Post Traumatic Church Disorder - PTCD

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Comments

  • I think it's quite difficult to calculate the hours worked by clergy, for a number of reasons. For instance, their duties will vary from day to day or week to week; it may be hard to define what is work and what isn't, or when they are on- or off-duty; and (let's be honest) they can easily descend into fruitless "holy pottering"! Although I'm sure many clergy-people work very hard, I'm sometimes a little suspicious of the "how overworked I am rhetoric" that I often hear. Having said that, some clergy (as people in all areas of life) are workaholics while some are disorganised and take a long time to do simple tasks; more to the point, many have been overburdened by being asked to work with multiple congregations within complex administrative structures which do not reflect contemporary realities.

    However ... the point made above still stands and is important: that, for (full-time) clergy, their "job" is the church; while, for laity, "church" activities are carried out in "discretionary time" - and clergy need to recognise this. The writer in the OP has the particular problem in that she is self-employed, which presumably means flexible hours and working from home: this makes her particular prey for a Pastor as she can always be asked to do a task and "come back later" to do her "secular" work. That would not be the case for someone stuck in an office or factory all day: they are simply not ask-able!

    By the way, I remember reading Michael Saward's autobiography "A Faint Streak of Humility" some year's ago. He was Curate in north London in around 1960 to a highly organised Rector who was married but childless. The Rector, an ex-Army man I seem to recollect, was a stickler for punctuality. One evening a young mum who had had to cook dinner and then get small children to bed slipped into a Confirmation Class just a few moments after it had started. The Rector looked at her witheringly and said, "We start at 7.30, thank you very much". Saward said that never in his life had he so wanted to thump someone: the Rector had so little appreciation of the realities of busy family life.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    @Foolish Hoon - I would reiterate the comment that it is not you at fault. However much you think it is. I would also say that there is a difference between serving God and serving the church. They can overlap, but the church is not God.

    More importantly, God has given you a family and a job. And ambitions for that job. They are all part of your spiritual work. Significantly, these are roles that ONLY YOU can do. Whereas the work of running a church others can do.

    You say you work part time - I think it is worth laying down the hours and days that you will work on church stuff. One day a week and Sundays Mornings maybe. Or more - whatever gives you family time and work expansion time, as well as personal time. And if you cannot fit everything into that, it will have to get done by others - in the end, that is the Pastors responsibility, not yours.

    You are doing the right things - by wanting to talk and arrange limits. You need to look after yourself - I have seen people burn-out with church stuff, and it is not pretty. If you cannot get better limits put on your work, you need to consider stepping down from the eldership role - which will allow others to explore their God-given leaderships gifts in the church, of course (always a postive spin you can put on things), and give you a chance to reconnect with God.
  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    Foolish Hoon, you could talk to him as part of planning for the next year, after all New Year is when people often consider their commitments or any new things they might want to undertake. Maybe I'm a bit devious, but I would be tempted to say that you know he will appreciate your need to cut back on some of your activities as you had been thinking about what he has said about the danger of burnout ( and honestly it sounds that you may be more at risk than he is).

    I don't know your church set up, but given the other Elder is busier than usual with his job is it possible to rope in an extra Elder or assistant Elder?

    It might take some of the heat off if both the current Elders have a meeting with him, rather that just you - but you know the people involved so will have the best idea on how to handle it.
  • Reading back your original post, I'm struck by your phrase about your Pastor "constantly asking me to do things that most people would expect him to do". What is this about? Is it that the congregation have certain expectations of what a Pastor should do, but he disagrees with them (in which case some education or explanation is required)? Is it that he feels some practical tasks (eg photocopying the church magazine) are "beneath him" and that he ought to be dedicating his time to more "spiritual" things? Is he trying to offload onto others the things he simply doesn't much like doing? Does he believe that the things he's asking you to do truly lie more within your gifting than his? Or - as you suggest - is he carving out a nice comfy niche for himself while burdening others? I do accept that single childless Pastors do have to set boundaries on themselves to avoid being constantly available and getting burned out, but he seems to have taken this too far.
  • If there was someone within the church to have a general conversation with, to get their impressions. Maybe from the starting point of that you're feeling stressed, stretched, over-whelmed? Basically making your feelings and current state of mind the issue to discuss, not anything critical of pastor. Allowing others to lead to any discussion that isn't centred on you and how you're coping. My 2¢.
  • This is me guessing and giving advice I struggle to follow but I already have had two burnouts too many.

    Firstly I suspect that you need to bring to the churches notice that it is a good idea for both paid staff and volunteers to have defined roles. This is good practice with volunteering and I suspect will become part of safeguarding regulation. I would suggest that you actually work out how much time you are doing for the church.

