Church staff wellness in the post-pandemic age

Aug. 5, 2021

Early in 2020, right after the pandemic shutdown began, I started reading blog posts and articles worrying about the impact of COVID stress on clergy as well as churches. Over the course of the last year and a half of the pandemic, pastoral turnover is up, with 29 percent of clergy reporting having seriously considered retiring or resigning because of stress related to doing ministry amid COVID-19. That’s up from 16 percent in 2013.

This is on my mind right now in our Music Director and Youth Ministry/Outreach Coordinator searches that are underway.

As in other fields, those who seek positions in churches want a healthy workplace that’s a good fit for their gifts, leadership style, and the team environment they’re looking for.

We’re looking for the same thing: a good fit, and to be a place where people can be supported in doing their best work.

Researchers identify three factors causing such high turnover as a result of the pandemic:
This mirrors the trends we are seeing in the larger working community. Almost 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021, the most for any month on record. One study found that 52 percent of workers would look for a new job in 2021. There’s a trend toward more early retirements, with retirement consultants reporting more people inquiring into retirement as early as 54-55 years old, compared to 62 pre-pandemic.

Pandemic stress

Some clergy turnover is due to the increased mental strain of living through a pandemic, and although these figures returned to normal levels after the pandemic, indicating clergy resilience, those who were already struggling with mental health challenges before COVID continued to show negative impacts on mental health into late 2020. One study found that even pre-pandemic, 23 percent of pastors acknowledged they had personally struggled with mental illness. For these pastors, worsening distress and depression could instigate a departure.

Pandemic-related increase in demands of pastors. Deaths from COVID-19 required complex pastoral care and ritual leadership when face-to-face encounters were dangerous at the pandemic’s height. Yesterday, Marilyn Baden’s memorial service was our first to be held in the sanctuary since before March 2020; we held such services on Zoom and off-site, but this signals a return to in-person, although still with masking and physical distancing due to the Delta variant.

Our Pastoral Relations Committee is currently reading and discussing Matt Bloom’s book, “Flourishing in Ministry: How to Cultivate Clergy Wellbeing” because our church places a special emphasis on regularly tending the pastor-congregation relationship to ensure it is healthy; better ministry flows from a healthy bond.

The same is true of all church staff: they have to get along well together as a team, and they also need to develop healthy relationships with members of the congregation. So as we search, please pray that we find those whom God sends us, and who will be a good and healthy fit with this group of seekers and servants, growing in God’s transforming love.