Those who have chosen to heed the call of ministry--priests, pastors, rabbis, chaplains, and other ministry professionals-- have often faced demands on them that many of us lay folks can only imagine. Though ministry professionals can have wonderful skill sets for spiritual leadership, it can be an excessively challenging and at times very lonely field. In fact, burnout, compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse can affect pastors more than those in the general population. Tending to the flock can tax the resources of even the most resilient of us.
It is completely possible to have a full, abundant career in ministry, but ministry professionals can't do it alone. None of us live in a vacuum, and we all need support to thrive.
So how can lay folks help their ministry professional?
1- Reach out. Our ministers are human too. Acknowledge this, show them you care, even with a tiny gesture of support like a handwritten note goes a long way. We all like words of affirmation! (Better yet? Learn their preferred love language)
2- Share a compassionate worldview with other parishioners. When individuals get together in a group, we can be affected by "group think," or be otherwise disconnected from our own values or ideals. Remind folks that our ministers, though human and fallible, deserve the grace and compassion that we would want for ourselves.
3- Seek to understand. When there is misunderstanding that is not tended to, it can fester and become resentment. Church families can suffer from resentment, so reach out with that compassionate, non-attached frame of mind.
4- Don't avoid conflict at all costs. When there is conflict, healthy people identify what has gone wrong and they address it with a level head in the spirit of compromise and mutual respect. If you need help with conflict management, reach out for organizational support so things don't fester.
5- Use humor. Our ministers are dealing with folks in crisis, illness, death. There is much to be grateful for, though, including humor. Brighten up their spirits and highlight the joy it is to be a part of their life!
6- Support lay leadership to do their job. Ministers need support from their lay leadership in order to thrive in their call. Support lay leadership or become involved yourself to share the vision together.
7- Show interest in their family. Genuine interest--remember birthdays, offer celebrations for milestones--it shows that you care and your commitment to them and their role.
8- Be generous with leave time. Sabbatical options, ample leave, days off, rest and recovery--these are essential to the health and wellness of any ministry professional. If their cup is not filled, they are unable to effectively serve others.
9- Offer outside help if you you notice burnout or emotional fatigue is affecting them. Most faith organizations have systems in place such as chaplaincy support if your minister is struggling in their call. Those offerings are there in place to provide the resources ministers need for self care and maintain resilience in their call. (The Pastor's Empowerment Project is a great resource too.)
Burnout is a condition that can affect many caregiving professionals, including pastors and those in spiritual leadership. Being spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically present to a congregation is a call that can be extremely demanding on them and their families, and support is essential to maintaining resiliency. When we support our ministers, we are showing them that we value their presence in our lives as well as understand the impact their work has on them and their family.
PS. Are you a ministry professional needing support? I offer online spiritual mentorship, workshops, and resiliency coaching to reduce burnout and support you in your call.