Have you heard of the The Clergy Project? This community of former and active clergy have all come to a place where they no longer hold to “supernatural beliefs.” The Clergy Project’s goal is to support former and active clergy in moving beyond faith. Unique sponsorships lead in the funding and promotion of this endeavor. For example, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science are major supporters. Both organizations foster programs and strategies to undermine or dispel faith and their communities – typically agnostic, atheistic, or secular humanist in approach.
As I listened to interviews, my heart became heavy for the nearly 270 people The Clergy Project claims as transitioned or transitioning from ministry members. At one time, these understood something about faith. There was an inkling, a spark, a passion, and a purpose. Where did that go? Who stole their confidence and faith? How do you find yourself in the neighborhood or the address of rejection and disbelief? Over the years, I encouraged hundreds of pastors in crisis. Some of testimonials of The Clergy Project members aren’t dissimilar to many I’ve listened to face to face. The biggest difference here I believe is the absence of an appropriate (faith-based) support network for struggling ministers.
How does a minister arrive at this point of disbelief and walk away? Here are a couple of ways this can happen if left unchecked without some sort of intervention and accompanied appropriate behaviors.
- Isolation – Many ministers live in isolation. Even though they identify with community, there’s an absence of a genuine relationship. Every minister needs authentic community, a peer group, and meaningful friendships. Without flesh to talk with, there’s a growing sense of loneliness and isolationism. Its consequence is both unhealthy and destructive.
- Disenchantment – It’s easy to get disillusioned when things don’t work out the way we planned or thought. Given enough disappointment and dissatisfaction, embitterment becomes host. When we live at continual odds with unmet and unrealized expectation, disappointment is our harbor. Unaddressed disappointment morphs into people and institutional disenchantment. Disenchantment leads to doubt. Uninterrupted doubt surrenders to disbelief, devaluing, and stagnation.
- Wounded – Many clergy live with open wounds giving way to infection, unhealthy coping skills, and diseased thinking. If you invest your life into people, places, situations, institutions, and communities you’re vulnerable to injury. Don’t let hurt dictate your behavior or thoughts. Ministers must be proactive in healthy thinking, healing activity, and forgiveness.
- Burnout – Many in ministry struggle with burnout. Too much to do with limited time and resources is the agenda. If ministers do not develop and live out a self-care strategy providing margin and refueling opportunities, they’ll likely become an alarming statistic. Nothing works in burnout. The symptoms of depression, lethargy, exhaustion, irritability, lowered immunity, pessimism, and isolation become the routine in burnout – Then comes brokenness, failure, and loss.
I feel for these men and women who concluded with a rejected faith. I tend to think they’re more the result of isolation, disenchantment, injury, and burnout rather than intentional self-realization or progressive thinking. I believe the very existence of The Clergy Project speaks to the need of intentional support and self-care for ministry professionals. Let’s rescue questioning and struggling clergy before it’s too late.