Pastor, you may not be convinced of the importance of a support group for your ministry. So before I go on, let me tell you WHY you need one. Simply put, the longevity and success of your ministry depends on it. One research study done recently gave some facts that were rather hard to accept…
Most pastors are overworked.
90% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week and 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Most pastors feel unprepared.
90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement.
70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Many pastors are lonely.
70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
And then there is this:
50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. One out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. And 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.
The statistics speak for themselves. Now, while it may not be the only factor, the study shows that one of the major factors in pastoral burnout can stem from lack of community. If you have ever been a pastor for any length of time, you can vouch for the idea that the job is an isolated one that seems to never have an end to it (it’s ironic considering that many people think pastors work “one day a week”). It’s a sad fact that pastors have few people that they can trust and turn to with a question or simply to vent.
Now, is there any way to combat this? Yes. I believe one way is to create or join a good pastoral support group. Now while there are many good groups out there, few of them are safe places for pastors to turn to in these kinds of cases. So a few close friends and I decided to create one such group on Facebook a few years ago before leaving Seminary. While I can’t tell you much more about my group in particular (otherwise I’d have to… well, you know), what I can tell you is that it has been the single most helpful tool in my ministry. To have a network of friends and colleagues who I can turn to for anything from questions to simply venting of frustration is a blessing I’m sure few others have. Here are three of the main reasons why I believe what we have created is so successful:
While there are many pastoral groups out there, few of them offer the ability to share whatever you have in mind without fear of criticism, retaliation, or reprimand. When you don’t know who is in a group, you will not feel comfortable sharing what’s on your heart. Worse still is when you think that what you say can and will be used against you. The bigger the group gets, the harder it is to keep this characteristic.
Either way, make your group like Planet Fitness, a “judgement-free zone.” The lack of this first component is the main reason why most groups don’t live up to their full potential.
The purpose of our group in particular is to provide a safe haven for us so that we can ask each other questions that we face in the field, share ideas, or just catch up and see how everyone is doing. We have even started holding video discussions between our members where we tackle some of our church’s most challenging questions. Plus, the fact that we encourage an atmosphere of openness means that we can be ourselves and connect in a way that I haven’t seen anywhere else. Your group can be based around interest, age, affinity or anything else. Just make sure that you are intentional with your group’s target and focus.
When you aren’t intentional about this, people will turn your group into whatever they want: advertisement venue, debate arena, job search site, venting circle, etc. When your group is everything, it becomes nothing.
We decided to start our group in school with only a handful of people and, while we still are small and expect to stay small, our group is invitation-only. Sure, this may seem like a “secret society,” but isn’t confidentiality a key part of what all support groups are supposed to have!? Confidentiality is a key value for us and any leak of sensitive information will result in immediate expulsion.
So are you interested in starting your own group? There are many ways to do this. The simplest way is by creating a group on Facebook, invite a few close friends, decide on a joint purpose, post frequently, moderate kindly, screen any new members, once you get a good thing going “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and you will soon be able to find your own oasis in the desert of ministry we often find ourselves in and help hedge the stress that pastoring brings with it!
BONUS: I’ve decided to include the group covenant for the online support group that I’m a part of. You’ll see that I’ve edited out the name of the group since we’re still not ready for public launch of the idea just yet. Either way, this Pastoral Group Covenant might be helpful for anyone interested in starting a group of their own.
Have any questions, comments or ideas? Leave them below!