Thursday, December 21, 2006

Leadership Burnout in the Orthodox Church (Part I)

As the glorious disciples, in the washing of the feet, were enlightened, the profane Judas, ravaged by greed, as benighted. And to the lawless judges he surrenders You the just judge. Consider, you who love money, the one who hanged himself for the sake of it. Shun the insatiate heart that could dare such a deed against the Teacher. Lord, benevolent above all humans, glory to You.
Apolytikion, Holy Thursday

Back in November, a summary appeared of a research project undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. The study conducted by Lakshmi Ramarajan (a doctoral student in the Wharton’s management department) and Sigal Barsade (management professor at Wharton) is titled “What Makes the Job Tough? The Influence of Organizational Respect of Burnout in Human Services.” The summary of the research can be found online in an article entitled “More than Job Demands or Personality, Lack of Organizational Respect Fuels Employee Burnout.” While the whole article and the study it references are both worth reading, there are two points that I think are important for understanding the practical challenges of fostering a healthy style of leadership in the Orthodox Church: (1) the importance of mutual respect in the Church’s life and (2) the need for a vision for Church life that transcends the parish. In this essay I will address the first of these points

Based on their research “on the health care industry—specifically on certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in a large, long-term care facility,” Professor Barsade argues that "One of the biggest complaints employees have is they are not sufficiently recognized by their organizations for the work that they do. Respect is a component of recognition. When employees don't feel that the organization respects and values them, they tend to experience higher levels of burnout."

After discussing different aspects of institutional respect, the authors identify the autonomy of the employee as key to job satisfaction for both professional and hourly workers. The conclusion that Ramarajan and Barsade reach is that “The impact of organizational respect on burnout is felt most strongly when job autonomy is low. This finding confirms the researchers' hypothesis going into the study about the importance of autonomy, which they define as ‘the discretion that one has to determine the processes and schedules involved in completing a task.’ Autonomy, the researchers note, can act as a buffer on stress—and actually decrease job burnout—if autonomy is high, but not if it is low.”

In a recent essay posted on (“Understanding Clergy Stress: A Psychospiritual Response”) priest-psychologist Fr. George Morelli describes for us a pastoral situation that suggests that clergy leaders at least have relatively little autonomy in their professional life. Clergy find themselves responsible canonically to their bishops and economically to their parishes. Even assuming that they are not trapped between conflicting episcopal and lay demands or that there is not a collusion between episcopal and lay that works against the priest’s best interest, the priest serving “two masters” has the practical effect of limiting the areas of his autonomy not only professionally but also personally.

Ironically, this limiting of personal and professional autonomy is not limited to the parish priest. Rather it reflects an overall unhealthy relational structure in the Church. For better or worse, each order of the Church tends to find its own legitimate freedom either inappropriately limited or (what amounts to the same thing) neglected by one, and some times both, of the other orders. In other words, the life situation of the parish priest that Fr. George is not unique to the priest. Rather each order in the Church will find itself at times in an adversarial relation with one or both of the other two.

Largely I think this lack of institutional respect reflects a lack of appreciation for justice in the Church. Justice in the Church is not primarily procedural but relational. We do not see that our own personal good is only possible to the degree that we place the good of the other—spiritual, material, professional and personal—before our own. Even if relationships are not adversarial, this lack of concern for the wellness of others reflects poorly on the Church’s commitment to justice and I would suggest undermines the abilitu of episcopal, clerical and lay leadership to function effectively.

We have as Orthodox Christians neglected the work of justice among ourselves, I would suggest, because we have embraced a view of ecclesiastical relations that value above all the absence of conflict. Wrongly we equated the absence of conflict with peace we pray for in the Great Litany.

But this peace that we pray for, and upon which the life of the Church depends, is shalom. The peace that we need is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of right relationship among ourselves and with the world around us. And peace in this sense is the fruit of justice. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in his 1984 Nobel Prize lecture: “God's Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation.”

At the top of these essay is an icon of Christ washing the feet of His disciples. The hymn for Holy Thursday suggest that either we serve one another in fidelity to the example of Christ or, like Judas, we will be "ravaged by greed," betray Christ and destroy ourselves.

In my next essay, I will again return to the study by Ramarajan and Barsade to suggest what might be done to correct the current situation in the Orthodox Church.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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