Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Hard to be Holy

In Hard to be Holy, Paul and Libby Whetham look at the roles ministers have and how that affects their lives. They draw on interviews from over 60 ministers around Sydney and the 2001 National Church Life Survey data. From what they see, the ministry is hard. They showed countless examples of high stress, burnout and sexual misconduct in the clergy. They looked for a root cause and decided that loneliness is one of the main factors to clergy drop out rates. Those that feel isolated from others and God do not have a great life. Inversely from some interviews and the NCLS data it seems that those clergy men that feel like they have someone to talk to, or is comfortable with hanging with their congregation seem to feel better about life. It seems it takes a psychologist to say that friends improve your well being.

The Whetham's also look into the systemic problem of the operation of the church, which holds the leader above and away from the congregation. This model is not helpful to the lives of ministers. They need peers and to be able to open up to and to have friends around them. It seems that greatest resource a minister has is his congregation, but few use them due to a whole hosts of reasons (such as they don't feel like they know them and they cause the minister too much grief).

They suggest that a shift in the operation of the church is in order, that the congregation needs to take part in the services more. This could just be talking among themselves about a question posed from the front, putting the chairs in a semi-circle and having an open prayer mic. They also tried to refute the idea that these changes do work in a church over 70 people (even though most churches are under that) and that group discussions shouldn't be left for small groups throughout the week.

I have seen all the above things work and not work in a church. I think it all depends on the minister and congregation. The Whetham's point out that the church is a body with each member doing their part. I do think that each person does have their own gifts and they should be active in their church, otherwise the church is worst off because of their inactivity. I just don't know if I have the imagination to implement "out of the box" ideas that also fit in with the idea that the church service should be one of order and no chaos (1 Cor 14:26-33).

The guts of the book is the first few chapters about how hard it is being a minister. This really made me consider my own ministers (past and present) and I wondered how they are going. At the end of the book is a nice check list for churches and members to see how they are going at looking after their ministers. It had things like: "Have a minister over to eat pizza and watch TV, with no talking about church" and "Do you respect their days off?" This wasn't a book I would have picked off the shelf to read, but overall I think if you are a member of a church or planning on going into ministry you should read at least the first few chapters of this book to get an insight into how ministers feel and what support they need.


Post a Comment