Jeff Brumley

Jeff Brumley

Jeff Brumley is assistant editor of Baptist News Global.

Mundane work, internal politics drive many from church, experts say

But one Baptist pastor thinks that may reflect unrealistic expectations of church.

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Engaging ‘nones’ is challenging but possible, say church leaders

Though the number of people claiming no religious affilation is growing, churches still have some skin in the game.

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Weekly communion heals, unites N.C. church and community

At First Baptist Church on Highland Avenue in Winston-Salem, N.C., a weekly Friday service offering communion is forging fellowship both among church members and different races and economic classes inside and outside the church.

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Two young immigrants fleeing violence find refuge — and ministry — in U.S.

For two Salvadoran sisters who were part of the recent immigration “surge,” reuniting with their mother in Virginia also meant finding Baptists with open arms.

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Author cites alarming trends in preacher burnout

A new book explores the challenges created by both ministers and congregations that lead to pastors quitting or being fired from their jobs.

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You’ve met the ‘nones.’ Now meet the ‘dones.’

The ‘dones’ are those Christians who consider themselves faihful to God but are turned off by the institutional aspects of church — and they just quit going.

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Merger, not just ministry, is how this church is engaging Hispanics

A Hispanic co-pastor and multicultural mission trips is how Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas is reaching Latinos in its surrounding neighborhoods.  

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For some Baptists, interfaith dialogue more practical than symbolic

Baptist pastors say building relationships with members of other faiths lays the ground work for easing social tensions and even achieving political goals.

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More Americans exploring, sharing faith online

A study finds that one in five Americans share their faith online, leading some to see the importance of churches having a robust digital presence, while others express caution.

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Clear indicators can signal debilitating depression in ministers

By Jeff Brumley

The numbers of clergy experiencing depression have increased because the profession has become tougher, says Christopher Carlton, an ordained Methodist minister and director of Emory Clergy Care, a Georgia-based agency that provides counseling and other wellness services for ministers.

Clergy financial and sexual abuse scandals have publicly tarnished ministers, while declines in membership have added financial stresses that turn pastors into nearly full-time capital campaign managers, Carlton says.

A difficult economy and reductions in church staff have forced individual ministers to shoulder more duties, in turn leading to feelings of isolation and over-work experienced by even the healthiest pastors, he says.

And there’s personal debt. Carlton says seminary graduates are leaving school with mountains of debt previous generations didn’t face.

“We are seeing a larger rate of burnout in our pastors. We are also seeing the career option of being a pastor as a less attractive route.”

There are also inherent factors in the ministry that are exacerbated when ministers don’t take care of themselves physically, spiritually and emotionally, says Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, a co-principal investigator for Duke Divinty School’s Clergy Health Initiative.

Feeling called to their work makes pastors more likely to experience existential crises when difficulties are encountered in the workplace, Proeschold-Bell says.

Discord in the congregation, disagreements over ministry and finances — all natural occurrences — can trigger depression.

“Clergy worry if they have not been living faithfully to God. For them, it can take on divine significance that can resonate more deeply with them.”

Even in the healthiest churches, she says, pastors tend to be placed on pedestals, making it even harder for them to express concerns or seek help when problematic emotions arise.

The result often is social isolation — which is also one of the top predictors of depression.

Another “top predictor of depression is the unpredictability of emotions,” she notes, explaining that bounding between weddings and funerals, baptisms and hospital visits means “clergy don’t know at any given moment what emotions they are going to be facing.”

Even traditional stressors can become gateways to depression when ministers are working and eating more, and sleeping and exercising less. Forgoing vacations and other days off can also lead to mental illness, Proeschold-Bell says.

“Their bodies are a gift from God, and that gift or that grace needs to be responded to by being a good steward of yourself. Live the joyful life that God really wants for us.”

Former Baptist pastor Bryan Hatcher agrees, noting, “There is a cultural expectation that our pastors have it all together and that they are the last people who are going to be depressed.”

Besides getting more sleep and exercise, seeking therapy, joining peer groups or developing one-on-one relationships with clergy can provide much-needed outlets for stress, says Hatcher, chief operating officer for CareNet at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Another key to staving off depression: “Setting firm boundaries that are firm and healthy, but not overly rigid” and stop putting jobs ahead of their own physical and spiritual wellbeing.

“It’s when I get hyper-focused on work and don’t get to the gym and start living on coffee … that my thinking gets cloudy and my feelings get cloudy.”

—A version of this article was published originally by ABPnews/Herald in 2013.

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