October is National Pastor Appreciation Month, a time when many pastors receive recognition for their dedicated service. However, true appreciation for pastors should extend beyond a single month and involve ongoing efforts to promote their wellbeing. To genuinely appreciate pastors, congregations must engage in honest conversations about their work environment and make necessary changes to support their flourishing.
Research indicates that the rate of clinical depression among clergy is comparable to, if not higher than, the general population. Pastors regularly confront death, trauma, and complex role expectations, often leading to isolation and chronic stress. Recognizing the person behind the pastoral role is crucial, as pastors themselves can forget their own personal needs while fulfilling their professional obligations.
While pastors should prioritize self-care through healthy habits and balanced lifestyles, congregations play a vital role in fostering a mutually supportive relationship that promotes pastoral flourishing. The Flourishing in Ministry project suggests several ways in which congregations can truly appreciate their pastors:
- Develop clear, strength-based job descriptions with fair expectations and a team-oriented approach, ensuring a maximum workweek of 50-55 hours on average.
- Establish policies for vacation time, on-call schedules, and technology use to prevent constant availability and promote work-life balance.
- Provide avenues for both positive feedback and grievance resolution, sharing the responsibility of dealing with difficult church members and conflicts.
- Create healthy mechanisms to define and discuss ministry faithfulness and fruitfulness in a fair and constructive manner.
- Seek external perspectives from consultants or denominational leaders when the pastoral environment becomes severely unhealthy.
- Encourage pastors to engage in restorative experiences such as pursuing hobbies, attending retreats, continuing education, and taking sabbaticals.
- Support pastors in seeking spiritual direction, psychotherapy, and leadership coaching to nurture their personal and professional growth.
By prioritizing the wellbeing of pastors and the environment in which they work, congregations demonstrate genuine appreciation. Encouraging pastors to take better care of themselves while actively addressing the challenges they face fosters a healthier and more supportive relationship between pastors and their congregations.
Rev. Chris Adams, Ph.D., is a Professor, Chaplain, and Executive Director of the Mental Health and the Church Project at Rosemead Graduate School of Psychology (Biola University). Chris is the lead researcher for the Flourishing in Ministry project. He is a frequent speaker at seminaries, pastors’ and spouses’ retreats, and conferences. View Bio