I recently ran across a prayer
request by a clergy colleague which went something like this:
For the past ten months I have been a full time pastor and my ministry has been
blessed and my congregation is growing but the stress and strain on my wife and son and
daughter has led
to a recent
"family feud" that has left us all with feelings of resentment and estrangement.
It seems as though I am being asked to choose between my ministry and my family and
there are no easy answers. Please pray for us.
I think this will sound familiar to most every clergy family. Indeed, it
often feels as though spiritual leaders have to choose between their spouse and the bride
of Christ, between their children and their "flock of sheep". The
demands of ministry are manifold, they vie for our commitment of time, energy, mental
pre-occupation, and even our devotion.
As a result spouses and children often feel neglected, misunderstood, and
treated unfairly. A joke comes to mind that is funny only because it rings so true:
Pastor's spouse: "Honey, let's reverse things on this Sunday
morning. You'll be nice to us and grumpy to the congregation."
According to a survey by
the following points were listed as causes for marriage problems in clergy families:
71% use of money
70% income level
over leisure activities
in raising children
anger toward spouse
over ministry career
over spouse's career
It doesn't take much imagination to see that these causes are intricately
related to the realities of ministry: according to another survey (by
the Fuller Institute of Church Growth), pastors are overworked, underpaid,
often working in a conflicted environment, and seem to be some of the loneliest people:
90% work more
than 46 hours a week
pastoral ministry affected their families negatively
ministry was a hazard to their family
75% reported a
significant stress related crisis at least once in their ministry
themselves unable to meet the needs of the job
inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
70% say they have
a lower self esteem now compared to when they started in ministry
serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
37% confessed to
having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
70% do not have
someone they consider a close friend
Of course, our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends would remind us that
these problems are part of the reason for the rule of celibacy which allows the priest to
be "married to the church." It may be a little too late for Protestantism
to take another look at celibacy, however. And besides, if a healthy clergy family
relationship is maintained it can become a source of strength and inspiration for clergy,
clergy families, and their congregations. This article does not aspire to
be a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter. It rather seeks to offer a few
helpful tips that clergy and their families can put to use in order to avoid some tensions
and strengthen their network of love and support:
Tip #1: Reserving Family Times
Keeping up the boundaries between ministry and family life is a tall task for clergy
families, especially to those who live in church housing (and even more so when they are
connected to the place of ministry). One boundary that needs to be emphatically
established and protected by the clergy person is that of quality family times.
We clergy folks must learn to regard family times as more important than
church appointments. This is challenging because parishioners may not value the
pastor's family time as a high priority in comparison to parish commitments (at least
that's how we clergy people think parishioners are feeling).
We clergy people must
plan for quality family times and mark them red on our calendars. When scheduling
conflicts arise (they are inevitable), we should talk about the family time in terms of a
commitment we have. We must not feel obliged to specify what that commitment is.
Tip #2: Protecting Privacy
A second boundary issue is that of personal space or privacy for the clergy family.
Privacy issues span a variety of dimensions, from the clergy family's home to the home
telephone. Keep your home a private space, avoid (if possible) to have a church
office in your home--even if you live in an attached manse/rectory/parsonage. Do not
invite unannounced visitors from church into your home during family times (movie/game
night, Saturday morning pajama party, birthday parties, etc.).
Also, do not expect your family members to take on the role of phone
receptionists. Ask church members to use your home phone number for emergencies
only. Another privacy issue arises in the public arena. Firstly, do not
overuse illustrations from your family life; particularly avoid jokes that come at the
expense of family members. Secondly, when you meet parishioners on family
outings, do not feel obliged to strike up a long conversation. This is not the time
for parish updates. A short greeting will do.
Tip #3: Clarifying Expectations
Congregations have many overt and covert expectations
concerning clergy and their families. They vary from denomination to
denomination and from parish to parish. Some of them are reasonable, others are not.
For the sake of your family, you must identify and clarify those expectations or else they
will be tremendous stress factors for you, your family and your congregation. For
instance, if there is an expectation by the congregation that the clergy spouse will chair
the worship committee and your spouse is not willing or able to do so, then this needs to
be clarified from the start. After all, the clergy person is the one who is
employed, not the clergy spouse (nor the children). A congregation should not
expect any less of the clergy family, but certainly not more, than of any other member of
Tip #4: Building Friendships
We all need to be surrounded by the the warm and gleeful presence of friends and loved
ones. One of the problems clergy and their families face is that of establishing and
maintaining close relationships with friends and family members. This is in part due
to the fact that clergy are often "on the move." Fostering friendships and
relationships require investments over long periods of time--time we clergy folk often
don't have. Add to that the fact that building friendships among parishioners can be
very tricky (and painful) and you have an explanation for the above-mentioned survey
statement that "70% of all clergy do not have someone they consider a close
friend." Therefore, clergy and their family must make a more deliberate
effort than most other folks toward building and fostering friendships, and it may
involve the bridging of time and space.
Tip #5: Seeking Help
Those in "helping professions" are often the last
to seek help. This is often true for clergy and their families. The truth is
that crises do not stop at the clergy family's door. The clergy family, as
much as any other family, has the right to be human, to have human problems. Clergy
families have the right to seek the help of counselors and psychologists.
There are many helpful resources and services available for clergy and their families; the
sad fact is that these resources are not often made use of--or not nearly enough.
Let me take this opportunity to remind you that I am available to all DPS
members for email counsel and support.
Related Resource and Support Group Links (links open in a new window):
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: UNDERSTANDING AND MANAGING CLERGY STRESS, Andrew R.
Irvine, 1997. Mowbray Press (PO Box 605, Herndon, VA 20172); ISBN 0-264-67423-5