Special to 0-A News
From Walter Albritton, Senior Pastor Trinity UMC
For Sunday, Feb. 21, 1999

Why some pastors are so frustrated they wish they were dead

Recently a 55-year-old pastor ran away from home - not to get away from his wife but to get away from his congregation. According to news reports, the California pastor spent three nights wandering the snow-covered mountains in San Diego County. When he was found, the preacher confessed to authorities that he was overwhelmed by life and just needed to get away.

Most pastors can identify with this pastor. Few of us would deny that there have been days when we too wanted to get out of Dodge for a spell. But, frankly, I am surprised to learn what a serious problem this is among clergy. One psychologist, Richard Blackmon, was quoted as saying, "Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America."
Blackmon says the demands upon pastors are so great that roughly 30% to 40% of pastors eventually drop out of the ministry.

Commenting on this clergy crisis, H. B. London, Jr. noted that about 75% of religious leaders go through a period of stress so great that they consider quitting. London said, "The incidents of mental breakdown are so high that insurance companies charge about 4% extra to cover church staff members when compared to employees in other businesses."

It is not difficult to understand why many pastors cave in under the pressure. Pastors are, after all, expected to be on-call for a congregation 24 hours a day. At any moment they are expected to fill the roles of marriage counselor, crisis interventionist, personal confidant, and financial counselor. Such expectations thrust pastors into "a constant whirlwind of stressful events." When the telephone rings, day or night, a pastor is expected to offer his help no matter how weary he or she may be. A pastor must be constantly ready to answer a call for help.
London feels that clergy are more stress-ridden that doctors who are ministering to the terminally ill. While the doctor can walk away from the situation when he leaves the room, the pastor, unlike other professionals, "normally has emotional links and personal ties to those being helped and suffers with them."

Pastors also feel the pressure of living in a fish bowl and being scrutinized by their congregations and the community. Pastors sometimes feel that they are expected to live a holier life than other people. There is the added pressure upon the pastor to wear many different hats. He is expected to be a spiritual "jack of all trades," able to leap tall buildings, serve as a counselor, business administrator, personnel manager, and still preach powerful sermons Sunday after Sunday.

Pastoral psychologist Archibald Hart recently observed, "Their strong religious beliefs mean they won't kill themselves; they just spend their time wishing they were dead."
That is a rather stinging observation about today's clergy! I hope that the situation is not as bad as some think. What is the solution to the problem? London and others recommend that pastors set limits for themselves so as to avoid burnout. It helps to have hobbies and interests outside of the church. A support group of fellow pastors can be a great help. It has often been a help to me.

It will help also for the pastor to admit that he cannot do everything and to concentrate on the things he or she can do best. It helps me to remind myself often that I cannot help eveyone, nor can I be everything that other people expect me to be. I know that I am a very, very fortunate pastor. While I am sometimes frustrated with the heavy demands upon me, I never feel like quitting, and I am constantly thankful that people need me. Even more, I am thankful that I finally understand that I cannot really solve the problems of other people, as much as I might want to.

My job is to put people in touch with the One who can help them, the same One upon whom I am leaning for strength every hour. It helps to realize that you are not God; you are just a fellow struggler who can introduce God to hurting people.

When the pressure mounts in my own life, I try remembering to remind myself to do the best I can and leave the rest to God. He is very good at renewing my peace, relieving my pressure, and restoring my sanity.