Clergy Grief

Pastor’s grieve. It is the least acknowledged aspect of pastoral ministry. Neither the clergy nor the laity really say much about it. Our training leads us to deny our own grief even while we help others through their own. It is the hardest aspect of pastoral ministry. It can be a beloved church member who dies. The pastor grieves for a partner in ministry in the church. Or the pastor may grieve over the death of someone whom he or she helped through the crisis of terminal illness. Either way someone who the pastor has loved and cared for has died. Everyone grieves publicly except the pastor. The pastor comforts, organizes the memorial services, liases with the funeral home staff, leads the worship and leads the saying of goodbye at the grave. And the pastor keeps a “stiff upper lip” in the process.

There is more to clergy grief than the deaths of church members. There are family and friends losses which everyone struggles through. Personally, I have been through the loss of family members at the same time I have helped families say goodbye and begin their grieving period over a church member. There is not time to deal with the kind of stress such situations produce in us.

There is also the grief of changing ministry situations. These processes are something for which our training lacks. Why? Because of how we define success in ministry. Once while sitting on the district committee on ministry an older pastor told about his grief and how unprepared he felt over the time one church he was serving closed. Our training provides us with a view of ministry that begins and grows indefinitely. Yet, the demographics of the churches in th United States today show us that even the so-called mega-churches are doomed to decline and to close once the Lead Pastors retire or move on. Growth for a limited amount of time is what we should be preparing for. And we should be preparing for the times when a church’s pastoral leadership model must change. In such a situation, like this writer is in now, the whole process feels like failure. And it is. Our anxiety during such a time leads us to want to cast blame on someone. The most logical target may be the pastor who really does not know what to have done to avoid the situation. He or she may have tried everything they knew to do. I know I have.

So like grieving over other losses there are periods of despair and anger. Yet, the pastor must lead through such a process. More clergy grief without any real time to struggle through it because of the need aid the grief of others. What to do? Perhaps, it is right to take time away from the situation to get one’s bearings before beginning. I literally don’t know what else to do.

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