Preventing Ministry Burnout in a 24/7 World

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This is the first in a special series on Sabbath by our friends at Blessed Earth.  Today’s post was written by Nancy Sleeth (see her bio below the article).

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“I feel like I’m on call, 24/7.”

“Between my day job and a two-point charge, I haven’t had a real vacation in years.”

“My parsonage is next to the church, so I never have down time!”

Over the last year, my husband Matthew and I have spoken with more than one thousand UMC clergy in North Carolina. You may have crossed paths with us at one of our 24/6 workshops and retreats. What we’ve heard over and over is that clergy are feeling frazzled. Why? Too many demands and not enough time.

A friend of mine calls this problem “time debt.” And it’s not unique to the church. It’s everywhere. Each “yes” requires a future commitment of our time. Like a home mortgage, some of those payments stretch out for years into the future.

Fortunately, the Church holds an answer. The solution first shows up in Genesis. In Exodus, it becomes one of the top ten—the longest of the commandments and the most peaceful sky and water imageoft-repeated directive in the bible. We die if we don’t honor it, and we fly high if we do. (Isaiah 58:13-14) It’s called Sabbath rest.

One day out of seven, we’re invited to lay down our burdens—to be still, and know God. There are only two “rules”: pray and play. For me, that means no emails, no housework, and no shopping. Instead, I do the things that refresh me. I read. I walk. I spend time with family, friends, and God. I take holy naps.

Here’s the encouraging news: more and more of you are accepting God’s invitation to the Sabbath banquet. According to Clergy Health Initiative data, in 2012 only nine percent of UMC clergy in North Carolina were taking a regular Sabbath. Among the pilot populations we are working with, about thirty-three percent are now remembering the fourth commandment. And among our beta leadership groups, fifty-five percent are now keeping a regular Sabbath.

More good news: The Duke Endowment has awarded a generous three-year grant to the ministry that Matthew and I founded, Blessed Earth. Our goal is to improve the emotional and spiritual health of clergy by engaging in regular rhythms of work and rest. Like any habit, it takes repeated exposure to make sustained changes in our behavior.

The Sabbath Living Initiative is designed to support you in your Sabbath practices. First, we need to model the Sabbath ourselves. (Our best sermon is our own behavior)! Second, we need to extend the gift of Sabbath to others. You’ll find plenty of resources for both you and your congregations on the new Sabbath Living website.

In our next post, Rev. Mairi Renwick, Blessed Earth’s new Sabbath Living Program Manager, will share more about the sermon series outlines, small group studies, hymns, scripture, books, articles, and many other resources that are available to you and your congregations.

Until then, I wish you Shabbat Shalom—and a God-ordained Sabbath nap!

Nancy pic bwNancy Sleeth is the Managing Director of Blessed Earth and author of Almost Amish: One Woman’s Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life. She and her husband, Matthew Sleeth, MD, started the Sabbath Living Initiative, which supports NC UMC clergy and their congregations in their Sabbath practices.

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About Katie Huffman

Katie is a Wellness Advocate with the Clergy Health Initiative. She has an undergraduate degree in History and French and a Masters degree in Gerontology; prior to her current position, Katie worked as a social worker in a retirement community in Chapel Hill. Outside of work, she enjoys gardening, spending time outdoors, baking, and hanging out with her husband, Noah, their daughter, Ada, and two kitties, Grady and Gracie.

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