Overworked pastors need quiet time to retreat
- Posted on Sat, Dec. 25, 2004
Overworked pastors need quiet time to retreat
[note: one of them is orthodox!]
By Marshall King
ELKHART [AP] A couple of Saturdays a month, Tim Rowland heads to a
property in Michigan to tend to his trees.
On Sundays, he heads to River Oaks Community Church to tend to his
He says he couldn't do one without the other.
"Many times it's probably saved my ministry," he said of his time
away on Saturdays.
Pastors care for congregations, but who cares for pastors?
Sometimes they gather in small support groups, take retreats or
sabbaticals or talk with spiritual directors about their own lives.
The key is finding what works and what sustains them, according to
"First of all, Jesus modeled it for us. He often went away by
himself. Second of all, I think as pastors and clergypeople, we tell
our congregations you need to listen for God and then don't even get
quiet enough ourselves to hear that. God often speaks in quiet
whispers," said Norma Miller, director of the Quiet Place, a retreat
center in Milford, and a pastor at Community Church of Waterford.
She journals and takes weeklong silent retreats. She also leads
pastors in such activities and provides spiritual direction for
them. "Mostly what we provide is quiet and space," she said.
Without sustenance of the spirit, pastors burn out, said George
Adkins, a Christian Church Disciples minister and someone who works
with pastors in hypnoanalysis. "A lot of ministers drop out because
they can't take it anymore," he said. "A lot of people have the idea
that ministers, they don't work very hard. By and large, ministers
work their tails off."
Pastors are under pressure and on-call all the time, said the Rev.
Lloyd Miller, Central District (Mennonite) Conference minister. "Over
a period of years, that can become kind of heavy," he said.
Since Saturday and Sunday are usually work days for pastors, they
should find other days off. And a three-month sabbatical every four
years can help rejuvenate pastors and allow them to stay in their
positions longer, he said.
"A sabbatical is not a vacation," he said, noting that it has a
purpose. "Pastors as generalists need to have opportunities to
reflect on the general roles they're expected to play in the life of
Carl Bell, a counselor with the Center for Cancer Care in Goshen and
priest with St. Mary's Antiochan Orthodox Church in Topeka, said he
finds renewal in three ways: The Sunday liturgy, going to a monastery
and making confession to a Romanian Orthodox monk in Indianapolis. If
he doesn't do those things, he said he'll start to see what he's
doing as about himself and not about God. "And then I get tired," he
All the priests in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are
required to do an annual retreat of a week, said Father John Delaney,
priest at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Goshen.
Bishop John D'Arcy often sends books to priests for them to study.
There are support groups for priests, and in Elkhart County the
priests gather informally once a month to talk, Delaney said.
"If there is a problem that a priest has with regard to burnout or
any other emotional issues and spiritual concerns, the bishop will
bend over backward to care for their needs and pay for it," he said.
The North Central District of the Missionary Church doesn't require
sabbaticals or retreats for the pastors in its 68 congregations, but
pastors and their wives can attend an annual retreat and cluster
groups can help support pastors, said Mike Peters, assistant to the
district superintendent. Young pastors are often paired with mentors,
The denomination emphasizes health for all its members, including
pastors. "Our whole emphasis on health is we want to be preventive
and take care of situations up front rather than them hitting the
wall and having to pick up the pieces," he said.
Adkins urges pastors to get away once a month and "squeeze the
sponge" to get rid of negative feelings. Faith undergirds the
techniques he uses to help pastors work through what collects
internally in the process of caring for the spiritual lives of people
in their churches.
Some pastors feel pressure to keep the approval of their
congregations. Others feel pressure to be perfect. Neither is helpful
in avoiding burnout, said some of the pastors. Churches need to
become partners in helping sustain their pastors, they said.
"Most active people in the church today are very much aware and
understanding of the fact that their ministers are likely to be
overworked and burned out," Adkins said.
People can work together to keep that from happening. "We have got to
find ways," Rowland said.