Weekly Digest: Pastoral Burnout and Pauline Strength
Welcome to my weekly digest for February 25, 2022.
For new subscribers, this contains a roundup of my recent writings and podcasts, as well as links to the best articles from around the web this week. You can control what emails you get from me by visiting your account page.
Pastoral Burnout and Pauline Strength
I recently wrote about the three worlds of evangelicalism, and how we have entered the “negative world,” a period where for the first time in the 400 years of American history, elite secular society and culture have become explicitly hostile to Christianity and its teachings.
We can see the real, tangible impact of the negative world in the growing levels of pressure and stress bearing down on pastors, and increasing reports of people leaving the ministry.
Not content to merely diagnose our current cultural moment, but to try to find ways to respond to it, my brand new piece in First Things is about this pastoral burnout and how to adapt to the reality of inescapable conflict and stress in ministry today. Here’s an excerpt:
What’s driving this increased pressure? Many factors. The negative world has created increasing levels of pressure from outside the church, such as the very real risk of being “cancelled” for saying the wrong thing. But the negative world has also led to a culture war within evangelicalism as various ministry strategies have deformed in the face of growing secular hostility. Teachings on many issues, including race, are causing divisions in churches just as they are in schools and other institutions. Both Meyer and Cho resigned as they were experiencing pressure and controversy in their ministries on the topic of race. The pandemic has added to the pressure. Matters such as whether or not to hold in-person services, or whether to require masks, have become topics of dispute. But they have also become political questions, and thus suffer from the same polarization we see throughout our society.These pressures are affecting not just the evangelical world but the church more broadly, including Catholics and mainline Protestants. This makes controversy and pressure from angry parishioners almost impossible to avoid.
In America today, we thankfully don’t face the same kind of physical persecution that Paul did. Yet while pastors today may not be called on to endure the physical trials that Paul suffered, tougher mental and emotional trials are already a reality for them.
This means that going forward, mental and emotional resiliency under high levels of conflict and stress will need to be a vocational consideration for people entering the ministry. Pastors will also need to take active steps to mitigate or manage stress. As just one example: Having peers and mentors, and staying close with them, will be more important than ever, as will good relationships with elders (or other similar roles, depending on denominational governance structures).
Click through to read the whole thing. And try to do what you can to be supportive of your own pastor in these challenging times.
More Content and Media Mentions
New postings this week:
Gender Trouble in East Asia. Many of the trends we see here around falling marriage and fertility rates, and the turn of young men to the political right, are happening elsewhere too. I provide a roundup of what’s happening in East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea).
The Dog That Didn’t Bark (Subscriber Only). I talk about the useful tool of looking at what people don’t say, which is often more revealing than what they do. I give specific incidents you can use to help assess Christian activists when they start denouncing people. Who are they not denouncing?
And I interviewed David and Jason Benham - the Benham Brothers - about their experience getting cancelled by HGTV in 2014, and about their new book on faith and entrepreneurship, Expert Ownership. Subscribers can read the transcript.
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A Word from Our Sponsor
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Best of the Web
The Wall Street Journal talks about churches facing a clergy shortage as pastors exit the ministry. This is just one of the many articles discussing this problem.
Last Sunday’s Business section in the New York Times had a great faith and work story in the form of a profile of Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger. He was raised in a mainline church but seems to be in the evangelical world today. It’s rare to see a CEO talk so explicitly about faith. Here’s an excerpt:
Patrick Gelsinger was 18 years old and four months into an entry-level job at Intel when he heard a pivotal sermon at a Silicon Valley church in February 1980. There, a minister quoted Jesus from the Book of Revelation.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” the minister said. “So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
The words jolted Mr. Gelsinger, reshaping his philosophy. He realized he had been a lukewarm believer, one who practiced his faith just once a week. He vowed never to be neither hot nor cold again.
Anthony Esolen: The Death of Muscular American Social Life - an interesting discussion, which looks at many of the TV dads from the 1950s and 60s.
Scoffers usually bring up one or more of the old family-oriented television comedies from that time, to say that they were absurdly untrue to life, especially as they put the father upon a pedestal, beaming wisely and graciously down upon the little people, that is, his wife and children: “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet.” I wonder whether such people have watched more than an episode or two of each show, if they have watched any episodes at all. The fathers in those shows were wise, but they also made a lot of mistakes, so that the very title “Father Knows Best” was clearly a stroke of gentle but obvious irony: Jim Anderson did not always know best, and many a time he had to give up his pride or his stubbornness, and see things as his loved ones saw them, and sometimes grow in self-knowledge.
The Gospel Coalition: Pornography Use Is Becoming an ‘Acceptable’ Sin
Institute for Family Studies: Recent Research Debunks Myth That Economic Factors Are Driving Falling Birth Rates