In my recent article (Aug. 2023), I invited you on a “soul care journey,” exploring ways to “let [your] distress bring you to God, not drive you from Him” (2 Cor. 7:9, MSG). I come to you not as an expert, but as a fellow companion on the journey to wholeness in and with Jesus.
Mark sat in my counseling room, exhausted from the pressures of pastoral ministry after decades of service. “When was the last time you saw your doctor for a physical?” I asked him; a question I quiz almost every pastor about during their visit at Center for Spiritual Renewal—East.
He looked at me for a few seconds, speechless. He glanced at his wife as she shrugged her shoulders. “I can’t remember!” Mark responded. “I only see a doctor when I’m sick. It has to be at least 10 years since I’ve had a physical.”
His homework was to set the appointment before he departed for home so that he could see the doctor as soon as possible. We always want to make sure that any physical causes or consequences of burnout are adequately addressed in the healing journey. There is so much that can be caught in regular physicals and blood work before symptoms appear. (More on Mark’s story in a moment.)
My experience personally, and with lots of pastors I work with, is a subtle resistance to seeing ourselves as holistically human. In the thick of burnout and recovering from clinical depression in 2001, I discovered my own thoughts, beliefs, and actions toward:
My experience personally, and with lots of pastors I work with, is a subtle resistance to seeing ourselves as wholistically human.
Since then, I now endeavor to integrate the truth that God actually created us as human beings made up of several:
When we talk about “more and growing leaders together on mission,” what do we mean by “growing”? There exists a voluminous array of definitions of “growing,” but for this article’s purpose, we are addressing a pastor’s / leader’s physical health. One researcher might say quite literally that a major area that tends to be “growing” is our pastors’ waistlines! However, another “growing” trend includes other unhealthy side effects of distress impacting us physically.
Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, author of Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis, found that “pastors are 10 percent more likely to be obese than non-clergy … They also suffer from high blood pressure and asthma at a 4 percent higher rate and are 3 percent more prone to suffering from diabetes and arthritis.”
More research confirms that pastoral ministry is a less physically healthy calling than it has ever been, which suggests that more attention should be paid to this crucial area of our humanness, not less.
A couple of thoughts for you as you consider addressing this area of your life and ministry:
- Pay attention to your physical health. Self-awareness is key to growing in any area. Methods such as weighing yourself, thinking about and planning what you will eat and when before a meal, talking with significant people in your life about your current health, all have the power to improve your health from where it is right now.
- Start small and begin again tomorrow. Make that call to schedule your physical. Park a few spots farther away to get in a few extra steps. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. You don’t have to work out intensely for an hour every day. Start with a 15-minute walk, three days a week, and build up from there. When you miss a day, start again tomorrow.
Remember our friend Mark, who wasn’t able to remember when his last physical was? He called me several weeks later, exclaiming: “You saved my life! I was just diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer, and had no symptoms!”
Thankfully, Mark is still with us. He took a small step that turned out to be more important than he thought it would be. His story is a powerful example of a small step in the right direction, and one worth heeding.
Healthy pastors are not perfect, but rather are becoming “more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you’ve come out of this with purity of heart” (2 Cor. 7:11, MSG). I hope these words become more familiar to you, because they are actually a vital part of defining any healthy person, and certainly a healthy pastor.
- Read Faithful and Fractured: Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis by Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell and Jason Byassee
- For healthy weight management options, consider subscribing to Noom, connecting to WeightWatchers, or any accessible options you might discover.
- Use the MapMyFitness or MapMyWalk apps on your phone (or any like them), join a gym or support group, or meet with a personal trainer to set up a feasible, safe, workout plan.