Things Scrapheap Pastors do to Recover

In the organization I work for, we have a working group who form policy on helping employees with mental illness back to work. I’ve lodged an expression of interest to sit on the working group to offer some of my thoughts. In the meantime I thought I’d give you some reflections on what has helped me return to work.

Back in 1994 a pastor BM built the church building that I pastored in. He had foresight and great leadership to take a relatively small congregation and purchase eight acres on a major arterial and build a 450 seat auditorium. Shortly after it was completed (a matter of months), he resigned, handed the church over and moved interstate. I was living interstate myself during this time and didn’t move to this church until just after he left. I did however meet him some years later and found out what he was doing. He was running a one-man gardening, mowing and handyman service. Apparently he’d done building programs before, and our church was “the last he had in him”.

This theme is repeatable. Pastor JT arrived at another church I know having pastored for many years. He came to just sit and soak and bring his family in to be restored. He ended up running a fencing company. Pastor RW did the same, but returned to part time study and worked on cars as a mechanic. MW ended up with domestic duties while his wife went out to work. A number of others I know locally did the same as me after they burned out. They worked in agriculture.

I have found working in manual labor to be a wonderful experience. It’s not stressful, in fact I find it nourishing – for a few reasons. One, I’m getting paid to get fit. It’s physical work and this strengthens my body and increases my fitness. It helps me sleep at night. Secondly, being physical without much mental effort required, I can chew the cud so to speak and detune. I have space to think and process my emotions. Something that was impossible in the frenetic pace that ministry was. Thirdly, the outdoors and especially the greenery of plants, (or at one stage, pasture and cows) was therapeutic. I worked in the rain, in the mud, the wind, the sunshine and warm breeze, and it all reminded me that I was alive. Finally, I worked with normal everyday people. Good people that I have come to enjoy. I’ve developed some great friendships – something that gets a bit complicated when you’re someone’s pastor.

So my view, is if you’ve burned out in ministry spending most of your time at a desk, in front of a PC, on the phone, traveling or in meetings, get out and do something part time in a physical, refreshing, low stress environment with normal people. (The thumbnail is mine, I hope you like it).

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