By Tyler Sprouse, TWK Communications Specialist
Over the past several years, clergy have experienced acute, intersecting traumas. The isolation of COVID, the uncertainty of the church’s future, increased polarization in the pews–all of this (and you can no doubt add to this list) have left many pastors feeling burnt out. Not slightly fatigued, not, “Oh, you know, just a little discouraged”: burnt out.
With roughly 42% of U.S. Protestant clergy considering leaving ministry altogether, the crisis of clergy burnout is dire.
At the 2023 TWK Annual Conference on June 19-21 in Memphis, TN, Rev. Dr. Trey Carey, the senior pastor at Fellowship UMC, testified concretely, not only to the struggles so many clergy are experiencing, but also to the strength and hope he found through abiding in Christ.
“In the Spring of 2021, less than 18 months into my new appointment, I found myself in need of the life-saving, life-changing grace of God–more than I ever had in my ministry,” Rev. Dr. Carey said.
Just six months into Rev. Dr. Carey’s first stint as a senior pastor, COVID-19 became a global pandemic, transforming every aspect of life. He recounted the personal difficulties of navigating ministry during this time.
“For the days and weeks and months that followed [COVID’s initial breakout],” he said, “I felt in over my head and unsure what to do. I had more crucial conversations than creative ones; I routinely had to tell my congregation things they did not want to hear [regarding COVID-necessitated gathering regulations].”
He spoke about the relational breakdown that followed.
“My people love God and they love their neighbors,” he said. “But it was just hard: there was disagreement and division, and I found myself slowly sinking into discouragement and despair.”
It was through a grace-filled conversation with Stones River District Superintendent, Rev. Chip Hunter, that Rev. Dr. Carey was introduced to a life-changing online clergy cohort, The Art of WellBeing. Founded by the Rev. Dr. Vicki Johnson, this program empowers participants to construct a personalized action plan to facilitate mental, emotional, and physical well-being in a healthy, courageous, and realistic way.
Through this program and the relationships it cultivated, Rev. Dr. Carey was able to persevere and find community.
“It was sacred space–through the wonders of Zoom!–where I was with clergy colleagues that were having similar struggles,” he said. “And for the first time in a long time, I felt seen; I knew I was not alone.”
The cohort helped him craft his own “rule of life,” one that centered on rest, healthy rhythms, nourishing rituals, and vital relationships.
“These are things we all need to thrive, both personally and professionally,” he said. “At first I thought it was selfish to employ these resources to focus on myself and my own well-being. But here is the truth that transformed my life and ministry: taking care of yourself might just be the most selfless thing you ever do for your family, your church, and for the kingdom.”
Ultimately, it was through this clergy cohort that Rev. Dr. Carey more deeply learned what it means to abide in Christ.
“I am the healthiest I’ve been in 20 years of full-time ministry,” he said, “because of the rhythms and rituals that have kept me rooted in and connected to the vine.
“Now, when you ask me how I’m doing,” he continued, “I say that I am leaning on Christ and into the connection. In other words, I am abiding.”
Beginning September 28, he will lead a clergy cohort through The Art of Wellbeing, helping to guide others into the rhythms of sustainable life and ministry that have become so vital for him.
When registering for the Fall cohort, use the discount code “TWKFALL23” and receive $300 off! For those interested in learning more about The Art of WellBeing, please visit their website: https://www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com/.