Culture At Large

Suffering servants: is ministry hurting your health?

Andy Rau

Is your pastor's health suffering as he serves your congregation? We've discussed the all-too-common phenomenon of church and ministry staff burnout, but a recent New York Times article suggests that the pressures of ministry can cause physical, not just spiritual or emotional, problems for overworked church leaders:
While medical studies in various denominations indicate that clergy members live longer than comparable civilians, an emerging body of evidence over the last two decades has shown that ministers are more vulnerable to diabetes, depression, hypertension, gastrointestinal distress and heart problems.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was writing nearly three centuries ago about the importance of diet, exercise, moderation and hygiene. He regularly fasted as part of his own health regimen.

But for his followers in the Methodist ministry today — incessantly on call through e-mail or cellphone, fearful of offending the congregant offering homemade pie, fretting over every $20 or $30 medical co-pay — Wesley has become a distant paragon.

(The research thus far focuses on Methodist pastors, who [perhaps more than their counterparts in other denominations] are required to do a great deal of traveling and congregation-switching.)

The image of a pastor trying to politely turn down a congregant's homemade pie might sound more amusing than alarming, but it does raise the question of the effect of pastoral ministry on one's physical health. It's one thing to be supportive when a pastor becomes ill; most churches are probably prepared to help a pastor suffering from sickness or serious emotional burnout.

But what about the longer-term practice of promoting and supporting healthy lifestyles among church staff? If you work in a leadership position, has your health suffered due to the demands of ministry? Does your church pay attention to the physical health of its staff? Would your church recognize in time signs that a pastor or staff member was neglecting their own health in order to meet the pressures of ministry?

(Via Theophiles.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church