Clergy Health Takes Center Stage

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When the New York Times covers an issue, heads turn. And as a result, the media — and the country — now is taking a closer look at the rising concern over clergy health.

Last week, Times reporter Paul Vitello published a front-page article, Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work.  In it, he highlights the effects that stress and round-the-clock job responsibilities can have on clergy.  Without support, some burn out and leave the church, but many others struggle to maintain balance, seemingly alone.  The challenge then for the church, and for congregations everywhere is to find ways to alleviate the stress.

The Clergy Health Initiative’s research into the health of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina has uncovered striking examples of pastors unwilling or unable to prioritize self-care.  Research director Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell recounted one in the Times piece:

“We had a pastor in our study group who hadn’t taken a vacation in 18 years. These people tend to be driven by a sense of a duty to God to answer every call for help from anybody, and they are virtually called upon all the time, 24/7.”

Unrealistic expectations fuel this calling, as Rae Jean explained in another article that subsequently appeared on

"I really don’t think people think about their pastors. They admire their pastor, and their pastor is very visible. But they want their pastor to be the broker between them and God, and they don’t want them to be as human as they themselves are. Pastors then want to live up to that expectation, and they do expect more of themselves than they expect of the people in the pews. And they’re harder on themselves when they fall short."

Interested in following the discussion?  Here are a few other sources of commentary:

The important thing about all of these pieces is that they speak to a larger problem, one that extends beyond the realm of the United Methodist Church.  Pastors in other mainline Protestant denominations, Catholic priests, rabbis, and others are facing similar challenges, and an urgent need.

So what are some ways that congregants and pastors can work together to combat the trend toward ill-health?  We’re interested in your thoughts. 

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