Burnt out or on-fire?

by Rach

A post about clergy burn-out
‘We should seek to become reservoirs rather than canals. For a canal just allows the water to flow through it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, then it can communicate without loss to itself. In the church today, we have many canals but few reservoirs.’ (Quote from the twelfth century)

‘Being available must never be the defining characteristic of effective leadership…. The wise leader will make wise choices about how time is managed, giving first priority to that space for refreshment and discernment where decisions about the right use of the rest of the time can be profitably made’ (Hit the Ground Kneeling, Stephen Cottrell, p17).

‘Many leaders rush around doing lots of things because they are seeking affirmation in the wrong place, trying to keep everyone happy rather than being engaged in the more noble vocation of making them holy, helping them become themselves’ (Hit the Ground Kneeling, Stephen Cottrell, p22).

And from the same book:
‘The Christian leader .. can be the still point at the centre of the maelstrom, the one whose judgement can be trusted, the one who is not seeking her own ends or his own self-advancement, but cares for those in their charge. Such leaders have an inner security and peace that is both a gift from God and the most important gift they can bestow on others: they are leaders who allow themselves to be led.’
Sue M picked up on the pastor’s quote that I put up on facebook for discussion, the one that went "I have had plenty of opportunities to get depressed but I just haven’t taken them!’ a quote which met with triumphalistic applause from many members of the mega-congregation to whom he was preaching. Sue explores post-natal depression very candidly over on her blog in response.

I think the closest I have come to depression was at university, first time around, when I was studying English in order to finish with a PGCE and become a secondary school teacher. It was a particular form of depression and I think in common parlance, we identify it as ‘burn-out’. The tendency to this disposition, I am aware, is part and parcel of my personality and so I take an interest in writing that explores such personality profiles so that I can watch for the warning signs.

Freudenberger, Journal of Social Issues Volume 30, (1974) describes ‘burnout’ in terms of negative feelings experienced by those working with people, as a result of exhaustion and low feelings of personal satisfaction.

My time being ill at university had that aspect of reality not matching expectations which is common, in terms of the expectations I put upon myself to constantly achieve. Take-home papers for examination purposes were a nightmare for someone who decided that there were therefore twenty hours at my disposal out of twenty-four for research, reading and writing purposes, which I assumed would give me the edge. Wrong.

Detachment is another common tendency thought to contribute to Burnout. I know that I detached myself from friends and family as I locked myself away to study at university, first time around – that was literal detachment. Many people in the caring professions psychologically detach themselves from other people. With clergy, I wonder how detachment expresses itself. Is the attitude doctors and surgeons appropriate for dealing with constant death and terminal illness an option for clergy against the gospel imperative for a Christ-like compassion? My experience of funerals has, so far (just four months into my curacy), been exposure only to those who have had a good length of life with a death that was expected after illness. I have not, as yet, met a case of tragic death. Inevitably, this will be something that I will face.

In my last post about depression, I was wanting to explore how church particularly and more so charismatic expressions of church deal with depression and similar conditions. Geoff Read, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Basel, Switzerland writes about how, ‘the focus on the importance of a dynamic, growing and renewed identity in Christ may seem obvious. But often the important gives way to the urgent, the good forces out the best…’

Read describes burnout as arising out of the ‘misplaced use of qualities such as tenacity and dedication and a strong sense of responsibility to reach goals.’ He quotes Roland Croucher who suggest that the mismatches are ‘… usually something to do with family-of-origin deficits in terms of unconditional love, a sense of belonging, and a tendency towards competitiveness to prove one’s worth.’ It is good to look carefully to see if we can recognise these tendencies in ourselves and to look at our childhoods to see when and why they began to manifest themselves.

Our discussion in the diocese the other day regarding women bishops did in the end become orientated around this idea of humanising the clergy role as had been explored with Rowan Williams in September when he met at Lambeth with ordained and lay women to discuss issues they faced. It would seem live issues on the ground are forcing the church to explore vocation from persepectives that would improve work/life balance for men too.

Read presents Dr John Fletcher’s stages to Clergy Burnout:
Entry to ordained ministry with high personal ideals is overlaid with those of the church during training.
Once in a post, ideal and contextual reality disconnect and clergy draw ever deeper on the ideal, propelled by a growing sense of ‘ought.’
The demands and the disconnect lead to symptoms of physical, relational and spiritual stress.

For some at this point stress is episodic but others are on the road to burnout with the emergence of cynicism and resentment towards the perceived demands of church members and diminished creativity.After this horror can set in that such feelings are occurring causing an individual to crumble or work harder while achieving less and less, delaying the inevitable crash.

These are some of the questions, that every now and then it is worth asking ourselves:
Am I frequently fatigued and in search of opportunities for rest and sleep?
Am I feeling cynical about the people with whom I work or alternatively suspecting that they feel negative about me?
Do I often feel drained by my ministry roles?
Do I find it difficult to muster up enthusiasm for my work?
Do I find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, fantasizing an illness that would keep me at home?
Am I feeling ‘put upon’ or taken for granted?
I am becoming less flexible in my approach to things and frustrated when plans do not go my way?
Do I feel low and sad for no concrete reason.
Do I think about work in my personal/family time?

Books worth a look:
Geoff Read, Ministry Burnout, Grove
Stephen Cottrell, Hit the Ground Kneeling
Fred Lehr, Recovering from the 70 hour week… and other self defeating practices, 2006, Fortress Press, Minneapolis
Coate, M.A., Clergy Stress, 1989, SPCK
Francis, L.J., Kaldor, P., Robbins, M., & Castle, K., Happy but Exhausted? Work related Psychological Health among Clergy. Sciences Pastorales, Volume24-2 (2005), pp101-120
Francis, L.J., & Rutledge, C.F.J., Are rural clergy in the Church of England under greater stress? Study in empirical theology. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 11, 173-191
Hart, A. Coping with Depression in the Ministry and Other Helping Professions, 1984

This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, Culture, Discipleship, Health Care, Institution, Peace, Personal, Spirituality, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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