Dr. Cameron Lee discusses the stresses of church leadership on pastors' families
Professor of Family Studies Cameron Lee spoke on “The Challenges of Ministry: Stress in Pastors’ Families” at a president’s pastors’ breakfast held Thursday, May 7, at Fuller’s Pasadena campus. The breakfast was sponsored by the Office of Alumni/ae and Church Relations, and also served as the opening session for a two-day conference to follow, “The First Years After Seminary: A Conference for Recent MDiv Graduates.”
There’s both good news and bad news, Dr. Lee said in opening: For a majority of pastors—roughly 60 to 70 percent, according to one study—ministry seems to be a “deeply satisfying calling.” The bad news, he said, lies with the other 30 to 40 percent, who have either doubted their call or considered leaving their church.For most pastors, family is a major concern, he reported—and for many who are unhappy in ministry, family issues play a strong part. The role of the pastor’s family is unique, he said: “It is a public role that brings a certain set of expectations. Why is there such a thing as a ‘PK,” but not a ‘dentist’s kid’?” For a pastor, “the well-being of the family cannot be separated from its relationship to the congregation.”
Lee explained how we can apply family stress theory to the pastoral situation—looking at stressors, resources, perceptions, and ways to help pastors and their families build resiliency. He also discussed the results of a “ministry life survey” on pastoral life and stress that was conducted of local pastors in the weeks prior to the breakfast. One significant finding of the survey, he said, was a correlation between a pastor’s level of gratitude in life and his or her sense of well-being and protection from burnout.
There are many avenues to explore for helping pastors and their families reduce stress, Lee said in conclusion. Compensation policies can be reexamined both at the church and denominational level; spouses can be included in policy decisions; opportunities for stigma-free social support should be offered to pastors and their families; pastoral care committees should educate the congregation and act as advocates. “The laity need to advocate for their pastors,” he said. “And we need to help pastors cultivate ways to listen to the demands made of them without always having to say yes.”