Sources of Stress Swirling in the Parish

Posted on Posted in Bill Westafer

Both clergy and congregations would be better served to understand the sources of stress swirling in the parish. Research on the stressors in the profession may be used to educate both and reduce unnecessary anguish so the mission of the church may be accomplished rather than diminished. Hadaway and Marler (2005) estimate there are roughly 331,000 religious congregations in the United States. Of those, about 300,000 are Protestant and other Christian churches and 22,000 are Catholic and Orthodox churches. Lindner (2004) reported an estimated 365,000 people serving as pastors in congregations, including associate or assistant ministers. The total number was 600,000 clergy, including retired ministers, chaplains in hospitals, prisons or the military and ordained faculty at seminaries serving in various denominations in the United States. The matter of stress among ecclesiastics as they interact with their congregations is an important societal issue, since it touches the lives of millions.

Stress as a malady is common among American society as a whole. Hart (2003) describes stress as primarily a biological phenomenon resulting from too much adrenaline and too much pressure. An individual is using too much energy to perform certain functions. It is an indicator of over-commitment. “Stress is the loss of fuel and energy that often produces panic, phobic, and anxiety-type disorders” (p. 177). The nature, timing, and length of exposure to different stressors can have a negative effect upon those in the helping professions, especially clergy. A pastor must be able to shift at a moment’s notice from administrative duties to the emotional and spiritual work of ministry. Since ministers are in the helping profession, many come to them as a resource of first resort. As much as pastors entered the profession to minister to needy souls, excessive involvement in the help provider role has been shown to be a source of major occupational stress for clergy (Hall, 1997).


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  • Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York: Paulist Press.
  • Lindner, E., (Ed.), (2004). Yearbook of American and Canadian churches. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • London, H. B., Jr., & Wiseman, N. B. (2003). Pastors at greater risk: Real help for pastors from pastors who’ve been there. Ventura, California: Regal Books.
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