Blessings and Challenges of Professional Church Work

by Rev. Dale R. Kuhn, LCSW

Assertion: it is possible to love the work we do AND to be overwhelmed by the stress that it brings to us. That’s not easy for many church workers to admit.

An experienced mid-career pastor left my office with the words: “I think of getting out of this work at least once a week. Yet, I would sign up for this gig again, in a minute.”

A teacher in one of our schools asserts that she could earn more money in public education thus relieving financial burdens on her family, but states that nothing would compensate for her opportunity to teach kids about Jesus and worship with them in weekly chapel.

A church musician struggles to manage the musical critiques of worshipers, who just do not understand why “we don’t sing those old hymns out of The Lutheran Hymnal as much as we used to,” but when the congregation is able to belt out “Lift High the Cross,” it’s reason to stay in the hot seat of the organ bench.

These are the stories of many of our professional church workers. The recent study out of the Office of National Mission of the LCMS supports the above stories with the numbers:

  • 55% of our workers state that they have experienced stress from financial concerns.
  • 40% question if their work has any real impact.
  • 24% percent have been told they have depression and/or anxiety.
  • 26% percent note that ministry has contributed to serious marital difficulties.

Even though pastors and teachers burn out at the same rate as social workers who carry hundreds of needy families in their caseloads, they overwhelmingly (84%) want to stay in ministry according to a Barna/Pepperdine University study.

Ways we can help our colleagues:

  • Educate them to catch signs of stress and burnout early
  • Point them in the direction of resources
  • Take this assessment of your current stress level (and share the results with one person and your spouse). You can get the scoring instructions here.

The second step is to seek support from:

  • A Physician
  • A Mental Health Professional trained to work with church workers (using the Concordia Plans Employee Assistance Plan)
  • The LCMS Wellness page
  • A colleague support group where everything and anything can be discussed

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