Thursday, October 28, 2010

Warning: Career Choice Can Be Fatal

Bad news: I just found out that being a pastor may kill me. Not like existentially, but literally: A study was just released that found that pastors, on the whole, are much more likely than their non-clergy peers to experience obesity, hypertension and depression. The study links thes trends to the overall stress of the job as well as working too much. To which I say: Duh. Any job that asks you to go out to coffee 7 times a day and also demands that you be consistently emotionally balanced, available for emergencies at a moment's notice, spiritually grounded at all times and proficient in a variety of areas including preaching, teaching, plumbing, social work, crisis intervention, mediation, photo-copier repair, financial management, interior design, non-profit administration, singing, institutional change and food preparation, is bound to drive you nuts. And certainly into the cookie jar (or the wine rack) much too often.

Now I have said before, on this very blog, that pastoring is not difficult. And I stand by that. It's not difficult in the way that coal-mining is difficult. Or being an air traffic controller. Or a police officer.  But it is challenging in a more constant way than some other jobs. Because you're a pastor all the time. When you're at work or not, when you're awake or asleep, when you're with your church members or your friends, you're a pastor. Now this certainly doesn't mean that you act like it all the time (thank goodness!), but it certainly an identity that follows you, a reality that can get really tiring. And, as Mr.L and I were recently discussing with another couple over dinner earlier this week, the work follows you as well. It's as if the tasks of the pastoral life ooze out like some Ghostbusters-2-esque blob into all areas of your life. 

Now, many pastoral leaders these days like to talk a lot about "boundaries." "You should set boundaries," they say, "then you wouldn't have these problems." Set boundaries about how much you work and when and who can call and on what number and so on and so on and so on.  But it's more difficult than it seems. Especially when you're in a small church or one without a lot of resourced folks with other support systems around them.  For instance, it's Friday evening and you get a call that someone is in the hospital. Do you take the call? If you do, do you put your family dinner on hold and go? Or wait for the next day? What if they don't have any family or friends and they'll be alone until you come? Or let's say it's Saturday afternoon and you still haven't finished your sermon for Sunday. Do you take a break from your relaxation or house projects to finish it up? Or do you deliver the crappy half-crafted message you've got already? It's Thursday, your only day off, and you get an email from someone who is having a difficult time due to (insert emotional, financial, physical, familial or situational crisis here). Do you respond? Or wait? What if the church is flooding? Do you go? They are difficult decisions to make and ones challenged by our views of pastors and the extent of pastoral compassion.  These are real things that are happening in real people's lives. And it can be difficult to draw boundaries around that.

On top of all this, how do you stop thinking about/worrying about/problem solving all the issues of a complex organization like a church when you walk out the door? I often find that even with no one calling me, I still spend huge portions of my days off stressed out about problems happening at the church. "What are we going to do about our fundraiser if it doesn't go well?..... I hope that person I talked to on Tuesday is going to be okay....... Did I remember to email the music director the song for this week?" And so on and so on and so on.

This is still something I'm working hard to work through. And I certainly don't know what the answer is. But I want to figure it out before I wake up in 20 years, obese, hypertense and depressed. I wish they had put a warning label on my diploma......

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