A recent blog post by Philip Wagner on "The Secret Pain of Pastors" has created some good--and really necessary--conversation about the challenge of pastoral leadership today. I'll add my two cents with a few re-posts of blogs I wrote after the NY Times ran a similar article in 2010. These posts were written right at the time that I started coaching pastors and working on a book on leadership development. Today, after 200 conversations with pastors, I'm more convinced than ever that there is a clergy leadership crisis that is only increasing.
I didn't need to read the Facebook posts on the recent NY Times article, I had received an email this morning from a friend. He told me that he is taking a leave of absence from his church.
The irony of the timing is both sad and palpable. I just returned from my 8th trip to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with a group of high school seniors from my church (including my own son). I also, spent two days with 110 of our church's youth at our annual summer camp. They are a happy, fun bunch who shout out "P-Tod" (for "Pastor Tod") whenever I enter the room. They not only did usual camp stuff like games, and music and rock-climbing and banana boating, but also spent half a day in a silent retreat practicing spiritual disciplines and reflecting on their life with God. I have an amazing youth ministry team on my staff. I had to choke back tears when I talked about the church members who volunteered to be counselors and service corp for this week with the kids.
One of my very best friends is my associate pastor. We get to plan worship together every week. I get to study and teach the Bible every day. I lead communion. I work with a great staff team, and I support really committed lay-leaders who are doing things like building houses in Baja California, ministering to the poor in Malawi, Africa, offering care for the sick and shut in, teaching children the faith and sharing the gospel in both English and Spanish language services.
I love my job. Which is why I was saddened by the article that has been posted and re-posted by so many of my pastor friends this morning on Facebook. According to the NY Times headline , most clergy don't. (Saddened, but not surprised, however.)
Clergy are fat, stressed and depressed. We take more anti-depressants than the people in our pews. We aren't expected to live as long either. The Times only confirms what most didn't want to say out loud: "Many (pastors) would change jobs if they could."
The Times article quotes health care experts who are wisely cautious about suggesting quick fixes, but mostly it rightly focuses on the "boundary issues" between pastors and congregations that keep many of us feeling as if we don't have a life beyond the pulpit. It's a good article. It should be read by both clergy and lay leaders who work alongside us. It's really important. (If nothing else, the article points to some really helpful resources--one of which, the Lilly Endowment's The National Clergy Renewal Program funded my sabbatical in 2006.)
But, for me, there is an affirmation of a call in all of this. When I first came to San Clemente, Al Sloan, one of the elders who had been on the nominating committee, came to me and said, "Tod, my wife Enid and I are committed to seeing that you and your family have a great ministry and a great life. Whatever you need from us, we'll do." And they did.
Through the years, Al's promise to me has become my promise to my staff team and my colleague: To have a great ministry and a great life. To serve God without losing your soul. To minister to others without mistreating our families. To nurture a community of faith that nurtures the abundant life for all. To lead a church that is both healthy and faithful, every family--including pastors' families--experience a way of living and leading that is truly fruitful.
So, this morning, fresh off an experience that reminds me of why I love being a pastor; deeply aware of how many of my colleagues don't; and with a sense that "where much is given, much is required" (the verse that my pastor Lloyd Ogilvie used in my ordination charge), I feel more called than ever to work alongside churches and pastors to help us all have a great ministry and a great life.
For the past two months, I have been preparing to start working as a church consultant and executive coach for pastors with TAG Consulting's Transforming Church Team. Starting this month, I will be spending a couple of days each month working alongside pastors and church leadership teams helping them to look at the ways they need to grow as leaders in order to be both healthy and fruitful in a changing and demanding world. I'll be able to share what I have been learning and I'll be able to keep growing as a pastor and leader, too. And everything I learn, I'll share here.