Seminary school takes preventative measures to avoid student burnout

By Linda Nguyen

Staff Writer

Baylor undergraduates aren’t the only ones getting burned out this season.

Because many pastors become burned out due to overworking and not maintaining personal relationships, George W. Truett Theological Seminary is taking preventative measures to ensure its students leave with the skills and relationships necessary to avoid being burned out in the future.

Dr. Angela Reed, director of spiritual formation and assistant professor of practical theology, said the seminary uses spiritual formation groups called covenant groups.

Covenant groups meet for one hour every week.

“We create a covenant group process,” Reed said. “The intention is to provide a small group experience so students can learn from one another and hold each other accountable for their spiritual growth.”

Reed said they hope to facilitate student relationships with one another that they can maintain over time.

“It’s a toolbox in a sense of spiritual processes that they can take with them to churches,” Reed said.

Reed said pastors can get burned out because they spend so much time worrying about the people in their congregation; they forget to nurture their own spiritual growth and development. Pastors work unpredictable hours, which can lead to less and less energy, which in turn can cause them to leave the ministry.

“Our intention is to teach them, in the midst of a busy life, it’s important to continue to make a space where one’s spiritual life is a priority,” Reed said.

Reed said sometimes seminaries assume students take care of their own spiritual lives.

“We felt in order to best encourage that to happen, we need to create an intentional space,” Reed said. Intentional space refers to an environment to facilitate spiritual development.

Reed said the students attend peer covenant groups throughout their time at the seminary.

“We begin the first few semesters with each group having a mentor who often is either a graduated student, local minister or sometimes a senior Truett student who has taken my classes in pastoral burnout and has shown themselves to be a leader in this kind of area,” Reed said.

“We aim for everyone to have the experience to work with a mentor until we feel that particular group is ready to lead itself.”

Reed said the seminary has had this covenant group model since the beginning of the seminary.

Spiritual formation is a person’s growth and development in regards to and as the result of spirituality and religion.

“From the beginning, Truett had these groups formed,” Reed said. “From the very beginning, spiritual formation was considered to be one of the core elements of the training.”

Reed said the program is not unique to Baylor but Baylor was one of the first seminaries to have a program of this kind.

“Truett was somewhat of a pioneer,” Reed said. “It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here to teach.”

Hayfield, Kan. third year seminary student Aaron Mussat participates in the covenant groups at the seminary.

He also serves as a mentor for first year covenant groups.

“I find covenant groups to be encouraging and very uplifting, and a time to just be present with other people not have anything pressing on the agenda,” Mussat said. “To go deep into each other’s lives and know about each other and pray for each other.”

Mussat said many times pastors don’t have time to get prayer or support spiritually.

“Facilitating groups has helped me rely on others. It’s a very good thing to keep in contact with one another and to pray for each other,” Mussat said.

Mussat said he’s seen many covenant groups grow closer and even last longer than the duration of seminary.

“They’re a good way to get to know one another and to be honest do something else besides school work,” Mussat said.

“I think that it’s important for pastors too to do something else. Being with other people and pouring your heart out is encouraging.”

Reed said the underlying goal of the covenant groups is to remember that pastors also need support and prayer.

“All ministers need ministers essentially, and so our hope is to invite our students to recognize that need,” Reed said.

“They don’t go into that ministry alone and there are ways to get support and that will make a significant difference in their ability to stay in the work for the long haul.”