What do clergy families find stressful?

In 1994, Priscilla White Blanton and Michael Lane Morris reviewed previous research on clergy families and and extended it with their own study of 272 clergy husbands and their wives from six denominations.  They published their findings in an article entitled “The Influence of Work-Related Stressors on Clergy Husbands and Their Wives.”  It appeared in the journal Family Relations, Volume 43, No 2 (April 1994). They seem as true today as they did then. They cited five external stressors:

  • Frequent relocations.  Whether the move is dictated by the denominational hierarchy or is decided mutually by pastor and congregation, clergy typically move from community to community over the course of their lives. The expectation is that upon moving the pastor (and family) steps away from the former church community in order for the congregation to bond with the new minister. This disrupts social networks for all members of the family.
  • Financial compensation. Of all the professions requiring an advanced degree (a Masters of Divinity is typically 90 credits or 3 full years), the ministry on the whole has the lowest compensation. The majority of clergy are underpaid, causing a strain on the entire family.  For people entering seminary today, student loan debt compounds the problem.
  • Expectations and time demands. The never ending needs of a congregation, combined with the unpredictability of the 24/7 nature of the ministry, makes normal family life difficult under the best of circumstances. There are no normal weekends for clergy, and holidays are often the most demanding workdays of the year. In one survey, 80% of clergy stated that their job had a negative impact on their family. Spouses and children often report loneliness and isolation.
  • Intrusion of family boundaries. In the past it was the telephone; now its e-mail. And that’s when the pastor is not out for numerous evening meetings. One of the most difficult things for clergy to do is to set boundaries between work and home. Uninterrupted time for the clergy couple or with children is one of the biggest problems for clergy families, and has resulted in high divorce rates and depression. And clergy families can feel they live in a fishbowl.
  • Lack of adequate social support. Relationships between clergy and parishioners are complicated. The norm is often that the pastor and family do not have close, intimate friendships with members of the congregation. Even at community events they are seen as “the pastor.” Unless the family has been able to establish and maintain other close friends they can feel alone in the crowd.

 

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