Who Comforts the Comforter?
- Written by: Rev Joel Kettleton
Recently, a cartoon popped up on my feed from one of the Anglican groups I’m in. The cartoon depicted a minister, alone at the front of the church building, slumped over, crying. The title of the post was ‘Who comforts the comforter?’. As I continued to notice the details within the picture, I also noticed the emotions that welled up in me: sadness, anger, confusion, and compassion. This minister, who is both surrounded by objects that proclaim God’s faithfulness and care, and who is sitting at the front of a building that has most likely been recently filled with people, is alone and broken. Why is that? What has led to this moment?
Burnout within ministry leaders has come to the fore in recent years, particularly in response to the impact of lockdowns and post-lockdown life on churches, as well as the increasing administrative load ministers are undertaking in response to policies to do with protecting vulnerable people and other compliance issues. There is an increasingly large pool of articles and resources explaining the phenomenon of burnout within clergy, how to care for ourselves, and how to build resilience in ministry. It’s encouraging that the Australian Church is having this conversation in the open. However, as I look around at how many of my colleagues in church leadership are not doing well, I wonder how many of them have had moments like the one in the cartoon.
A recent Partners in Ministry Webinar on avoiding burnout and building resilience in ministry stated that 25% of church leaders suffer from burnout, and that another 56% of leaders are at risk of burnout. When you think about numbers like that you may begin to feel similar emotions to the ones I had viewing the cartoon.
My first experience of burnout in ministry occurred 15 years ago when one of the teenagers in my church took their own life. The fallout in the local community was immense. For weeks I was always prepared to care for someone in grief. By the end of the month, I experienced a tiredness that was all consuming. For months I was emotionless: unmotivated and unresponsive to anyone or anything to do with ministry. When I went to a psychologist, the first thing they said was, ‘That makes sense – I see a couple of people in your position every year’. Perhaps you’ve heard of stories like this or experienced something similar.
Burnout can be broadly described as a psychological condition in response to prolonged stress within a role. It is particularly prevalent in people-oriented industries. There are three common dimensions of burnout: exhaustion, cynicism and detachment from the role, and a sense of ineffectiveness or lacking accomplishment. There are several helpful tools that can help identify areas of risk or signs of burnout, but even in naming those three areas above, my guess is that some people could identify they might be at risk.
So, who comforts the comforters?
The Anglican Church of Australia has mandated professional pastoral supervision for those in church leadership as part of its implementations of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Royal Commission found that ministers had few structures of accountability in their roles, due partly to the structures of the Church, as well as the isolated nature of their work, resulting in ethical concerns for the welfare of those under the minister’s care, as well as their own welfare.
While leading the Church brings about a deep sense of joy and purpose within ministers it can also be incredibly isolating – both for those working as solo ministers as well as those leading team ministries. The introspective nature of ministry work – often done in the mind before it manifests amongst a congregation, and the role of a leader – with the weight of responsibility in decision making and pastoring, contributes to this sense of isolation.
Pastoral supervision is an intentional, boundaried relationship, where space is created to critically reflect upon the ministry practice of the supervisee. This space within pastoral supervision allows ministry leaders to openly share what has happened in their ministry with someone who understands, while being outside of their context.
One of the illustrations I share with new supervisees to describe what pastoral supervision is and its benefits is like the mudroom in a farmhouse. Having spent the last decade living in rural Tasmania, I was introduced to the concept of a room where you take your muddy clothing and footwear off before entering the home, clean and fresh. Pastoral supervision provides a supportive space where ministry leaders can critically look at their ministry – how it has affected them and how they might be affecting others, before continuing in their context. Research in burnout and ministry resilience states that one of the key components to combat burnout is a formal program of critical reflection that brings insight, leading to future impact. Pastoral Supervision provides this.
The good news for church leaders in the Anglican Church of Australia is that help is at hand. Through the rollout of professional pastoral supervision, there is a regular space for leaders to unpack the realities of ministry with someone who will listen, support, and gently challenge them. Those in Christian leadership understand the all-encompassing nature of ministry – the ups and downs, the absurd and the profound, and the impact it has on your personal life. It’s not only nice to have time where someone is there to pay attention to you and your context – it’s essential to being able to keep on doing it.
