New Ministerial Care and Development Committee to help address pastoral wellbeing

A very extensive Lily Endowment project, called “Clergy, Ministry Life and Wellbeing,” has been going on since 2011. The lead researchers are Matt Bloom of the University of Notre Dame and Chris Adams of Azusa Pacific University.

The project has included 400 extensive face-to-face interviews and now over 12,000 on line participants across a broad range of denominations. There are a lot of findings that are coming out of this project but one sentence captured my attention and the attention of our newly formed Ministerial Care and Development Committee:

“Clergy is the only helping profession we have studied in which wellbeing declines over one’s career in ministry.”

That is something we certainly want to address. For denominations that have over 400 participants in the study, particular results for your group are provided. The ECC reached that threshold of participation earlier this year and the preliminary findings are being assessed for our denomination.

Of the four main criteria evaluated in the project, Covenant pastors had the lowest scores in resilience:

  • The capacity to adapt, adjust and change
  • Our ability to respond effectively to life’s challenges and crisis and not to be diminished or damaged by such experiences

Stress is not unique to pastors, but the common ways to address stress provide some unique challenges for pastors.

For example, an important recovery experience to make you more resilient to stress is complete mental detachment from your work. Ideally, that should occur every day for a brief period of time.

For a local church pastor the experience of complete detachment is often more like a small business owner trying to detach from their work. It can be done, but it is not a natural or comfortable posture because the work is intertwined with all of the rest of your life.

While the daily detachment for a short period of time is very difficult, the weekly detachment of a protected day off, the annual detachment of vacation and the periodic detachment of a longer ministerial renewal leave or sabbatical become integral to flourishing in ministry.