    Secondly, boundaries and vocations do not easily mix. My rule now is that if I am doing something by duty rather than devotion then it is not good. This is not prima-donna territory as part of my spirituality is that there is more devotional worth in doing the mundane than the high status. Look at the requests and ask how do I feel about this and why am I doing it? If it is because you do not want to let people down, I would suggest that you really need to reconsider.

    Thirdly none of the above are fail-safe methods. If I have to put up defences against demands then I need to seriously think. It is important is to know you have the right to say 'No' and to expect that to be respected not brushed aside or circumnavigated.

    Finally, the answer is that if they are not addressed you will burn out and leave. This is not a threat, this is the cost of your survival.
  • Reading back your original post, I'm struck by your phrase about your Pastor "constantly asking me to do things that most people would expect him to do". What is this about?

    It's things like leading prayer meetings, marriage preparation with couples, leading a daytime home group, managing staff, occasional difficult pastoral conversations, liaising with others who use our building, dealing with our landlord, preaching. Not all of these things all the time (he does do pastoral visiting and most of the preaching, but there is a constant feeling that he wants to divest himself of more). It is always couched in terms that he thinks I would do it better than him, but leaves me wondering what it is that he feels he can do.

    I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken time to respond and I will be pondering all your advice. Thank you.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host
    ... things like ... marriage preparation with couples, ... managing staff, occasional difficult pastoral conversations ...
    He seriously thinks those can be offloaded on to a lay volunteer???

    I think someone needs to have a Serious Conversation with him about his duties.

    Are there any senior clergy who would be in a position of authority over him? (I'm assuming from what you've said that you don’t have bishops or archdeacons).
  • Wondering if the pastor has a written job description and a yearly review by the elders. If not seems like a healthy idea for all parties to do so.
  • Agreed.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    leading prayer meetings, marriage preparation with couples, leading a daytime home group, preaching.

    These are - in many cases - fine to ask you to do (as a Reader in the CofE, these were defiantely within my remit). In some cases, training is appropriate.
    managing staff, occasional difficult pastoral conversations, liaising with others who use our building, dealing with our landlord.

    These are not. You should definately resist these, not least because they are very challenging activities, and need the authority of the pastor, not just yours.

    That is my view at least. A clear division of responsibilities is needed. As the pastor, there are things that he NEEDS to do, and should not be delegated.
  • I'm quite shocked at the list of things he is expecting of you. And my advice is that, should you have a talk with him, have someone else you have discussed the issues with - the other Elder? - with you. You need not to be pushed at any more, and it sounds as if he is effective at doing that. Also, you need to be covered when the conversation is relayed to others.
  • managing staff, occasional difficult pastoral conversations, liaising with others who use our building, dealing with our landlord.

    These are not. You should definitely resist these, not least because they are very challenging activities, and need the authority of the pastor, not just yours.

    That is my view at least. A clear division of responsibilities is needed. As the pastor, there are things that he NEEDS to do, and should not be delegated.

    You see this is where different traditions see things differently. As a traditional Nonconformist I would have more difficulty with Marriage Prep being handed on than difficult pastoral conversations. at least to an elder. Elder is a title which has a range of meanings. Although sometimes it means little more than member of the PCC, at the other extreme it can mean an cleric or even a senior cleric. The pastor could well see the difference between himself and Foolish Hoon as the difference between a stipendiary and non-stipendiary cleric rather than between a stipendiary cleric and an active member of the congregation. Indeed he might feel that Foolish Hoon is the senior. Within the Reformed traditions one of the characteristics of the eldership is pastoral responsibility and therefore no-one would look askance at an elder being asked to tackle a tricky pastoral situation. I once did allow something to pass from elders to a minister. It is one of the few pastoral decisions I regret because either of the elders invovled would have handled it better than the minister. We did not know then how poor that minister was.

  • I can totally imagine the pastor delegating Marriage Preparation because he is not married himself. Doesn’t mean Foolish Hoon has to do it though. If she’s doing too much, then he needs to find a different married couple to take it on.
  • A good Pastor from the Nonconformist/Congregational tradition will actively encourage members of the congregation to develop their gifts and take on jobs (BT hangs head in shame as he's not very good at doing this). Indeed (and this is very different from the Anglican or Catholic approach) there may be few if any roles which are considered to be theirs alone - not even conducting worship or presiding at Communion. However this Pastor seems to be taking things too far and gives the impression of taking advantage of some willing people.
  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    It was only my view - the actual division will vary. I know churches where the marriage prep is done by (trained and married) couples, who may have more experience of "normal" marriage that a pastor.

    Pastoral conversations - probably depends on what the "difficulty" is. To me, the difficult ones are where there are multiple members of the congregation involved. If it is just someone struggling by themseleves, however hard that is, maybe it is appropriate.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host
    I can understand the idea of having a married couple taking part in the prep course (especially as the vicar is single), but I still think he should be involved and not just delegate it to lay people.
  • @Baptist Trainfan and @Jengie Jon you are right, our church's structure/tradition is that all members are ministers to one another. In that sense, the pastor is more like a coordinator, and a first among equals. Anyone with the relevant gifting/skills might do any of the things that need doing. One of the things he is very good at is spotting potential in people and encouraging them to develop their gifts within the church.

