The Unique Needs of Clergy and Their Families

In my work with clergy I’ve seen the effects of the unique pressures and stressors on the leaders of their communities of faith and their relationships with their partners and families. These include:

  • Flexible Relationship Boundaries: Unlike most helping professions a clergy person is invited and expected to relate to congregants in homes, hospital rooms, and social events and at important moments in the life of the congregants’ families. Clergy are also sounding boards, spiritual guides and pastoral counselors. Sometimes it’s a challenge to discern the boundary between a professional and personal relationship.
  • Dual Relationships: When a member of the congregation is also your child’s teacher or the only car mechanic in town there is sometimes a resulting stress on one of the aspects of the relationship.
  • Flexible Working Hours: A leader of a congregation is often expected to be available around the clock.
  • The Personal Nature of the Work: An effective clergy leader often has a warm, inspiring personality. In addition, because congregants can naturally associate closeness with a pastor with closeness to the Holy, relationship time with a faith leader is often a sought after by many folks in the flock. Setting time aside for your own family or for rest and fun can be a challenge when there are so many people wanting your time.
  • Ambiguous Role Expectations: Clergy are often called upon to be a combination CEO, inspirational guide, visionary planner and nonanxious presence for an entire congregation. Deciding which role takes priority can be stressful and even overwhelming.
  • The Current Context of Faith Communities: With the recent economic downturn , faith communities are facing extreme financial challenges. Many congregations can no longer afford full time presence of a clergy person. The resulting economic pressures on clergy families are a source of worry.
  • Lack of Support: With all the expectations and flexible boundaries that come with the clergy role it can be difficult for a clergy person and her family to find friendship and support.

It’s not surprising that clergy and their families often experience stress and burnout. It’s also not surprising that these unique aspects of the clergy role often play a part in the relationship patterns of faith leaders. I’ve found that it can be helpful and empowering to help couples identify these dynamics and work together as partners to address them.

Wanda Sevey, M.Div, LMFT is a Senior Staff Therapist and Director of Council for Relationships’ Voorhees, NJ office. She can be reached at 856-783-4200 ext. 1.