Creating a Culture of Ministry Health

Dear Church Board and Chairperson,

Management Consultant Peter Drucker called church leadership “the most difficult and taxing role he knew.”1  LifeWay Research Vice President Scott McConnell said of pastors, “This is a brutal job, churches ought to be concerned.”2  100% of pastors surveyed by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development had a close associate or seminary friend who had left the ministry due to church conflict, stress related burnout, or a moral failure.3 

Until your church is large enough to hire an executive pastor, you as a board are the human resources department.  It is a huge responsibility to steward your employees, and stewarding the pastoral position has unique challenges.

If you want to create a culture of ministry health and growth, you need to intentionally identify and address the risks that could sabotage your goal. Below are 10 questions that reflect the challenges that you and your pastor face, as researched by Dr. Charles A. Wickman in Pastors at Risk (note chapter references in parentheses).

  1. How do we become unified with our pastor to clarify, communicate, and contend for God’s vision for our church? (Ch#4) “The primary stressor experienced by pastors, leading the most often to forced resignation, is vision conflict.” -Wickman/Spencer4
  2. How do we help our pastor by setting appropriate and manageable expectations of our pastor and clearly communicating them to him and our church? (Ch#7) “In a survey asking how exited pastors experienced stress in their ministry, role conflict was a top ranked producer of stress second only to conflict over how ministry was to be done in the church.” –Wickman5
  3. How are we helping our pastor train volunteers and delegate (administrate) responsibilities? (Ch#6)George Barna has discovered that while 69% of the pastors of effective churches have preaching/teaching as their primary gift emphasis, administration and leadership are found in only 15% of these pastors.” – John Hawco6
  4. How are we facilitating healthy communication in our church? (Ch#9) “Most church conflict results from poor communication.” -Rick Warren7
  5. How do we help our pastor manage the grief and loss he experiences regularly and create a culture of joy? (Ch#11) “Ministry is fraught with grief because of difficulty in relationships between sheep and shepherd, people and pastor.” -John A. MacArthur8
  6. How do we help our pastor manage stress related burnout and encourage him to have enough rest? (Ch#1-2) “75% of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry” -Fuller Institute9
  7. How do we help our pastor say no and handle the criticism that comes with it? (Ch#8) “All of the top at risk pastors said it was difficult for them to say no.” -Wickman10
  8. How do we help our pastor manage discouragement and encourage him to invest in self care? (Ch#3) “70% of pastors constantly fight depression.” -Fuller Institute11
  9. How do we support our pastor to pursue a healthy relationship with his wife? (Ch#10) “77% of pastors felt they did not have a good marriage.” -FASICLD 12
  10. How do we help our pastor manage isolation and encourage him to meet with pastors of other churches and denominations? (Ch#5) “Only a fellow minister can point out the width and depth of the rut in which a colleague may be running.” – Winton H. Beaven13

Thank you for investing in the health of your church by addressing the 10 Risks every church and its pastor face.  If you would like further resources or there’s any way we can support and strengthen your ministry, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Serving Jesus together,

1 Grudem, Elliot. “Pour It Out,” Leadership Journal, Winter 2016.

2 Green, Lisa Cannon. “The One Percent;” Christianity Today, September 1, 2015.

3,8,9,11,12 Krejcir, Dr. Richard J. “Statistics On Pastors,”, 2007.

4,5,10, Wickman, Dr. Charles A. Pastors at Risk, 2014.

6 Hawco, John. “The Senior Pastor/Executive Pastor Team: A Contemporary Paradigm For The Larger Church Staff,” Dissertation,, 2005.

7 Warren, Rick. “Develop These 7 Skills When You Want People to Listen,”, October 2, 2015.

8 MacArthur, John A. “Restoring the Grieving Pastor’s Joy,”, September 24, 1995.

13 Beaven, Winton H. “Ministerial Burnout-Cause and Prevention,”, March 1986.

Compassion Fatigue By Dr. Charles A. Wickman

(The following is an excerpt from “Measuring the Level of Pastors’ Risk of Termination/Exit from the Church,” by Dr. Charles A. Wickman)

