How healthy is your pastor? According to a recent Annual Clergy Health Survey from the United Methodist Church, clergy have higher rates of several physical conditions when compared with the general U.S. population.
While the overall health of clergy improved slightly in the last few years, the incidence of high cholesterol, borderline hypertension, asthma, and borderline diabetes were significantly higher than other U.S. adults, including demographically comparable adults. In addition, 5% of clergy suffered from depression, a 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 well-being, as most percentages around health challenges decreased from the previous year’s survey. Methodist clergy responded that they are “doing well” when it comes to healthy behaviors such as increased levels of physical activity. However, with these percentages still a fair distance away from the general 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, because I suspect that United Church of Christ ministers could report similar statistics around health and well-being.
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 wellness for the leadership of their church. These 13 factors are:
1. Job satisfaction
2. Relationship with the congregation
3. Work/life balance
4. Living authentically
5. Personal centeredness
6. Marital and family satisfaction
7. Stressors of the appointment process (for UCC ministers, the Search and Call process)
8. Eating habits in the work setting
9. Personal finances
10. Existential burdens of ministry
11. Appointment changes and relocation
12. Education and preparation for ministry
13. Outside interests and social life
Issues around health and well-being 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 as they relate to congregational life.
In actuality, however, a minister’s health is a private matter; and pastors can choose to share certain things with the congregation but are not obligated to do so. In addition, a minister’s physical appearance should never be a topic of conversation, particularly as it relates to one’s health. While each minister carries the responsibility of managing their own wellness, it’s not OK to pry or make assumptions about what’s best for a pastor. The best question anyone can ask –– whether to a pastor, friend, colleague, or family member –– is simply, “How can I/we support your well-being?”
Sparking Ministry Conversations
How does your congregation support the health and well-being of your pastor? What role does your congregation play in being a key stressor for your pastor (and lay leaders)? How do you nurture your own health and wellness?
The Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi is director of the United Church of Christ's Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD). She is practicing health and wellness by taking a sabbatical this summer.