Top tips for ministry leaders receiving professional pastoral supervision:
- Make the most of the time – Supervision is not just another ‘tick in the box’. See it as crucial time for your well-being and development.
- Put the work in – Become reflective in your practice by noting what happens in ministry, bringing something ‘live’ to supervision, and committing to working on it afterwards.
- Be honest – A supervisor is only going to work with what you give them in a session. The more open and honest you are, the more room there is for God to work and change you.
Top tips for churches in supporting ministers in receiving professional pastoral supervision:
- Continue praying for leaders – Uplift leaders as they serve in their role, as well as the impact it has on them outside of ministry.
- Be generous – The minimum number of 6 sessions may not be the most beneficial experience of pastoral supervision for leaders.
Consider funding regular supervision sessions, as well as other professional development and self-care opportunities for ministry leaders.
Joel Kettleton is an ordained Anglican Priest. Having served in parish ministry over the last decade, in 2022 he studied a GradCerti of Professional Pastoral Supervision, and now offers pastoral supervision to ministers around the country. Joel has a deep passion to see the Australian Church grow, with a call to support Christian leaders. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, Kristina, and three children. To help keep happy and healthy, Joel enjoys playing music and trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Seven clues for retirement
- Written by: Peter Corney
Seven clues for Retirement for Ministers of the Gospel
1. Start preparing well before you retire. Pastoral ministry is busy, and the deadlines are relentless; sermon and service preparation every week, constant pastoral needs to attend to, regular committee meetings, marriage preparation, funerals, planning meetings, etc, etc. This can cause one to keep putting off planning ahead for retirement. The constant demands can also mean we can lose contact with old friends and valued relationships, neglect hobbies, and other interests, that will be important in retirement.
2. During full time ministry it is important to keep up other interests, relationships, hobbies, and ministry activities outside the parish. Many of these can be continued after you move from full time ministry. Retirement doesn’t mean we cease ministry! The pace and the pressure changes and the influence may narrow but our vocation can continue. In my case I have always been involved in training, coaching, and mentoring younger leaders, both within and outside my parish ministry, and that has continued into my retirement from full time ministry. The Arrow leadership program which I was privileged to head up, happened while I was still in parish ministry and when I moved from full time ministry gave me a continuing field of very meaningful service at a level appropriate to my energy at that stage of my life. In retirement I and a small group of retired friends from the church we attend, started a ‘Shed’ for men and women that is focussed on woodwork projects, musical instrument making, furniture projects both new and restorations, etc. The core group also act as a maintenance team for the Church. The group is open to anyone to attend and has become a great opportunity for members to invite their retired friends who don’t attend a church. The level of fellowship enjoyed shows the need for ongoing relationships for retirees.
3. Be prepared for loss, particularly a loss of recognition, status, and perceived significance. Parish ministry is a very public role. You are known, recognised by many people, and appreciation is often expressed. Retirement can bring a sense of loss of the recognition that comes with belonging to and being a significant person in that community. Someone said, “you know you’re irrelevant when no one knows or speaks your name.” That is what many older people feel in some nursing homes when no one visits them anymore. It is also why the federal governments initiative and funding to assist people where possible to live longer in their own homes and street is so important. Retirement usually means physical relocation to a new house and suburb for parish ministers which can also produce a sense of loss, loss of community, loss of a familiar place and contacts. Retiring to a beach house isn’t always a good idea! It can seem ideal at first but can become very lonely and isolated from friends and family. This needs careful thought and planning.
4. As our retirement continues and our physical strength and abilities change, we can feel that there is not much we can contribute to the Kingdom now. Billy Graham, perhaps the most significant and effective evangelist of the modern era, wrote in his later years in a book entitled Nearing Home “The time God has given you is not without purpose.” That is an idea we need to keep hold of as we age, as Psalm 31:15 puts it “My times are in your hands.” So therefore they are not without purpose. Discovering that purpose needs to become part of our regular prayers as it will change as we age. There is also the challenge to avoid becoming too focussed on your own health and the aches and pains of advancing years rather than the needs of others!
