According to Statistics Canada, almost one third of working Canadian adults perceive themselves as workaholics. Yes, workaholics put in more hours, but that is not what defines them. Surprisingly, while workaholics devote more time to their work, research shows that they derive no more satisfaction or pleasure from it than do non-workaholics. “Perceived lack of time is a [big] stressor in their lives,” explains the Statistics Canada report Canadian Social Trends. “It leaves [workaholics] feeling rushed, trapped in their daily routines and unable to finish everything they think needs to be done.”
Rev. William Delleman, who has worked in parish ministry for more than a decade now, has seen many pastors get caught in the trap of the workaholic mentality – rushing around, trying to do more but never catching up. “This is a job that costs a lot of energy,” says Delleman, pastor of Sonrise Christian Reformed Church in Ponoka, Alberta. “There is a lot of energy put out and – although there is some return – it does not come back in the same volume. So unless there is an intentional effort to take Sabbath rest or to seek renewal, ministry can become a grind.”
The outcomes of pastors not finding time for rest and renewal are well documented and costly, both to pastors and the churches they serve. According to the website, PastorBurnout.com, one third of pastors felt burned out within their first five years of ministry, and 45% of pastors say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. More than half of pastors said that they believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s health and well being.
“Raw statistics would show that the outcome of pastors not taking time for renewal is burnout and departure from the ministry,” says Rev. Randy Engle, Senior Pastor of North Hills Christian Reformed Church in Troy, Michigan. “Self-sufficiency can only take a pastor so far. Inevitably, their ministry becomes stale and they die on the vine.”
Delleman agrees. “I have seen pastors leave the ministry because the burnout gets so deep that they just walk away,” he says.
Delleman admits he courted burnout in recent years, but he took steps to address it before it overwhelmed his life and ministry. “To be honest, there was a time when I felt like I was in a bit of a desert, and I really struggled,” he says. One of the steps Delleman took to deal with feelings of disillusionment and discouragement was to join a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence peer learning group. “I needed a place where I could air my thoughts and discover that other church leaders were experiencing the same feelings I was,” Delleman says.
Rookie pastor Nick Monsma has been in ministry for just over a year, but – like Delleman – he, too, looks to his peer group for support and renewal. “We are studying the topic of intergenerational leadership,” explains Monsma, pastor of East Palmyra Christian Reformed Church in Palmyra, New York. “We have a discussion about the book we are reading. The other part of our time together we just share what is going on in our lives and ministries and pray for each other.” It’s the mentoring that is particularly valuable to this young pastor. “I could get the intellectual benefits of the group elsewhere, but the ability to share experiences and hear the wisdom of the other pastors is the most beneficial. We can talk openly and get wisdom from each other and share our struggles.”
Discovering that kind of mutual support and that you have colleagues who can truly understand what you are going through is crucial to thrive in ministry, these pastors say. “Being a pastor is a very lonely occupation a lot of the time,” adds Delleman. “My involvement in a peer group eased that sense of aloneness significantly.”
Engle, too, acknowledges that a peer group’s deepest value may be found in spending time with “a table of colleagues who can truly say ‘I’ve been there.’ Your peer group colleagues become great friends, and like good friends, you look forward to spending time with them,” Engle says.
Finally, if renewal is good for pastors, it’s good for the church. “This is a draining job and I think most congregations want to support their pastor,” Delleman says. “Peer group involvement doesn’t cost much more than a few hours a month, and most churches would support this wholeheartedly. My congregation values my peer group involvement because they want me to stay healthy.”
Delleman also points out that what’s true for pastors is true for church members as well. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a dairy farmer or a preacher. Exhaustion simply doesn’t produce our best work. It’s time to reclaim God’s gift of Sabbath so we all can be rested to fulfill our calling.”