Clergy Health and Wellness

How healthy is your pastor? According to the latest Annual Clergy Health Survey from the United Methodist Church’s General Board Pension and Health Benefits, UMC clergy have higher rates of several physical conditions when compared with the general U.S. population.

While clergy’s overall health improved slightly in the last few years, the incidence of high cholesterol (51%), borderline hypertension (11%), asthma (17%), borderline diabetes (9%), and obesity (40%) were significantly higher than other U.S. adults, including demographically comparable adults. In addition, 5% of clergy suffered from depression (significantly higher percentage than demographically comparable U.S. adults); and 26% of all clergy had at least some functional difficulty resulting from depressive symptoms.

On the positive side, more clergy are beginning to pay increased attention to their overall health and well-being, as most percentages decreased from the previous year’s survey. UMC clergy responded that they are “doing well” when it came to healthy behaviors such as increased levels of physical activity when compared to demographically similar adults. However, with these percentages still well above the average population, it is clear that both clergy themselves and the people they serve must begin to take a more serious look at how health and wellness can be intentionally nurtured and concretely supported.

Along with this research, the Church Systems Task Force of the United Methodist Church identified 13 Factors that Influence Clergy Health in order to assist clergy and congregations in working toward increased health and wholeness for the leadership of their church. These 13 factors are:

1. Job satisfaction—appointments may not be good match for gifts and graces; isolation from congregation, disappointment with ministry; desire for option to exit ordained ministry with
positive impact on self and church
2. Relationship with congregation—feeling judged rather than supported; disconnect between the congregation and one’s own expectations about the role of pastor or church leader; limiting relationships with congregation members to avoid improprieties; avoiding health care for fear that parishioners might find out and judge
3. Work/life balance—complexity balancing multiple roles; guilt when taking time to exercise; avoiding health care due to time demands; struggling to achieve overall work/life balance
4. Living authentically—unable to be one’s “authentic self”; struggling to live according to deeply held personal values and beliefs
5. Personal centeredness—lack of control over one’s life; ruminating about the past; difficulty experiencing the presence of God “at work”
6. Marital and family satisfaction—low marital satisfaction among clergy and church leaders; low appointment satisfaction among spouses and/or children
7. Stressors of the appointment process—stressors caused by appointment process; reluctance to talk to DS [comparable to a Conference Minister in the UCC] because of power he or she holds over appointments; resentful about receiving lower pay than laypeople in similar professions
8. Eating habits in the work setting—struggling to maintain a healthy diet during church functions; cultural significance of food at social gatherings and home visits
9. Personal finances—high debt; low income; few assets; little to no personal savings
10. Existential burdens of ministry—carrying the weight of others’ emotional and spiritual burdens; overwhelmed by others’ needs and the importance of ministerial issues; expected to solve unsolvable mysteries
11. Appointment changes and relocation—frequent appointment changes and long-distance moves; social and emotional disruption of relocation
12. Education and preparation for ministry—insufficiently prepared by seminary for non-spiritual responsibilities of ministry; lacking skills and training necessary to excel in certain pastoral duties
13. Outside interests and social life—a lack of hobbies, outside interests and/or participation in group activities for personal renewal; few friends or people to share personal issues; detached from community 

I suspect that most of these factors are also key influences for the health and well-being of United Church of Christ ministers, except for the appointment process (though it can certainly be argued that the search and call process in the UCC has its own stresses). Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if UCC clergy possessed similar percentages of certain physical and mental conditions. In the end, these issues are not unique to mainline Protestant clergy, or even clergy for that matter. Involved lay leaders are also likely to be influenced by some of these factors.

How does your congregation support the health and well-being of your pastor(s)? What role does your congregation play in being a key stressor for your pastor(s)? Click here to print out additional resources and rubrics for self-assessing health and wellness using the 13 factors provided above (courtesy of the United Methodist Church). In addition, the Pension Boards of the UCC has just hired a coordinator to launch the new CREDO Benefit Program, a holistic clergy health and wellness program patterned after the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) programs.

In order to live into the UCC’s Bold, Inspirational Goal (BIG) of Excellent, Diverse Leadership–having “a wealth of prepared, excellent leaders that reflect the diversity of God’s beloved community”–we must provide the support and resources needed for our leaders to thrive physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially and financially, especially in a church institution that is itself experiencing a collective sense of anxiety at this point in history.

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One thought on “Clergy Health and Wellness

  1. I’m excited to coordinate the pilot phase of the Pension Board’s newest clergy health and wellness benefit program! The CREDO programs offered by the Pension Groups of the Episcopal and PCUSA denominations has resulted in improved wellness for their participants. The PBUCC pilot phase has begun and runs through 2016. More information will be available this Spring at pbucc.org

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