

  • Design (online coordinated with printed materials)
  • Content management systems (A/V content and release)
  • Apps & sites for communication with members
  • Web sites & Social media for communication with non-members (content)
  • Integration of on-line with on-ground (worship, youth, children, teaching materials)
  • Interaction and monitoring (live chat, social media & video site posts)
  • Email news (content, release)
  • Notice boards or AV screens in worship centre
  • Printed materials

Surprised

When I sent a draft of this article out to clergy friends I was surprised that they not only agreed with the ridiculous list above (amending some of the categories for their own circumstances) but most of them went on to add to the list things I had forgotten! However you adapt this list to your circumstances, at least some version of these processes has to remain since even the smallest congregation in Melbourne is now required to do many of them. If you take the time to produce a revised list you will quickly realise that each process has its own sub-processes (for example: the process ‘write a sermon’ or ‘prepare the Sunday worship services’ requires numerous steps) and those subprocesses will change constantly with new technology, training, institutional priorities, volunteers or staff.

As part of his counselling sessions for people in ministry, Chris will have his clients make notes of everything they do during their workday. Those brief text messages, stopping to say hello to a church member you meet while shopping, shifting the chairs to set up the worship space for a funeral service… all of it counts towards the distracted nature of work in the contemporary ministry role. The reason Chris has his clients do this accounting is to help them understand the truth of what is expected of them and what they are expecting of themselves.

Acknowledging the truth mirrored in the ridiculous list above is a first step in getting well.