(Christian Century Cover Story) Fit for ministry–Addressing the crisis in clergy health

Being a pastor is bad for your health. Pastors have little time for exercise. They often eat meals in the car or at potluck dinners not known for their fresh green salads. The demands on their time are unpredictable and never ending, and their days involve an enormous amount of emotional investment and energy. Family time is intruded upon. When a pastor announces a vacation, the congregation frowns. Pastors tend to move too frequently to maintain relationships with doctors who might hold them accountable for their health. The profession discourages them from making close friends. All of this translates, studies show, into clergy having higher than normal rates of obesity, arthritis, depression, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and stress.

But research also says that pastors’ lives are rich in spiritual vitality and meaning. Pastors say that they have a profound calling and are willing to sacrifice to fulfill it.

Is there a way for pastors to be both physically and spiritually healthy? What would enable clergy to become physically healthier? What effect does physical health have on spiritual well-being, if any? The Clergy Health Initiative is trying to find out the answers to these questions. Funded by the Duke Endowment, the CHI is the largest and most comprehensive effort ever made to study clergy health and to improve it.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Education, Health & Medicine, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Science & Technology, Theology

7 comments on “(Christian Century Cover Story) Fit for ministry–Addressing the crisis in clergy health

  1. qharbour says:

    I think pastors are in the same category as school teachers. Teachers think they are overworked, but look at school parking lots at 3 PM, a mass exodus of teachers leaving in cars. The same with pastors/rectors/vicars they only work on Sundays. I do not see the problem, working one day a week is a great deal.

  2. Jeremy Bonner says:


    None of the clergy that I have known worked “only on Sundays.” More and more are bi-vocational these days, meaning that most of their income comes from secular employment.

  3. Brian of Maryland says:

    I’m currently recovering from a quadruple bypass. I’m 55. I’m doing great and way out ahead of the recovery curve. To add to the story I had my heart attack Labor Day weekend while underwater, shipwreck diving in Canada. For years I’ve lifted weights, used a rowing machine and watched my diet. OK, so I lost the genetic heart disease lottery. What a grand place to make that discovery. But I know the real cause; stress from demanding members and years of exhaustion dealing with a block of nasty, clergy killing members that we (myself and the leadership) were finally able to drive out of the congregation. How bad can it be? How about the physically threatening anonomous letters sent to our home that were so bad I turned them over to the police and seriously debated obtaining a concealed carry permit. In most working environment you can fire horrible people and hire a guard if you think they’ll come back and go postal on employees. In the church it’s generally left to the pastor to confront evil and call out the demonic. And lest you think I’m a nut about all this, my favorite Martin Luther quote is, “If you doubt the existence of the devil, perhaps you’ve been insufficiently faithful to warrant his attentions.” It’s not mere diet and excersize with which we contend …

  4. Capt. Father Warren says:

    #1, can’t help you on the teacher issue, but let me sooth your feelings of resentment toward pastors/rectors/vicars. As the Vicar of a small Anglican Church plant, I can assure you I am working 7 days per week. Between worship preparations, sermon prep, pastoral issues to attend to, counseling new members, managing mission oriented ministry programs, I easily put in about 40 hours per week. Not impressed? Did I mention I retired from my secular job to be able to do this and currently draw NO salary from the church? I believe this is what God, through the Holy Spirit, is calling me to do and I would not change a single thing.

    I pray daily for a friend and colleague who is the rector of a modest sized church and has put in 15 years pastoring the congregation, including shepherding a complete rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. His earthly reward for this? A small power group within the congregation is working activily to make things so miserable that he will decide to leave. His sin? They didn’t like how the church building was rebuilt………despite the fact they were in charge of it! Part of my prayers for him are for his health and sanity as he learns to let go of all this.

    Let’s see. Another friend and colleague, the former rector of a program sized church which he pastored for 10 years finally left after another power group decided that things needed to be “liberalized”. Too much gospel and tradition for this crowd. This friend has happily ended up in a good retirement position and is doing excellent pastoral work [for free] and loving every minute of it. He believes God’s hand was in this transition and is making best use of his gifts.

    Gosh, where did I start this? Oh yeah, these two rectors have worked 7 days a week for a long time. You might want to think about spending more time at church so you have a better view of what takes place [not to mention working more toward your eternal salvation].

  5. Peter dH says:

    #1 – I’m trying to work out whether you’re being delightfully ironic or sadly ill-informed. Those teachers are going home (on the days that there are no meetings to attend) to mark coursework, prepare lessons, and get a pile of other paperwork out of the way. All teachers I know have a stressful, high-pressure jobs.

    As for clergy working just on Sundays, well…

  6. lostdesert says:

    ‘#1 – That’s the funniest comment i have read here. My Pastor told me in a conversation that i shouldn’t worry about troubling him, he only works one hour each week, we both laughed. He works as hard as anyone I know. He teaches a course (grad school level quality!) almost year round Sun evenings and now another one Sun mornings. Surely your post must be humor. You should be clearer in your writing however.

  7. Terry Tee says:

    Yes, I think no 1 is trying to stir us up, probably successfully. For myself, I think that those outside the clergy ranks have an illusion that we are protected from the more distressing things that happen in the world. Well, among those experiences that I would rather have missed was accompanying a couple at their request to identify their adult son’s body after a suicide in which he jumped in front of a train. BTW the request came at 8 pm. Every pastor would say that strangely enough, such a request is a privilege: it is our calling, and our privilege, to walk alongside people in sorrow and in joy. I thank you Lord for the privilege. Now, Lord, if you could just give me the discipline to get down to the gym and to refuse that extra helping …