Church Systems Task Force Report on Clergy Health
A few days ago, the United Methodist News Service published a story about clergy health. The story is tied to a task force report that the UMC’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits (GBPHB) and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) released in May. To address the challenges pastors face to their health and wellness, the Church Systems Task Force proposes some recommended actions to present at General Conference in 2012.
Though their analysis was conducted independently, it seems that the Church Systems Task Force came to conclusions that are compatible with the Clergy Health Initiative’s: that from the local church to the policy-making boards, all parts of the church have a duty and a stake in improving clergy health. I especially appreciated the name "Church Systems," as it seems to me to reflect the Clergy Health Initiative’s practice of thinking about health holistically and ecologically, across all layers of the church. We know that it is an oversimplification to say that pastors are unhealthy and need to be fixed, or worse, need to fix themselves. Declines in clergy health may be most readily observed in rising health insurance costs, and in the form of excess body weight and its attendant chronic physical problems, but the causes run much deeper. Rather, we should work upstream, examining the (sometimes implicit) demands that the denomination places on its worship leaders across the continuum of ministry and find ways to reduce these pressures, which can negatively impact health.
In that vein, the task force’s five major recommendations are:
- More help for those entering licensed or ordained ministry
- Guidelines for healthy work/life balance
- Changes to itinerancy and appointment-making
- A redefinition of the district superintendent's role
- Help for those exiting ordained ministry
"God is in the details," the saying goes, and I’m sure we’ll have more to say about the report’s contents in coming months. But one statement I note with interest is that the district superintendent is envisioned in a coaching role that includes embodying clergy wellness. That alone sounds like a big change indeed! I think the DS’s would be the first to say that they’re not always exemplars of sound work-life balance.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the report.
Blessings on the work of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, who’ve just returned from Lake Junaluska, and to the North Carolina Annual Conference that gets underway in Raleigh this Wednesday.
John James, M.A.
Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative