4 Ways to Help Prevent Pastoral Burnout: Advice from Clergy Members on Self-Care

By Mary Carder, Integrated Marketing Specialist on March 25, 2022

Michael Jarboe’s favorite parts of being a pastor are the one-on-one conversations he has with his congregants at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston, TX. These are often during the best and worst moments of their lives. “I sometimes will go and sit with folks and just be listening,” says Pastor Jarboe. “And over 30 or 40 minutes later, they're like, ‘I've just been talking your ear off.’ And I'm like, ‘That's part of my job, to hear your story and how best to understand it and see how I can walk along with you.”

But Jarboe is also aware that his role within the church can sometimes overshadow his own needs. “You can be the best listener in the world for others. But you could be the worst at listening to yourself. And so sometimes I am. I pride myself on being a good listener, but then I struggle in listening to myself.”

Jarboe credits his support network of friends, colleagues and family with helping him avoid burnout by offering gentle reminders to address his own needs before overwhelming himself with the needs of his church.

Hear more from Rev. Michael Jarboe >>>

However, many clergy members have found the past two years have pushed them past the breaking point. In a study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, over two-thirds of clergy members said 2020 was the hardest year of their ministry. Another recent survey of protestant pastors conducted by the Barno Group revealed that 38% of respondents were seriously considering leaving full-time ministry. And while most of the nation prepares for life to return to a greater level of normalcy, the risk for pastoral burnout goes beyond the pandemic. It’s an issue that has existed before COVID-19 and will likely continue to be an issue for many in a post-pandemic world.

 

What is burnout?

“For some [burnout] looks like anger and irritation behind closed doors with family,” one pastor told Christianity Today in November. “For me it looked like relational hiding and trying to disappear. For others it looks like excessive indulgence in social media, alcohol, binge-watching TV in order to escape. Our mind, souls, and bodies will try to compensate for the overwhelm we feel.”

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a condition, “caused by chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s characterized as overwhelming feelings of exhaustion, detachment from work and ineffectiveness. Here are some warning signs of burnout as outlined by Psychology Today:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to concentrate or be attentive
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased illness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger, pessimism or cynicism
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment
  • Isolation
  • Increased irritability
  • Feelings of apathy or hopelessness

How can you prevent or recover from burnout?

Because burnout is caused by stress, one of the best ways to avoid or recover from it is to reduce the amount of stress in your work life. Often that can seem like an impossible task, but making small changes to your daily routine can help you manage work stress in healthier ways.

We spoke to Reverend Michael Jarboe and his colleagues at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church about how they practice self-care as faith leaders. Here’s what they said:

 

1. Set boundaries

“Keep [your own needs], keep that at the forefront, because you can't help anyone else out before you help yourself, right? That's the most important thing. So, taking care of yourself is great when you're taking care of others.” – Rev. Michael Jarboe

Clergy are often expected to be available for their congregants at all times, but this can lead to exhaustion fast. Be sure to carve out time for yourself and what’s important to you – even if it’s meditating or simply doing nothing. If your personal plans change because of an emergency, make a backup plan.

 

2. Take care of your physical health

“I find engaging my body, moving my body really helps me take care of myself. For me, my soul and my body, I see them as very connected. So, taking care of one helps me take care of the other one.” – Rev. Ginny Griggs Tincher

Exercise can be a great stress reliever, and it’s key to overall physical health. Prioritize sleep and healthy eating habits as well, as these can greatly affect your overall mood throughout the day.

 

3. Delegate when you can

“We're not made to do life alone. One of my core theological beliefs is God made us for community.” – Rev. Jennifer Veres-Schrecengost

Lean on others in your house of worship to take care of the tasks that do not need your direct involvement. Likely, there are more tasks that can be delegated than you realize.

 

4. Maintain a support network

“I think we need to be told that it's OK to ask for help and to be vulnerable and open.” – Rev. Colin Bagby

“It's important to share openly what's going on in your life. And then the other piece I would add is having a covenant group, a small group of people around your age and life stage and ministry that can share those experiences together to know that you're not alone.” Rev. Michael Jarboe

“I also have a covenant group of young clergy, women that we meet once a month, but we are texting all the time, every day.” – Rev. Ginny Griggs Tincher

“I can't imagine doing this without colleagues. Even in smaller churches, our denomination is very connectional. And so, ideally, when we are at our healthiest we're connecting with colleagues who feel similar pressures and have similar challenges, but also experience the beauty of ministry and get it.” – Rev. Jennifer Veres-Schrecengost

Community and support were a reoccurring theme in our discussions with the pastors of Memorial Drive United Methodist Church – and for good reason. Connecting with other, being able to vent or share and acknowledge your feelings is crucial to overall mental health.

Listen to the pastors from Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in their own  words >>>

 

As clergy, you live your life practicing your faith and serving your congregation. But to be the most effective, you need to prioritize yourself from time to time. It may seem counter-intuitive, but learning how to care for your own needs helps you to better support others.

What are your tips for preventing pastoral burnout? How do you prioritize self-care as a clergy member?

 

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Mary Carder, Integrated Marketing Specialist

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The information contained in this blog post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace expert advice in connection with the topics presented. Glatfelter specifically disclaims any liability for any act or omission by any person or entity in connection with the preparation, use or implementation of plans, principles, concepts or information contained in this publication.

Glatfelter does not make any representation or warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the results obtained by the use, adherence or implementation of the material contained in this publication. The implementation of the plans, principles, concepts or materials contained in this publication is not a guarantee that you will achieve a certain desired result. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a professional advisor, architect or other expert prior to the implementation of plans, principles, concepts or materials contained in this publication.

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