Aggravated stress for religious leaders
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Donald Gillett is the general minister of the Disciples of Christ Christian Church in Kentucky as well as an adjunct professor at Lexington Theological Seminary. He’s researching burnout and burnout among pastors, especially since the pandemic hit.
“I think the pandemic has revealed the need for more mental health checkups,” says Gillett. “There is little time to recharge and so what you notice is that there are a lot of pastors who are, I won’t say most of them are exhausted, but they are approaching. places where they need to be restocked. “
This healing can take the form of a sabbatical, which is not a vacation but a time to rest and reconnect with God.
“If a leader wants to inspire a community member, wants to be there for a community member, to have compassion for a community member, you have to have something to give it,” says Rabbi Shlomo Litvin of Lexington Chabad. “You must have a tank for themselves.”
Gillett says many religious leaders have never had to organize virtual services before, so the transition has been difficult, but it has been more than logistical challenges.
Religious leaders say it has been devastating to watch members of their congregation fall ill, have to be hospitalized and not be able to comfort them and their families in person. Even more devastating was the death of members of their congregation from the virus.
These challenges have taken their toll on the overall mental health of many clergy, leading some to step away from the pulpit on sabbatical, such as Growth Point Church pastor Mario Radford.
“Sometimes I think we go on a diet and we diet that we’re not human, it’s for Thor and Captain America and other Marvel comics,” says Radford. “But for us, we are humans. We may be spiritual beings but we are having a human experience and that means we are in pain, we are frustrated, we get tired, we feel lonely, we question ourselves, we are not sure of ourselves.
Data from Sutton Turner in Vanderbloemen shows that over 70% of churches in the country do not have sabbatical programs and those with varying structures such as length and frequency. Even though a sabbatical is not an option for religious leaders, Gillett says resources such as counseling or weekend retreats should be a priority.
“It’s not like they’re running away or hiding, but they take on other people’s concerns so much that they’re unable to see their own need,” says Gillett.
Pastors like Radford say congregations can help by making a simple check-in with their senior leaders to let them know they are seen and understood.