Switch Off

The book Switch Off: The Clergy Guide to Preserving Energy and Passion for Ministry, by Heather Bradley and Miriam Bamberger Grogan, identifies three questions for clergy and other ministry professionals who are struggling with burnout. This excerpt introduces the first question.

Question #1: Where Am I Taking on Stuff That Isn’t Mine?

Where does a minister’s job begin and end? This is not the beginning of a joke. It’s a serious question, often with no clear answers. Each congregation and each congregant are different, with different ideas of what their spiritual leader should be doing. With unclear boundaries and often incompatible expectations, it’s no wonder clergy and congregants can be confused about the pastor’s role!

It’s nice to think that as educated adults, we know truth from fiction; we see situations as they are, not as we’d like them to be. In reality, we all make things up.

In the absence of clear, agreed-upon expectations for a minister, all the players—congregants, staff, the minister’s family, even the minister!—make up different interpretations of what is expected. Many of the clergy we spoke to were taking on other people’s work, either others’ formal responsibilities or the nice little extras that weren’t really anybody’s job. Without a clear of sense of where their jobs began and ended, our interviewees had no idea how to find an Off Switch and when to use it. Most felt a level of frustration; many reported suffering from lack of sleep and other health issues.

The first tool for finding the Off Switch is to clarify where you’re taking on stuff that isn’t yours. With new insights from using these tools, you may still decide to take on some stuff that isn’t yours, but it will happen by choice, not by accident.

What It Takes to Support a Congregation*

The job of clergy is complicated: Spiritual leader. Preacher. Teacher. Manager. Employer. Employee. Spouse. Parent. Child. Mentor. Student. Fund-raiser. Visionary. Person who mops up the puddles when the roof leaks.

We could probably spend the whole book listing roles and barely scratch the surface. Rather than attempt to come up with a comprehensive list, let’s talk about three categories of roles that most affect the group dynamics. We see these types of roles in project teams, corporate departments, families, interpersonal conflict—in other words, just about everywhere. We will use the term system in this discussion to apply to any group of two or more—primarily, but not limited to, a congregation.

A key step to finding and using your Off Switch is a role analysis. Role analysis includes two aspects:

  • Key roles (outlined below)
  • Common challenges when working with roles (see the book to learn more)

Key Roles

Outer roles define the structure of a system and are often identified by job title, such as executive director, rector, or treasurer. Outer roles may also reference a set of tasks, such as note-taker or snack provider. Outer roles dictate our job functions and are important for clarity and efficiency.

Outer roles answer the question “Who does what?”

Inner roles point to the emotional functioning of the system and may or may not have anything to do with individuals’ outer roles. They often express values needed by the system. Examples of inner roles are devil’s advocate, cheerleader, initiator, or peacemaker.

Inner roles answer the question “How do we work together?”

Ghost roles are third-party presences that come and go. They can be positive or negative. While not physically present, ghosts exert a powerful influence, whether or not the system members address them. There are three types of ghosts: people, circumstances, and culture.

People ghosts include people who have been members of your congregational system (e.g., the beloved senior pastor who led your church for twenty-five years and is now retired) or those who have not been a member of your immediate system but have an influence (e.g., the pope in the Roman Catholic Church).

Circumstantial ghosts include specific events impacting the congregation, such as a 150th anniversary, a project like the leaky roof in the sanctuary, or the death of an influential congregant.

Cultural ghosts are societal influences such as racism, homophobia, sexism, ageism, or discrimination against people with disabilities. Cultural ghost roles are often long established, and they exist beyond a specific congregational system, affecting not only a congregation but also broader society.

All three types of ghost roles help explain what is going on below the surface. And because they operate below the surface, they can be a challenge to identify and address. If your work with outer and inner roles does not yield the changes you want, ghosts may be operating in your system.

Ghost roles answer the question
 “What forces exist but cannot be observed directly?”

*We are grateful to CRR Global, developers of Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) model. The following is adapted from the roles framework detailed in the ORSC Certification program.

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