Ministry can be wonderfully fulfilling. It can also be incredibly taxing. Statistics concerning ministers are staggering! According to Life Recovered, 75 percent of ministry leaders report they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry. Thirty-three percent confess “inappropriate” behavior. The clergy has the second highest divorce rate among all professions. Forty-five percent of ministers’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual burnout.
Ministry leaders are expected to have perfect marriages, well-behaved children and no personal issues. The statistics tell us otherwise. Normal life issues along with ministry expectations can lead to serious issues including depression, stress, anxiety and burnout. Obviously, the best option is prevention.
Maintaining a consistent time of personal Bible study and prayer is critical. Setting priorities, finding healthy relationships with mentor couples, keeping the lines of communication open at home, and finding ways to enjoy time with each other go a long way toward offsetting the pitfalls we are likely to face. (See the links to our other articles for some encouragement and practical suggestions in these areas.)
But, what if you are in the thick of it? Your marriage is struggling, your family is broken, and you are just trying to hold it all together. What then?
Seek help. That’s awfully hard for us as ministers, but it is critical if we are going to emerge from this struggle in one piece. Talk to trusted friends. Get professional help, if needed. Use discretion here, though…and a lot of it! If someone doesn’t love you, your spouse and your marriage, then they aren’t the ones to confide in or seek counsel from. Seek godly wisdom. It is not a sign of weakness or of failure, but is an acknowledgement that we were not created to “do life” on our own.
Get down off of the pedestal others have placed you on. I know it sounds harsh, but you are not perfect. You will struggle, and you will fall. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we are above messing up, or that we can handle the battles of this life without any scars, but you are human. It’s OK.
You know your congregation and you know how transparent you can be, but the fact is, the more honest you can be with your struggles, the more you free others up to live with integrity. When you are willing to share your hurts and seek forgiveness and reconciliation, you allow others to do the same. That’s when authentic ministry can truly happen.
Take a break. That may mean something different for you, depending on your circumstances and the depth of your difficulties. Maybe you need to take a few days off to reconnect with your spouse. There are several retreat centers that specifically minister to church staff members and their spouses. An extended vacation may be beneficial when your family is struggling to hold it together. Consider a full sabbatical to recharge your spiritual life. You may even need to step out of your ministry position for a season, if that is what is necessary to save your marriage and your family.
Use your resources. Texas Baptists Counseling Services offers confidential assessment, counseling and referral services for ministers and their families. You can contact Katie Swafford at (800) 388-2005 or by email at email@example.com to get more information and to access assistance. They have a heart for you and your family, and are available to offer hope and encouragement as they walk beside you during difficulties and struggles.