Q & R: Pastors and Burnout

Here’s the Q:

I am writing to thank you, for the book, ‘Faith after doubt’ ,  for helping me feel less alone and to understand the fear some of my [church members feel] by having me as their new minister.

Also, I am writing to ask do you have any resources / recommendations for ministers / pastors who are experiencing burnout, being overstretched?

Last week I popped into my local independent bookshop… Christmas [gift cards] in hand, I went to pick up books that caught my eye, had been on my wish list. I was not expecting to see your book in this very small shop.
I bought Faith after doubt, ( having read other books by you before and finding them very good and useful), without fully understanding it was really for those currently struggling with doubt. I’m someone who has always doubted the concrete doctrines, and always been ‘liberal’ in my theology.  Coming to faith as a young adult. I’m now in my twelfth year of ordained ministry … I moved to a new area … where I  have been given the extra responsibility of superintendency. One of my new Churches is Conservative Evangelical and the leadership there are not welcoming me in.
In discussion with a colleague this week I see now they are fearful of what I represent, female, liberal, minister. Your book is helping me explore and understand the details of that.
I’m also aware that due to near burn out just before the pandemic hit, my reserves are lower.
[Many] clergy here [in my region] are overstretched, many tired, some like me, exhausted by trying to balance congregations who hold contrary convictions on parts of theology, such as same-sex marriage.
Thank you for writing, sharing a book that is supporting so many , for me at a time when I feel very fragile and when I am  unsure how long I can remain in full time ministry, but which is also supporting me and helping me understand my ‘difficult’ church.
Here’s the R:
Thanks for your question, and your vulnerability. (I removed/changed details to protect privacy.) I’m so glad the book has been helpful. I wanted to share your letter for two reasons. First, I think it will help people understand how hard a go it is for clergy these days … In the best of times, it isn’t an easy job. Add COVID, political division, culture wars, conspiracy theories, etc., and it’s a wonder that clergy (like health care workers) are doing as well as they are.
Second, as for resources, you’ll find a number of helpful articles on line, like this one from Christian Century and this one from Christianity Today.
If there’s a Catholic retreat center or monastery near you, or a licensed spiritual director, I highly recommend finding spiritual direction outside your denominational structure to provide you “disinterested/non-utilitarian” support.
Most of all, I hope you can be a friend to yourself, a subject I talked about on this podcast: https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2020/09/04/episode03-037/brianmclaren
For folks in the US, events like this one in North Carolina right after Easter can be a godsend. Signing up and getting away is a great way of being a friend to yourself …
And, of course, the traditional practice of taking sabbaticals is one worth recovering … especially when someone has been serving as long as you have, in demanding situations. Sometimes we need weeks or months, not simply days, to unwind, get off the adrenaline cycle, and reconnect with God, the earth, our curiosity and calling, and the deepest parts of ourselves.
Praying with and for you today … and all who are feeling the stress of leadership in these crazy times.