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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Stress Is Relative

Written by: on March 20, 2015

In her book, Isolation: A place of Transformation in the Life of A Leader, Trebesch explores why Christian leaders tend to enter into periods of isolation. The author suggests, that while these periods of isolation are painful, they are profitable and helpful to an individual’s ministry. It is during these times that a pastor will draw and grow closer to God. Having gone through an extended period where I have been separated from my family and friends, I know the value of drawing close to Christ and the life changing benefit that come with this type of trial.

Trebesch explains that there are two types of isolation experiences: involuntary and voluntary.[1] The term that she coins is ministry isolation, which is “an event in ministry that causes a pastor or leader to experience the feeling of isolated from God, others, and family.”[2] Early in my pastorate, I attended a new minister conference held at Wesleyan Headquarters. One area they addressed was ministry burnout. Pastors are leaving the ministry at a growing rate and the trend is continuing to rise. According to the New York Times (August 1, 2010), 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure. Everyday day, pastors are called upon to provide help and comfort to individuals with very little support systems in place. I have spoken with many pastors who feel alone and cut off from the rest of society. They are put on a pedestal and expected to have perfect lives, and many don’t feel safe to share their struggles and failures in life with others.

Personally, I never have experienced ministry burnout. I believe one reason for this is due to my background in business. Working in the high stress environment of the corporate world, one develops a “thick skin” and learns to function in a very fast paced and highly driven climate. When I moved into full time Christian service, I found that it hard to work in what I considered a “low speed non-stress” environment. I know that many experience stress in ministry, but compared to the outside world it is often hard for me to see it. My wife has also experienced the same phenomenon when she moved into Christian service. Like myself, she came from a very fast paced corporate world. It has taken her time to adjust to the slower pace of the ministry – she often says, “they have no idea what work stress really is.”

The most stressful things that my wife and I have experienced in ministry is the “no or low pay” for full time Christian workers in comparison to other industries. Not being able to adequately take care of our family is something that we were not expecting when we moved into ministry. Fortunately, we have our corporate skills and experience that allow us to mitigate the lower pay. But, many pastors don’t have other training or skills that they can use outside of ministry to bring adequate support to their family. It is shameful how Christians treat the pastors and ministry workers, and many organizations are exploiting them. While there are churches that do support their staff, it is unfortunately that many do not. I believe pastors struggle handling stress due to personal financial issues, or because they are working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet. Bivocationalism drives much stress. It is time that Western churches stand up and do what’s right. They need to take care of their pastors and families.

 

 

[1] Trebesch, Shelley.

[2] Ibid,. 10

About the Author

Richard Volzke

7 responses to “Stress Is Relative”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Richard, you have hit on a sore point of mine as well! I have seen over the years that so many “church people” who think ministers are just “blessed to be in service to God” and therefore should expect to sacrifice and not have the same benefits or compensation as those whom they serve. I know of too many stories of pastors and Christian workers who left serving the church for these reasons. As you mention, the stress on these pastors is huge. How can anyone expect people to serve others when they can’t take care of their own families or have no time to be refreshed. What I think is so sad is that those in church leadership that do this to ministers would be the first to complain and argue if they were treated in their work place that same way! The hypocrisy is stunning! And the church has lost a lot of good workers. So, I AMEN your thinking, and am glad you have skills (and thick skin) to weather the stresses and continue your vital ministries!

    • Richard Volzke says:

      John,
      It is sad that the Western church does not see the need to take care of its pastors and workers. I agree that lay individuals who serve on church boards and in leadership positions would not accept the pay and benefits we often offer to pastors. They would consider most similar employment packages to be an insult and unfair. Pastors already have a lot stress, so church organizations can best support and encourage them by making sure their basic needs are met.
      Richard

  2. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Richard,
    You present a very helpful perspective on how pastors become isolated. I would consider the financial stress that drives a pastor to the painful process of isolation as an involuntary isolation, although it does not fit the involuntary categories that Trebesch outlines (31-32). Although the back-story is different, your isolation caused by stress of financial conditions is somewhat similar to Deve’s post on his personal isolation experience. Serving as a bi-vocational pastor creates a natural separation, as you note, through “ministry isolation.”

    Unfortunately, it appears that the need to be bi-vocational in ministry is only going to become more necessary as aging congregations, many with declining attendance, cannot support a full-time pastor. When we became associate at the congregation where we serve, as chairperson of church council, I brought a budget resolution to the church that included a raise for the pastor who had not received an increase in three years. There was opposition to the raise (10% or $50/wk) but it was approved. I will never forget one congregant’s comment. He asked, “How can we give the pastor a raise? We can barely pay our bills as it is. We can always get another pastor, but if we cannot pay our bills and we have to close the church, what will we do then?” Horrific misunderstanding of stewardship priorities and a lack of faith.

