Stress compounded for faith leaders

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Donald Gillett is the General Minister of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Kentucky as well as an adjunct professor at the Lexington Theological Seminary. He’s doing research about exhaustion and burnout among pastors, especially since the pandemic hit.

“I think the pandemic has exposed the need for more mental health check-ups,” says Gillett. “There’s little time to recharge and so what you’re noticing is that there is a lot of pastors who are, I won’t say that most of them are burnt out, but they are nearing places where they need to be replenished.”

This replenishment can come in the form of a sabbatical, which isn’t a vacation but a time to rest and reconnect with God.

“If a leader wants to inspire a community member, wants to be there for a community member, have compassion for a community member, you need to have something in order to give that over,” says Rabbi Shlomo Litvin of the Lexington Chabad. “You need to have a reservoir for themselves.”

Gillett says many faith leaders never had to hold virtual services before so making the transition was difficult, but it’s been more than just the logistical challenges.

Faith leaders say it’s been devastating to see members of their congregation get sick, have to be hospitalized and not be able to comfort them and their family in-person. Even more devastating has been having members of their congregation die from the virus.

These challenges have taken a toll on the overall mental health of many in the clergy, leading some to step away from the pulpit for a sabbatical, like Growth Point Church’s pastor Mario Radford.

“Sometimes I think we dietize ourselves and make ourselves dieties which we are not human, that’s for Thor and Captain America and other Marvel comics,” says Radford. “But for us we are humans. We might be spiritual beings but we are having a human experience and that means that we suffer, we get frustrated, we get tired, we get lonely, we question ourselves, we’re not sure of ourselves.”

Data from Sutton Turner at Vanderbloemen shows that more than 70% of churches nationwide do not have sabbatical programs and those that do have varying structures like time length and frequency. Even if a sabbatical is not an option for faith leaders, Gillett says resources like counseling or weekend retreats should be prioritized.

“It’s not like they’re running from it or hiding from it but they take on the concerns of others so much that they’re unable to see their own need for it,” says Gillett.

Pastors like Radford say congregations can help by doing a simple check-in on their senior leaders to let them know they are seen and understood.

Categories: Featured, Local News, News, State News