“Generally speaking, pastors are among the most unhealthy people ever,” said Karen Russell, associate for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Theology and Worship, in opening a workshop at Big Tent in Knoxville on August 1. “We’re educated people, we know what’s good for us,” though so often pastors neglect their own physical, mental and spiritual health.
“The primary call of the pastor is to be a good Christian,” she said, however only about half of working pastors read the Bible outside of sermon preparation. Shifts in church demands may play a role in the decline in spiritual health as well. Russell shared results of a recent inventory of Ministry Information Forms from Presbyterian churches seeking new pastors, which found that less than 10 percent of list “strong spiritual leader” as a top quality; instead, many congregations are searching for an entrepreneur or innovator.
Russell said churches and pastors both need to know this fact: there is a strong correlation between healthy pastors and healthy congregations. To this end, Russell offered a series of suggestions to help pastors start taking small steps toward health. “Your jobs, friends, is to be the bearer of the presence of Christ,” said Russell noting that healthy pastors can better live into this calling. Here are a five of the ideas she shared:
- Prepare to take regular Sabbath time. This is more than a day off, but involves time, space and companions for refreshment and renewal.
- Get a peer group. Even a bad peer group is better than no peer group at all, according to research done by the Lilly Foundation. Hallmarks of a “good” peer group include: meets regularly and for longer than two years, has a facilitator and has a defined structure.
- Prayer. Pray for and with others. Studies show that even three minutes a day makes a huge difference.
- Get a daily discipline. Find something that can be used as personal spiritual time such as crocheting, running or praying while washing dishes. Read books (and not just books about theology). Immerse yourself in the Confessions for a week. Try reading all of the Psalms in eight weeks.
- Explore other resources. Presbyterian resources for pastoral health are available through the Board of Pensions, the Office of Theology and Worship, and presbyteries and synods. Also, the Clergy Health Initiative (a United Methodist project at Duke Divinity School) makes both research and resources available online.