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The Coming Pastoral Crash presents a very challenging, and quite frankly scary, perspective on how clergy will find real struggle resulting from the ongoing stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. Before looking at some of the author’s points, I have heard and seen many of the same from colleagues and in many ways in my own work/life imbalance during this time. I think regardless of how one serves others, whether as a congregational clergyperson or as a chaplain, many of these points really stick out.

In grief support and counseling, we always remind people never to make rash decisions in the midst of crisis. I believe the same to exist during these times. Yet, I am sure many questions are arising in the minds of colleagues. Is this what we signed up for? Do we have the will and desire to continue helping others? Would there be something else we would be happy to do? These questions and others I feel are summed up well in the following:

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist “Prince of Preachers,” once told his students that if they could be happy doing something besides ministry, they should do it. I’m sure there were several reasons why Spurgeon gave this advice. But the reason his advice makes sense to me is because…

Being a pastor is hard.

On the Rise and Fall of Pastors

Similarly, there is a comment in Ethics of Our Fathers (1:10)

Shemaiah and Abtalion received [the oral tradition] from them. Shemaiah used to say: love work, hate acting the superior (literally rabbinate), and do not attempt to draw near to the ruling authority.


Of course, these points exist even in normal times, to recognize the difficulties of serving others. How much more so during a crisis, especially one that has global ramifications. The author notes a multiplicity of areas that can potentially lead to the Crash. A few of these I have already alluded to and noted in previous posts this week. These areas are:

They are serving in ways for which they have no training or experience.

They are doing their best, but unable to keep it up.

They are worried about ministries that are unable to operate, and if they will be able to operate later.

They are exhausted. Less gathering does not equal less work.

They are not feeding their souls.

The future is cloudy.

The collapse of the job and financial markets impacts churches.

They are physically not healthy.

They have conformed to a 7 day schedule.

They are unwilling to take time off.

They do not seek out mental health.

They are in dangerous spiritual territory.

This list of items, described in the article, all point to a coming crashing point. As we reflect on these past few months, I think all of the uncertainty has had such a tremendous impact on how we function. It leads to mistakes, errors and frustrations over decisions we normally wouldn’t find ourselves making. While exhaustive, this list misses one more major point, namely the overwhelming loss from death and illness. When clergy have multiple members die in a short period of time, it is draining. During this pandemic, especially in the hot zones, this has become of primary concern. The constant pain of death will also take a major toll. Who will the helpers turn to if we are all in need of help?

The author offers a potential prescription for how to overcome or work through many of the above challenges so as to potentially avoid the crash. His two messages are:

Ministers must commit to ministering to their own hearts first.

Ministers must commit to look out for one another.

To combat crashing, one must take care of the self and make sure to be able to support others. We have to find new meaning in the work we do and more importantly, meaning in ourselves that transcends the work. We need to remember to insist on giving ourselves the permission to maintain our own health and wellbeing in small ways. We also need to look out for each other. He makes the point that in many ways only other clergy understand the particular challenges we face. I think this is a very true statement. Yet, I would also caution that seeking help from another in the same situation might result in a shift of who is giving and receiving the help at any one time.

In conclusion, without the mindfulness and recognition of our boundaries and limitations, we may very well be traveling into an abyss of pain and depression, crashing and being unable to continue to provide for others. As the marathon that is the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is incumbent to remember that slow and steady can and should be the mode of practice.