    We only very recently acquired a pastor, having been run completely by lay members of the congregation for several decades before that. (We started off as a Brethren assembly, before my time, but are now more generic evangelical). But the pressures of increasing work hours over the years in our commuter town has meant that we needed someone to devote their working days full time to the church. To some extent, we are still trying to find that balance between what the pastor does Vs what everyone else should do. He needs support as well. He does have a job description, but some of it is quite wishy-washy, and things like "determining a vision for the church's direction" are difficult to quantify.

    Many churches of our ilk have a three-year fixed term for elders to serve (elders are effectively lay pastors) then they have some time off from "elding". We don't have that: once you're on, you're on and it's actually very difficult to step down because of a perceived lack of replacements and unwillingness of some to step up (probably because they think they'll be trapped for the rest of their life if they say yes). I have now done four years, and it's been the last year that has been so taxing.

    Having been unable to speak about this for so long to anyone in my life, I have found this thread so helpful to get my head around it all. I have realised that I am terrible at saying No to people, because (a) I don't like to let people down; and (b) I tend to think I can do things better than other people. It's a recipe for disaster, really! And whilst BT and Shroedinger's Cat might insist the problem isn't me, I haven't really been put under pressure to take things on, I just keep saying yes when I am asked. I am sure if I start saying No the pressure will ease.

    So thanks to my Shipmates' help, some progress has been made on my part: I've not spoken to the pastor yet (I'll wait until the new year, when we will both have taken a break so will hopefully be able to look at things rationally), but I have booked some additional training for my job, which I have wanted to do for well over a year now but always felt I couldn't afford the time. It's two hours training each month and about five hours per week of studying - so a big chunk of my time. However, rather than feeling like my time has been stolen from me, I am so excited about it and, having now booked it prior to any new church commitments arising, I will be better able to say "no" when church requests come my way.

    I am also thinking about how I can limit my church hours: do I say I only do church things on Mondays, or give six hours per week, and keep track of it... definitely one of those two things, but I need to think a bit more about how it might pan out in reality. At least I have lost the desperate sense of despair I have been carrying around for the last six months or so, and that is a big relief.
  • Well, I certainly hope that we have been able to give you some support. And your situation is a warning to us full-time Pastors not to load willing people with too many burdens.
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    It's good you've been able to plan a way forward @Foolish Hoon

    In answer to an earlier comment, things such as dealing with the building owners and other users of the space are often an administrator's role or delegated to a premises committee to deal with., even in the CofE.
  • Also in Nonconformist churches, though there will probably an Elder/Deacon who acts as Chair.

  • We only very recently acquired a pastor, having been run completely by lay members of the congregation for several decades before that. (...) To some extent, we are still trying to find that balance between what the pastor does Vs what everyone else should do. He needs support as well. He does have a job description, but some of it is quite wishy-washy, and things like "determining a vision for the church's direction" are difficult to quantify.

    It sounds like you may not be the only person in need of help. Your church is new to having a full time pastor. Is your pastor also new to being in that job full-time, or new to doing it as a sole practitioner?

    Would it be a good idea to have some sort of review of how well things are going? I'd like to hope that when you appointed your new pastor, your governing body agreed to have a look at how things were working after a few months, just to see if anything in the plans needed adjusting in the face of reality.

  • Schroedingers CatSchroedingers Cat Shipmate, Waving not Drowning Host
    OK, so there is a period of adjustment happening. That makes sense, but it should be a chance also for you to define how much time you can spend (and what you can do).

    With a new pastor, it is not just they who needs to find their role clearly, but everyone else - in some cases, people in your sort of position are scared that the new pastor will stop them doing things they want to do. You seem to be in the opposite position, but the solution is (basically) the same - to find the right balance and the right things for everyone to be doing.

    It should be a chance to reasses - gently - everything you do, and make sure that as a church, you are doing the right things. The danger - and it seems like you are falling into this - is that hte new pastor does some things, maybe does a lot of new things, or more of the old things, without actually taking the burden off anyoen else. They should take the burden off people like you (to an extent), for those things that you find a problem.

    Hugs - and hopes that you can find a solution to this that everyone is happy with.
  • That in turn may be linked to an expectation that a Pastor - especially where there hasn't been one before - will basically do "new stuff", while leaving others to keep on doing what they've always done.
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    Foolish Hoon, that all sounds good. I would lean toward devoting one day per week to "elding," and see how it works out; I'm concerned that your six-hour limit would be difficult to enforce.

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