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From the column Health and Wellness

health-wellness-09-14-1I have been married to an ordained minister for more than 35 years. During most of this time, we have partnered together with God in ministry. Although we would not have chosen any other life, our years in ministry often were stressful, taking a toll on our family. But these experiences also created within me an empathetic compassion for other clergy and their families. So, when given the assignment to produce a ministry project during my own ordination process, it was natural for me to focus on clergy health.

While we’ve seen general improvement in the physical health of clergy in recent years, their emotional and psychological health continues to be cause for concern. The focus of my study was to develop a method to improve pastors' overall sense of well-being with a stronger spiritual connection to God.

The issues of stress affecting clergy health are complex and numerous; however, a key problem is the lack of regular consistent times of intentional personal worship. Pastors need to be able to retreat from their ministerial duties to refresh their souls in the presence of God. While congregants receive spiritual nourishment through regular weekly worship, this is not usually the case for a pastor. Sunday is often the busiest day of the week for a minister, and many Sundays end with pastors emotionally and physically drained, but still required to carry out their ministerial functions in the week ahead.

A group of psychologists conducted a study that found clergy resiliency is improved by intentional participation in activities such as prayer, solitude, and spiritual retreats. Intentional, personal worship includes regular time, separate from sermon preparation, where pastors spend time in rest, focusing on who they are in Christ. Dr. G. Haas, in her book, The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy, identifies what she terms “intentional spiritual habits.” These habits include planned times for rest and spiritual renewal. She writes that these activities are major contributors for overall clergy health.

My personal study included 15 licensed and ordained ministers in North Carolina. The participants attended a half-day retreat where information was provided about clergy in crisis, followed by a time of worship designed specifically for them. They were instructed to continue to incorporate times of personal worship in their lives during the following two to three weeks (and beyond). Although this was not a scientific study, 100 percent of the participants reported experiencing improvement in their ability to manage stress.

Intentional times of personal worship as a lifestyle must begin with the individual. We must take action in promoting our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. This involves assisting our congregations in understanding the need for protected time. Clergy have many options and resources today to help them restore and renew. Our Lord needs strong, healthy pastors to lead His Church today. May we stand with John Wesley who gave us this prescription for healthy clergy:

The love of God, as it is the sovereign remedy of all ministries, so in particular it effectively prevents all the bodily disorders the passions introduce, by keeping the passions themselves within due bounds. And by the unspeakable joy and perfect calm, serenity and tranquility it gives the mind, it becomes the most powerful means of health and wellness.

Will you create a sacred space today and come to the quiet?

Additional Resources

Thriving Pastor – Focus on the Family – Pastoral Care Line (for family members also) – 877-233-4455

Pastor Care Network – 704-960-3467 – Help for hurting pastors and their families – providing practical assistance and ongoing support.

The Cost of Not Caring for Your Pastor – Article

Pastor in Residence Ministries  – Support and resources to clergy who are at risk and /or who have exited the ministry.

Rev. Charlotte Evans is a registered nurse and elder in Greensboro, North Carolina. She serves as director for Nazarene Parish Nursing (NPN). NPN focuses on care of the spirit and promotes holistic health and prevention of illness as part of the local church ministry team.

 

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