One of the best parts of my job is hearing the excitement and enthusiasm when I get the call that goes something like this, “They offered me the position and I accepted. I start after the first of the year/the next month …. I can hardly wait. There was such a connection.” Or words to that effect and it’s contagious, full of joy and possibility.
And then there are the calls that sadden my heart. “I’m resigning or I’m not renewing my contract or….” Whatever the wording, the meaning is the same. The minister is moving on and the ministry once again starts the search process. For some ministers, moving on does not mean to another ministry but moving out of ministry altogether.
After a few of these calls, I started wondering why so many of our ministers were leaving the ministry, work they were called to do and often made sacrifices for in order to become ministers. Were there ways we could support each other to keep that joy and that excitement alive? To answer that question, I needed an answer to the first question, “Why were ministers leaving the field?”
Doing research on the Internet, I learned that it is a phenomenon that is across all faith traditions. While more recent studies show the trend continuing, most of the numbers here come from The New York Times article in August 2010. The article states 1500 to 1700 ministers leave the ministry each month, many due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. It continued in stating that 23% have been fired or forced to resign at least once in their careers, 33% feel burned out within the first 5 years, and 50% who start out won’t even last 5 years.
That paints a dismal picture of ministry. Why are so many leaving? Here are some of the answers: It’s not what they thought it would be; unable to meet the demands of the job; too many hours with 90% working from 50 to 75 hours a week; not enough time for family; it’s too lonely with no one to talk to when they do have a challenge; conflict—40% reported a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month; being compared to past ministers; criticism—never being enough; it’s not fun anymore.
I’m not sure how accurate the numbers are specifically to Unity, but the reasons sound rather universal. The ones I hear the most are: tired; not what I thought it would be; and it’s lonely, no one I can really share with about what’s happening or how I feel about it.
Ministry Teams to Support You
Are there ways that we can support each other to keep that joy and enthusiasm alive? I believe we have ministry teams created to do just that. Two are less than a year old and one was just started at the winter meetings in Phoenix this past February. These three teams I have the privilege of serving on as the staff representative.
The first one that I want to share with you is the Prayer Chaplain Ministry Team. This team is being set up similar to the chaplaincy program in so many of our spiritual communities. Those who want to participate will receive contact from a chaplain once a month to pray with them for celebrations and for challenges. The chair and board representative of this team is Rev Julie Armour.
The purpose is:
- To serve and connect the Unity movement by providing pastoral care to Unity ministers and spiritual leaders of affiliated Unity ministries.
- To provide pastoral care to designated representatives of Unity ministries currently without a minister or spiritual leader.
- To build healthy, trusting relationships by listening, praying and holding in confidence what is shared.
The second one is the Health and Wholeness Ministry Team whose purpose is to develop programs/provide opportunities that promote physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health and wholeness for spiritual leaders and ministers of Unity. This team will offer programs at Unity’s annual convention and also offer support and suggestions to other conference team leaders such as the regional conferences.
At the 2015 convention in Albuquerque, the Health and Wholeness Ministry Team will provide a Serenity Room with a variety of healing modalities, “Ahhh” moments during our business meetings and a prayer walk. There are also many ideas available on our website at www.UnityWorldwideMinistries.org/health-wholeness. These include a 2-minute renewal, methods to boost your energy, and ways to prevent burnout. The co-chairs are Rev Carolyn Jennings and Rev Cynthia Leveque, and the board representative is Rev Diane Venzera.
And the last, but definitely not the least team that I want to share with you, is the new Colleague Connect Ministry Team. This team was born out of discussions during the winter meetings in Phoenix, Ariz., in February 2015. This team’s purpose is: As ministers, to establish consistent, ongoing contact with ministers and spiritual leaders to create community, loving relationships and connection within Unity Worldwide Ministries. With this purpose ministers are calling ministers to touch base, to let each other know that they are not alone. The chair is Rev Rich Broderhausen and the board representative is Rev Julie Armour.
I believe these three ministry teams can go a long way in addressing some of the main reasons for leaving ministry that I hear the most often. Will they address all of them? No, but it’s a good start. It’s time to have thriving ministers as well as thriving ministries. We can do this!