Monday, August 09, 2010

"Congregations Gone Wild"

The NY Times had an article today called, "Congregations Gone Wild." This article followed a previous NT Times article on clergy, in which a study was cited that showed clergy have higher than normal rates of depression, obesity, and anxiety.

In Congregations Gone Wild, the author, Jeffrey MacDonald, a United Church of Christ minister, writes about how ministers are encouraged to give in to a consumeristic, entertainment-oriented membership: "In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else . . .

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.

Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries."

As a minister, I can indeed say that there is pressure to not challenge people, to not call them to sacrifice and service, to concentrate on members' wants and ignore the lost. While we might expect this from members who are not very spiritually mature, or who perhaps are hurting so much that they cannot see beyond themselves, this is most challenging when these pressures come from those that we expect would be supportive of these things. As the article indicates, this can be a source of stress.

Overall, ministry a great joy. But this is one of the stresses that ministers must learn to deal with or they will quit the ministry, as so many have unfortunately done. We must, like Christ, our example, continue to preach and teach Christ's message and mission.

So, what stresses do you think that ministers face? How can these stresses be helped?