(Article first appeared in the February 22, 2010 issue of the Christian Courier.)
A pastor’s care can be costly, and the expense is not salary-related. Many pastors simply pay too high a price to practice their profession. It’s a condition common among the helping professionals—sometimes referred to as the “cost of caring.”
Rev. Bob Zomermaand, a retired Christian Reformed Church (CRC) parish pastor, has personal experience with care-related costs. “I myself fell victim to the temptation to work too much,” wrote Zomermaand in his article “Caring for Pastors.”* “I became fatigued in my spirit, in my emotions and my body. As a result, I lost my ability to be a useful tool in the Lord’s hand. The very thing I so desired to be and to do was beyond my reach. I was finally diagnosed with something I had never heard of: compassion fatigue.”
In his article “Compassion Fatigue: An Introduction,” author Charles R. Figley, Ph.D., who works with the Florida State University Traumatology Institute, points to research showing that those who care for others often end up traumatized by the experience. Citing many studies that look at the emotional well-being of workers in the caring professions—from clinical therapists to trauma workers—Figley concludes: “Those who work with the suffering suffer themselves because of the work.”
So why does this type of burnout occur? Author Peter Richter attributes experiences like Zomermaand’s to the loss of reciprocity in social interaction. “In other words,” he says, “we give much more than we get back.” According to James O. Davis, president of Global Pastors Network, 20 percent of pastors experience serious stress and burnout, and it seems that many of them might be giving a lot and getting little in return. The result is compassion fatigue, and the costs pile up. Decreased performance, stress leave, physical and mental illness and troubled relationships top the list of devastating outcomes caused by compassion fatigue. Divorce is common—as is early departure from the ministry.
With costs like these, churches can’t afford NOT to look at restoring the reciprocity of pastor-church relationships. A survey recently conducted by the CRC’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) project was designed to do just that. This survey asked churches throughout the U.S. and Canada to identify and share ways in which they support their pastor and the pastor family. “We hope that the findings from this survey will be a source of inspiration and motivation to all churches in finding ways of better caring for their pastors,” says Lis Van Harten, Director of SPE.
Compensation, Benefits and Performance Review
Survey results mentioned pastor’s compensation, benefits and expense re-imbursement prominently in providing effective pastor care. In addition, churches identified ways to enhance a pastor’s traditional compensation package, including:
- designating budget for continuing education and book allowance
- offering regular Sundays off in addition to normal vacation
- providing annual funding for conferences and retreats
- meeting annually to discuss compensation and address pastors’ concerns
- providing a hospitality allowance
- offering Christian school tuition subsidies
- paying for professional development and extended study leave
Formal processes for performance review and sermon evaluation also figured prominently in survey results. A pastor, like any employee, wants—and needs—feedback. One church explained, “We utilize a personnel committee to encourage our pastor’s contributions and growth through a formal performance management approach, setting yearly goals and assessing results at year’s end.”
Support in Ministry
Survey results showed that caring for the pastor means providing help in getting the work of the church done. For example, churches noted many ways in which they share the demands of planning and leading worship, including:
- creating a roster of individuals to lead prayers, deliver children’s messages, read scriptures and take
on other worship duties.
- appointing worship leaders and/or worship teams so pastor can focus on preaching.
Churches also try to lighten their pastors’ workloads by:
- empowering church members to share in pastoral care.
- sharing responsibilties for teaching catechism and new members’ classes.
- encouraging regular pulpit exchanges during busy times.
Survey results showed that formal attention to the pastor-church relationship is crucial for pastor care. To that end, many churches suggested the value of: forming a pastor-church relations committee to support the pastor, oversee the annual performance review process, and—where needed—mediate between pastor and council. Other churches appoint a pastoral care committee as well, providing a confidential place for pastor and spouse to discuss joys and concerns.
Peer Groups and Mentoring
Supporting pastors to get involved in peer groups and mentoring opportunities also came up frequently in the survey. From encouraging participation in local ministerial associations to enabling peer group involvement, opportunities like these are well worth the investment. “Encouraging our pastor to be a part of a peer-learning group was both personally supportive for the pastor and good for our church,” one respondent explained.
Pastors pray for the church, but who prays for the pastor? SPE’s survey showed that churches value the role of prayer in pastor care. Churches formalize that ministry in various ways, including:
- appointing members to meet weekly with the pastor to pray.
- scheduling council members to pray for the pastor one day per week.
- forming a team to pray for the pastor before worship services.
One congregation got especially creative, noting: “We provided our pastor with a pager, and the congregation pages him every time they pray for him.”
Sabbaticals provide a change or a break from the normal routine and an opportunity for pastors to step back, reflect, relax, recharge and renew. Many churches identified sabbatical as an essential tool in caring for the pastor. “We have a generous sabbatical policy,” one church explained. “Our pastor just completed a six-month sabbatical in which our council urged him to take time for his own spiritual and physical renewal.” For more information about sabbaticals, please visit http://www.crcna.org/pages/spe_sabbaticals.cfm.
Sometimes the duties of a church can become too much for a single employee to handle. In that case, many churches decide to hire additional paid staff. “We employ a part-time worship planner to assist in worship planning and a part-time pastor of visitation to share responsibilities of visiting the elderly and shut-ins,” one survey respondent explained. Other churches noted that they hired church administrators or youth pastors to share the ministry workload.
Some churches care for their pastor by offering flexibility. For instance, they may allow the pastor to work from home or offer flex-time. Others limit evenings spent away from home. Many churches noted that it was important to allow the pastor freedom in deciding how to spend his or her time. “We allow our pastor to concentrate on those areas she is passionate about,” one respondent explained. Another church noted the importance of respecting the pastor’s non-church recreational activities.
Pastor’s Spouse and Family
Caring for the pastor involves caring for the pastor’s spouse and family, too. Ways that churches said they care for the pastor’s spouse and family included:
- funding for spouse to attend peer groups, conferences and/or retreats.
- funding and time off for family or couple retreats.
- including pastor’s spouse and children in social activities of the church.
- supporting pastor’s family in times of illness, crisis or loss.
- providing special treats for the couple or family such as meals, gift certificates,
movie passes, babysitting services, etc.
- providing the means for the pastor to spend weekends away with spouse and/or family.
- ensuring that the pastor takes his or her full vacation and other designated time off
- forming a special team to support the pastor and family during relocation.
Appreciation and Recognition
The survey made it clear that churches are creative in showing their appreciation to their pastors, from holding annual “Pastor Appreciation Sundays” to gift-giving. “We try to do something different each year,” one respondent explained. “Sometimes we give a special gift certificate or we send them away somewhere special for the weekend. It all depends on what is possible in any given year, but we truly love our pastor and he says that he ‘feels’ it.” Recognizing special birthdays, wedding anniversaries and years in ministry with cake, special events and gifts were also practical ways that churches showed care for their pastors.
Weighing the Costs: Pastor Care
As the SPE survey shows—the survey summary will be posted on the CRC’s SPE website soon —it does take an investment of time, attention and financial resources to care for a pastor well. It is pretty obvious, though, that this investment is a wise one, especially when compared with the costs of NOT caring.
* "Caring for Pastors," first published June 2006 in the Christian Courier; now available on CRC’s Sustaining Pastoral Excellence website (http://www.crcna.org/pages/jun2006_zomermaand.cfm).