The literature describes compassion fatigue more clearly than vision conflict since the term is already referenced numerous times using similar attributes as have been uncovered in this present research (Joinson, 1992; Marchand, 2007; Musick, 1997; Pfifferling & Gilley, 2000; Wells, 2004). Compassion fatigue has also been an occasional topic for the popular press (Focus on the Family, 2008; Johne, 2006). The physical and emotional stresses that are outlined by items 12, 22, and 23—the items with the highest loadings (Table 2)—are similar to the dimensions associated with the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Chandler, 2006; Foss, 2002; Maslach & Jackson, 1981a, 1981b, 1986; Maslach, Jackson & Leiter, 1996; Maslach & Leiter, 2008). Understanding exhaustion, both physical and emotional, is a critical topic in the study of classical burnout (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001; Schaufeli, Taris & van Rhenen, 2008).  Pfifferling and Gilley (2000) add spiritual fatigue to the list of attributes describing compassion fatigue. Some researchers have used comparable terms such as emotional labor or compassion stress when referring to compassion fatigue (Boy le & Healy, 2003; de Jonge, Le Blanc, Peeters & Noordam, 2008; Figley, 1992; Pienaar & Willemse, 2008). However, tracing compassion fatigue among literature directed specifically to the clergy uncovers a unique extension of emphases that carries the definition of the term beyond the specifications of classical burnout due to the typical breadth of circumstances associated with normal ministry functions (Flannelly, Roberts & Weaver, 2005; Marchand, 2007; Pfifferling & Gilley, 2000).

One of the first to employ the term compassion fatigue in association with ministry settings was Hart (1984). He used the term compassion fatigue when counseling members of the clergy who were dealing with depression that resulted from the effects of ministry upon personal life.  Numerous researchers and practitioners since have described the antidotes for ministry stress that parallel Wickman’s (2004) items associated with compassion fatigue (Grosch & Olsen, 2000; Heinen, 2007; Husted, 1996; London & Wiseman, 1993; Sanford, 1992). Helping a parishioner deal with a spectrum of issues can deplete a minister of his or her own emotional reserves and contribute to their vulnerability toward a range of maladies (Hart, 1984). Compounding a sense of depression among clergy is the realization that effective ministry to a congregant does not mean that the congregant’s circumstances will always improve. Hauerwas and Willimon (1990) describe compassion fatigue in the following way: “It strikes people who take on too heavy a load of other people’s burdens, leaving little time or energy for themselves. Victims become disillusioned and depressed, and often start to show cracks in their professional veneer” (p. 247).

Flannelly, Roberts, and Weaver (2005) give special emphasis to compassion fatigue while differentiating the use of the term from burnout in research associated with chaplains and clergy who ministered in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in New York City. They noted the value of clinical pastoral education as a way to decrease compassion fatigue and burnout while increasing compassion satisfaction in responders and non-responders alike. Pector (2005) distinguishes compassion fatigue from burnout by positing that ministry caregivers who suffer from compassion fatigue continue to fully give of themselves to their work in spite of physical, mental and spiritual depletion.

The occurrence of compassion fatigue among the clergy is inevitable, especially since many of the duties performed by ministers are either similar to various secular jobs where high stress is common, or place the clergy member in a circumstance where extreme trauma is being experienced (Holaday, Lackey, Boucher & Glidewell, 2001; Taylor, Weaver, Flannelly & Zucker, 2006). Boyle and Healy (2003) contend that balancing responses between the sacred and the profane in a heavily emotion-laden organization can be difficult, citing the rush of excitement experienced by emergency personnel when a life is saved. Members of the clergy experience a similar set of extremes. Emotional highs and lows are exacerbated by stress, demand, and exhaustion that characterize compassion fatigue among clergy according to the physical and social proximity of the minister to the congregants where he or she serves. Although Marcuson (2004) does not employ the term compassion fatigue, a theme of balance undergirds her exhortation for clergy to find a functional equilibrium when trying to realize when enough help is truly enough. As White (2007) posits, “people who work in ministry are often working in the very communities they rely upon for social and spiritual support, and the dual relationships that result can pose complications for their work and personal lives” (p. 7).  Brown (2007) illustrates the high-low liability associated with the minister’s dedication to serve among people who may accuse or slander their minister if their needs are not addressed to their satisfaction. Indeed, compassion fatigue introduces an important dimension of understanding how people and relationships affect the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the clergy.

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