5. Be prepared for a change in life structure. Full time work gives a particular structure to one’s daily life and so it is important to develop a new one or one can drift into a vague boredom. At first the relief from the pressure of full-time work is welcome but eventually the need for structure and purpose asserts itself. It is important to maintain, even create new disciplines for your daily life. Especially in your devotional life of prayer and the study of God’s word. I thought that once I retired that my daily prayer life would be easier now that I have more time and less interruptions! In my case I found the challenge to keep and grow in these disciplines didn’t get any easier, it just changed in its form. I have had to develop new routines and methods and goals. Our new structure needs to also include regular daily physical exercise as our body ages. To keep mentally alert and relevant by reading, learning, and growing is as important now as it was in full time parish ministry. Supporting, mentoring, and discipling younger people is a great way to keep abreast of the new challenges contemporary culture presents to our faith and discipleship.
6. For those of us who are married there is another adjustment to being around more at home. The plus is that we now have more discretionary time to do things together, but we need to spend some time discussing this with our partner rather than making assumption’s about what we will do!
7. Dr Robert Clinton, who taught and researched for many years at Fuller Seminary on Christian leadership, made the observation that Christian leaders who “finished well” observed five things during their active ministry: (i) They kept perspective. (ii) They had many spiritual renewals. (iii) They maintained spiritual disciplines. (iv) They adopted a constant learning posture. (v) They maintained a relationship with a mentor, and they also mentored others. It seems to me these five things are also worth pursuing into retirement.
Peter Corney is Vicar Emeritus of St Hilary’s Kew
Three Benefits of Fostering a Multicultural Church
- Written by: Ben Clements
Three Benefits of Fostering a Multicultural Church
Benjamin Clements Assistant Curate Deep Creek Anglican Church
If you were to ponder three or four words that describe your church or ministry, would 'multicultural' be one of them? Christians can hold a variety of views around multicultural ministry.
Perhaps you are curious about multicultural churches but aren't sure what the benefits might be. Or perhaps you've been considering pursuing a more multicultural community in your church but aren't sure how to communicate it biblically or pragmatically with others. In this article, we will consider three benefits of fostering a multicultural church.
What is a 'multicultural' church?
Before we discuss the benefits of fostering a multicultural church, it's important to consider what 'multicultural' is. Demarcations of race and ethnicity are certainly major categories which constitute a person's culture, but so are lesser considered differences, such as generational age groups, differences in income, profession, education, and gender. While it's always beneficial to consider multicultural in the broadest sense of the term, we will give particular focus to demarcations of race and ethnicity in this article.
An intimate discipline: the minister at prayer
- Written by: James Macbeth
James is an Anglican minister in Sydney. He has been in full-time ministry for 15 years and is currently a Senior Assistant Minister at Christ Church Anglican, St Ives.
There comes a day in each parent’s life when the little hand that has instinctually sought yours no longer arrives in your outstretched palm. It’s a sad but vital moment, when a growing child no longer needs your immediate guidance, protection and presence to make their way in the world. It’s a vital moment, because our kids need to grow independent if they are to mature into adulthood. It’s also sad, because the intimate path you made together, hand in hand, now becomes a series of byways with occasional common intersections. In many ways, the maturing of a Christian into whole-hearted discipleship moves in the opposite direction. Having come from outright rebellion and alienation from God in our sin, we now, by grace, journey into ever-deepening dependence on Christ. We need his guidance, protection and presence more and more. We learn to put our hand up and into the Father’s hand each day, becoming increasingly child-like as he conforms us to the image of his Son. (Rom 8:29)
As we consider the minister or any Christian at prayer, I find this image helpful. Clasped hands could equate to so much in the Christian life, but the particular intimacy and common motion equates beautifully with prayer—as does the tension between independence and dependence at the heart of our experience as adult believers. The world trains us to make our own way and sin fools us into thinking we are at the centre of that world. The gospel shatters that lie and the Spirit drives us to God our Father—but the journey into prayerful dependence is uneven and often slow. In my experience, what should be an ‘intimate path’ is too often a series of ‘byways’ with occasional meetings with the Lord! This is not just unfortunate, it’s dangerous—especially if we are charged with discipling God’s people and seeking the lost.