    Sometimes we do bring these situations on ourselves (unknowingly voluntary). When this incident occurred I had only been with the church two months; I latter found out that the person who raised this objection was on the board of trustees and subsequently I discovered he did not support financially let alone tithe. Through God’s grace we have experienced a shift from this kind of thinking and God is blessing. You might recall this past fall we moved deliberately outside ourselves as we approved a mission outreach challenge (faith promise) goal and we are far exceeding expectations. Bless the Lord! There still is, however, financial stress of Pastor and he struggles where there is an expectation of full-time ministry with a low salary.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Ron,
      Thanks for the reply and insights, but I must respectfully disagree with your statement, “it appears that the need to be bi-vocational in ministry is only going to become more necessary as aging congregations, many with declining attendance, cannot support a full-time pastor.” There has/is to be a way (by the grace of God) to support our pastors. Why should pastors accept the belief that we must be bi-vocational to be in ministry? We are the richest country in the world, and even the poor in the US are richer than 90% of the worlds population. I am not saying people who go into ministry should expect to become wealthy, but we need to take care of the people calls to minister to us. I left my last pastorate first because the Lord released me, and second because the church would not pay me so that I could meet my family’s basic needs. It is not that they could not afford my salary (although they would say they were broke), rather it was that they believed that they need to have a lot of money in the bank in the event of an emergency. Within the district of this church, the wealth was not distributed in a healthy way. There were very wealthy churches, yet they did not contribute to ensuring that the smaller churches were adequately staffed. This isn’t the model that Christ has for His church, and I know this because it is proven to be ineffective.
      Richard

  3. Richard,

    Thanks for your good post. I, like you, sometimes wonder why people in ministry complain so much about all the stress, although I know that there are those who truly do have difficult situations and have a right to feel burned out.

    I was in full-time ministry for 16 years and I did go through burn out. But I was not the senior pastor; I was always the associate pastor who made half as much but worked twice as hard as the senior pastors I worked for. And, yes, this was a challenge. It is no wonder that I eventually left full-time ministry.

    As I said several times in my posts this week, the missing ingredient in many leaders today is the all-important character trait called humility. Without humility, a Christian leader is merely operating on his or her own steam. That is sad. It is in those times that a good, stiff isolation experience would come in handy. Perhaps this is what Trebesch is calling for. If so, then I am in full agreement of here thesis.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      Bill,
      Thanks for the reply. I agree with you that humility is lacking in many Christian leaders. When I first started studying for the ministry, I was told that I had to “put my time in” before serving at a larger church that could afford to pay a salary to support my family. That made me very upset, because nowhere in the Bible do I find that saying or line of thinking. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Look at the disciples that Jesus called to minister with Him. They were mostly fisherman – I cannot find in the Scriptures where Christ told them you have to “put in your time” or “pay your dues”, before you can work with me. I entered ministry after over 20 years in corporate leadership and the military, and my expertise gained over the years was not recognized as I hadn’t been a part of the “good ole’ boys network”. But, I am glad to serve a higher authority and God has always provided for my families needs. I sometimes wonder if God put me in a position to get a first row seat to the exploitation. I can now speak up for those who aren’t comfortable speaking up for themselves.
      Richard

  4. Hey Richard, just catching up on some comments. I whole-heartedly agree with you on the stress regarding the low or no payment of pastors and ministry workers. This certainly does add to the stress that is not experienced by the business/corporate world. This is certainly one of the key things that increases the amount of stress for a minister. But another thing that I think needs to be added is the fact that in ministry you often deal more directly with people then you would in the corporate world. I recall days when I would have the stress of dealing with a death in the family and then turn right around and be in a marriage counseling situation where divorce was imminent. Then counseling a college kid who suffer from suicidal thoughts. In the same week try to produce a sermon that somehow brings heaven down to earth and provides inspiration to do what God is called them to do. All while realizing that the finances coming in are not meeting the cost of operations. This adds a level of stress that the corporate world will never experience. Employers don’t often become psychologist, marriage counselors, and shoulders to cry on for their employees. They do not often go home with the weight of the emotional drain and fatigue that working with people brings. If the employee is not carrying his weight you simply fire him. But in the church arena you are dealing with volunteers who promised one thing and if they do not deliver it is up to you to fix it. You cannot fire a congregant member nor a volunteer. Least this be all one sided, I have met with many corporate people and I do see and understand their stress. If they don’t meet their financial goals they could lose their job and have no finances for their family. Due to there being stresses on both sides and in both fields it would perhaps be beneficial to both ministers and business people to consider a voluntary isolation. Bless you Richard!

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