Survey sheds light on worship, relationships and stress for clergy, laity


A survey of clergy and laity conducted prior to an annual conference session workshop on self-care as a spiritual discipline sheds light on the stress levels of pastors, the scriptural anchors for laity and the health of relationships between clergy and their congregations throughout the Great Plains.

The survey – conducted by the Rev. Dr. Anne Gatobu, pastor at Ashland United Methodist Church in Nebraska, associate professor of pastoral counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary and leader of the workshop at annual conference, and Dr. Alice Koech, adjunct professor of counseling at Asbury – garnered responses from 261 clergy and 148 members of laity.

“Because of your excellent response, the fact that there was no incentive offered and that the survey was randomly offered to any willing respondents, we can confidently say that the results of the survey are a true sample, representative of general patterns of clergy and laity in our conference,” Gatobu and Koech wrote in a report on the survey.

Rev. Dr. Anne Gatobu

The survey featured 10 questions that attempted to gather information on matters such as worship experience, the quality of the relationship between clergy and their congregations, goals for ministry and levels of exhaustion and/or stress.

The survey found positive results. Both 59 percent of clergy and laity responded that they were “very open” regarding communication with their spouses or significant others. And 56 percent of clergy responded they were “very close” to their children, with another 17 percent saying they were “somewhat close.” Only 3 percent of clergy said the relationship with their children was “distant and poor.” None of the laity responded that they had a “distant and poor” relationship with their children.

The survey also found that many clergy and laity make encouragement and accountability a priority, with 63 percent of clergy and 60 percent of laity reporting they meet at least once per week or month with colleagues to encourage one another.

However, the survey also discovered some cause for concern. About 75 percent of clergy and 70 percent of laity reported they encounter mental exhaustion at least two to three times per month, with 17 percent of clergy and 18 percent of laity reporting they experience mental exhaustion weekly.

“Mental exhaustion is a major factor in the measure of healthy balance of self-care,” Gatobu and Koech wrote. “Frequent mental exhaustion curbs one’s capacity for creativity, awareness, empathy, conceptualization and good intentional listening, five of the 10 characteristics named by Larry C. Spears in his 10 characteristics of effective servant leadership.”

Almost half of clergy – 48 percent – questioned whether they are making a difference in the lives of parishioners. About 54 percent of

Read the full survey report and analysis.

laity questioned whether they are making a difference in the lives of people. As part of the same question, 29 percent of clergy and 30 percent of laity reported they sometimes do not feel like praying.

“Feelings of not wanting to pray are usually associated with stress, anger toward God or experience of being in crisis – all of which if not addressed can lead to burnout and greater distance from God,” Gatobu and Koech wrote in the report.

The authors noted that a more robust study that takes into consideration of variations of clergy and laity age, gender, experience and longevity in ministry would provide more correlative data. They also said a comparative study with other conferences or across denominations may also provide more insight.

Regardless, the report shows self-care for both clergy and laity should be a priority.

“We would also recommend that pastors pay attention to their own emotional health and seek help when needed,” the report concludes. “We also encourage them to be aware of signs of unhealthy symptoms in any of the six areas of holistic health namely: mental, intellectual emotional, relational, spiritual and financial, and seek help or preventive measures as necessary.”
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