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Congregations Gone Wild

13 August 2010

There are recent studies that are showing the large number of American clergy who are suffering from burnout as they struggle to deal with parishioners who are always asking “what’s in it for me” rather than “What does God want from me.” Consumerism is a chronic disease, and one that quite a lot of Americans suffer from.


G. Jeffrey MacDonald, a minister in the United Church of Christ, had an interesting article in the New York Times this week about this problem. Here follows a short excerpt from his excellent article: 


“The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.  

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.”  

Clergy are under pressure to give their parishioners “comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.” Satisfying such childish demands saps the meaningfulness and integrity out of the clergy‘s sense of vocation. When clergy subsequently fade under pressure from these parishioners who don’t want to be challenged or edified, they become candidates for stress and depression.  

MacDonald’s entire article is well worth reading whether you are a priest, pastor or parishioner. It can be found at:  

One Comment leave one →
  1. 16 August 2010 5:00 am

    Thank-you for this post. Kind of a jolt to even consider religious observance as a ‘consumer experience’.

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