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Battling burnout in a world on fire

Columnist Chris Brekke says prayer for pastors is needed right now.

"From the Pulpit" column sig
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To say that it’s a mental health crisis may overstate it. I don’t want to come right out and say that our society is going crazy, but I know that there is a pall of anxiety hanging over America. We are living well materially, and advances in technology and medicine keep rolling out, but yet on the inner level a large number of our citizens are troubled.

I will not here tackle factors on why this is so, and what we ought to do about it. For now, I want to highlight just one group of people who are affected, and ask for your prayers.

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Did you know that an unprecedented number of pastors are considering calling it quits? Many clergy are battling burnout. The pastorate has always had its set of challenges: a) There’s a stigma in being a “reverend”; b) pastors have scores, or even hundreds, of “bosses”; c) there’s a weight of leadership; d) to do a good job, you have to work lots of odd shifts and overtime hours; e) many things that you try just don’t work out; etc.

Being a pastor is no snap. I always figured that the perks and positives far outweighed the negatives, and I truly loved and enjoyed my 38 years as a parish pastor.

However, it has gotten much harder lately. The reasons put forward for the strain and drain on pastors are three: 1) pandemic, 2) politics, and 3) parish decline.

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The long COVID siege did quite a number on congregations. Closed doors, new protocols, separation, frequently changing norms and techniques: all these jolted parish life. Members were unhappy, with some quitting their church due to too much masking and some due to too little. COVID stretched on long and brought a unique fatigue to people and systems.

Add to that a growing cultural rift about politics. Partisan lines have hardened, and church members too are riled up about red versus blue. A pastor cannot please both sides; but unfortunately: may please neither.

Thirdly, there is no denying the shrinkage of churches. Most congregations are getting older and smaller. That too is hard on a pastor.

Well, dear readers. … I hope that you have a very good pastor. I hope you pray regularly for him or her. I hope you encourage your pastor by words and deeds.

The Good Book tells us that is part of our assignment. “Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches.” (Galatians 6:6) “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13) “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (I Timothy 5:17)

Together we help each other along and lift up the cross of Christ to a wounded world.

Chris Brekke is a retired pastor who served Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester for 13 years and Trinity Lutheran in West Concord for 10. He and his wife live in Roseville, Minn., where he keeps busy with volunteering, church and family.

"From the Pulpit" features reflections from area religious leaders. To contribute, email us at life@postbulletin.com with "From the Pulpit" in the subject line.

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