Clergy Health Initiative

Rural Church  |  Cultivate and Support Pastoral Leaders

Studies indicate that clergy are in one of the nation’s most overworked professions. The Duke Endowment has invested $21 million in the Clergy Health Initiative since 2007.

Challenge

Studies indicate that clergy are in one of the nation’s most overworked professions. The long hours and constant stress of the job weigh on their health leaving little time for pastors to take care of themselves. Research indicates that clergy regularly overextend themselves, neglect their bodies and fail to notice physical signals of distress, and ruminate on criticism that isn’t relevant to God’s call. 

The challenge for the church is to reverse the trends at work in the faith community, so that clergy have the space to attend to their well-being.

Clergy Health Initiative06

Response

The Duke Endowment invested in the Clergy Health Initiative in 2007 with a $12 million grant to Duke Divinity School. The Divinity School collaborated with the Western North Carolina Conference and the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to implement the project.

Clergy Health Initiative Programs Focus Areas

Forming healthy habits in clergy

Project: Stress reduction program

What’s Next: Workshops are underway

Tracking clergy well-being and identifying contributors to well-being over time

Project: Statewide longitudinal survey

What’s Next: The next survey will be sent in fall of 2021

Understanding clergy careers

Project: Reflections study

What’s Next: Processing data in order to develop recommendations to Duke Divinity School and United Methodist conferences for nurturing clergy

Building national conversation about clergy health and well-being

Project: Develop field guide of best practices

What’s Next: Develop and disseminate evidence-based programing to promote clergy well-being

Impact

Drawing on findings across its studies, the Clergy Health Initiative creates, pilot tests and rigorously evaluates well-being programs tailored to clergy, with the goal of sustaining long-term, positive behavior change. The targets of the suite of programs to date are metabolic disorders and chronic stress.

Lessons Learned

The Clergy Health Initiative reports that the roles and actions of many people within the church have a bearing on clergy health. For example…

Clergy can:

Cultivate friendships that provide emotional support. Clergy often have access to instrumental support (for example, someone who will bring them a meal). It’s often harder to find emotional support, in which a pastor can talk about difficult emotions and receive active listening, with or without advice; however, seeking out these friendships can make a big difference.

Congregations can:

Express their caring for their pastor as a person. Ask your pastor about his or her family, vacation or health — anything that shows that you care about them as an individual, not just as a spiritual leader.

Try to make the pastor’s life more predictable. There are true emergencies that need a pastor’s immediate attention, and your pastor will want to be there for you. There may be times, though, when the situation can wait. Find out what day your pastor takes off and try to avoid calling on that day or during dinner hours.

Denominational officials can: 

Address church climates that are consistently negative toward pastors. Churches are comprised of people, and even well-intentioned people can interact in such a way as to create an environment that is hostile to pastors. Excessive demands and criticism are very strongly related to depression, anxiety and burnout among pastors.

Resources

pdf – September 1, 2021

Clergy Health Initiative Retirement Report - September 2021

This report presents findings on the well-being of United Methodist clergy ages 55 and older, and the well-being of clergy retired 4 years or fewer.

pdf – March 1, 2014

Use of a Randomized Multiple Baseline Design: Rationale and Design of the Spirited Life Holistic Health Intervention Study

Evaluating intervention components of a program to improve clergy health.

pdf – May 1, 2012

Are Rural Clergy Worse Off? An Examination of Occupational Conditions and Pastoral Experiences

This study uses recent data from United Methodist Church clergy in North Carolina to test extant depictions of rural ministry, which typically portray rural churches as challenging occupational settings.

pdf – May 1, 2010

High Rates of Obesity and Chronic Disease Among United Methodist Clergy

Ninety-five percent of all actively-serving United Methodist clergy in North Carolina (NC) completed self-report height and weight items and diagnosis questions from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS).

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