Loneliness is a struggle for many pastors

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Pastors are experiencing more loneliness and less support than in years past as fewer seek out spiritual support, according to data the Barna Group considers to be a "cause for concern."

The evangelical research and polling organization published data last week comparing Protestant pastors' responses to survey questions about their mental health in 2022 to data about American pastors' psychological well-being collected in 2015.

The 2022 survey is based on responses collected from 585 senior pastors at United States Protestant churches between Sept. 6 and 16, 2022, while the 2015 survey is based on responses collected from 901 senior Protestant pastors between April and December 2015. The 2022 survey has a margin of error of +/-3.8 percentage points, and the 2015 survey has a margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points.

"These numbers are cause for concern," Barna asserted in a report outlining the data points on pastors' mental health and support systems.

"With pastor data collected over the past eight years showing the significant erosion of a number of well-being markers — including pastoral satisfaction, motivation, support and emotional and mental health — it's discouraging to see few pastors utilizing broader networks of personal and professional help."

When asked "how often, if ever" they felt "lonely or isolated" during the preceding three months, 47% of those surveyed said "sometimes" in 2022, and an additional 18% reported experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation "frequently." By contrast, a significantly smaller share of respondents (28%) sometimes felt lonely and isolated in 2015, while just 14% felt that way frequently. In seven years, the percentage of pastors experiencing loneliness and isolation at least "sometimes" increased from 42% to 65%.

Another survey question inquired whether pastors "felt well-supported" by people close to them in the previous three months.

In 2022, 49% of those surveyed told pollsters that they "frequently" received support from people in their inner circle, while 43% said they "sometimes" felt well-supported. A much more significant percentage of pastors reported high levels of support from those closest to them "frequently" (68%) in 2015, while the share of pastors who "sometimes" felt supported was just 29%.

In response to a question asking how often they received "personal spiritual support, either from a network of peers or from a mentor," 35% of pastors surveyed in 2022 reported receiving such support "once or twice a month." An additional 22% received it "several times a month or more often."

In 2015, a larger percentage of pastors (37%) told pollsters that they obtained support from a network of peers or a mentor "several times a month or more often," while a slightly smaller share (31%) said they got it "once or twice a month."

"While the trajectory of pastors' current relational well-being will not be course corrected overnight, small steps and intentional measures can be taken now to begin shifting the trend towards a more positive outcome," the Barna report states.

Glenn Packiam, a pastor, author and Barna senior fellow, outlined the "steps and intentional measures" that can address the concerns presented by the data collected by Barna in his book The Resilient Pastor.

"The chase for deep friendships and intimate relationships is a lifelong quest," he wrote. "But it can begin today. If we really want to last in ministry, if we want to emerge from this as truly and fully human beings, then we must take seriously the human vocation of loving well."

As Barna indicated, the data focusing on pastors' feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as their support system, constitutes a small portion of a body of evidence suggesting pastors' overall level of well-being has declined in the past several years.

Based on research collected as part of interviews with the same set of pastors in 2015 and 2022, Barna has also found that the share of pastors who rate themselves as "below average" when it comes to having true friends has increased in the seven-year period.

Similarly, the percentage of pastors who identified their physical well-being and mental and emotional health as "below average" rose in the same period. In 2015, 7% of pastors said their physical well-being was either below average or poor, which tripled to 22% in 2022.

Courtesy of The Christian Post.