When a pastor suggests his hobby is the church, Dr. Jim Philpott said, "that's not good."
"Pastors need to have some time that is their own," said the man, a pastor himself, who has been an area pastoral counselor for the past 30 years. "Many have trouble even taking vacation because they feel like they'll be letting somebody down."
Philpott, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, will be closing his office at the end of next week and eventually moving with his wife and daughter to Texas, where his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live.
In a counseling career that covered more than 25,000 individual appointments, he saw pastors of various denominations but far more laypersons and couples. The clergy groups he facilitated, though, were a particular joy.
Many of the groups continued through the years, Philpott said, and gave pastors opportunities to talk about their congregations, their families and their personal lives.
The groups, he said, allowed pastors "to talk about their ministry without having to be on duty. There's not ever a sense of being free from that eye."
Pastors, because of their public role, Philpott said, often feel the tension of their work in a different way than someone who works on an assembly line or in a cubicle.
"They're often having to deal with multiple dynamics," he said. "That's probably why the rate of abandonment is so high."
Philpott said his clergy groups with pastors aren't just gripe sessions, though.
"There's a great deal of laughter [and joy] of life itself," he said. "You realize we're all in this life together."
Churches, according to Philpott, can help their pastors relieve a bit of the stress.
"Congregations should encourage their pastors to be part of some support group that's not a part of the congregation," he said.
Pastors need the time, Philpott said, because the climate of public life is more conflicted now than when he started his counseling practice.
"The single greatest dividing factor [in the community] is politics," he said, "not gender, race or culture. There are so many unresolved issues. People are really for this or against this. They're locked into positions. It's very polarized."
The same is true in churches, Philpott said.
"There is more conflict in congregations," he said. "When things do go wrong, it's very hard to work them through."
Philpott said when he was just out of seminary in the mid-1970s, he had the opportunity to preach weekly as associate pastor at State Street United Methodist Church, a large congregation in Bristol, Tenn. As such, he said, people came to him with their problems.
Initially, he said, "that alarmed me." Then, he said, "I realized something about how I related to them gave people confidence they could talk to me."
About the same time, Philpott heard Dr. William B. Oglesby, a professor of pastoral care at Union Theological Seminary, speak at a conference. His techniques in pastoral counseling sparked something in the young minister.
"That's what I want to be," he remembering thinking. "I liked the way he was approaching things."
Philpott returned to seminary and emerged a pastoral counselor. Since then, he's not only been called upon as a counselor and more recently as a member of the staff at Christ United Methodist Church but also as a frequent speaker at local non-United Methodist churches such as Pilgrim Congregational and Unitarian Universalist Church of Chattanooga.
"Maybe it's something about the syntax of my words," he said, "something that came through [concerning] the longings and hurts of humanity. Maybe, they think, "I can talk to him. He understands."