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Stress and Clergy Health

Congregants often turn to clergy for assistance in dealing with the pressures of everyday life. Clergy know there are things they can say and resources they can identify to help these congregants cope with the stress they are feeling.

At the same time, many clergy have difficulty identifying and addressing the stressors in their own lives. They overlook the same resources they suggest for others while struggling to cope with the pressures they face at work and at home.

While there is no magic wand that can make all the causes of stress disappear, there are things that can be done to minimize pressure and mitigate stress. By identifying stressors and implementing effective solutions to overcome tension, clergy can improve their own lives and make themselves more effective leaders for their congregations.

Sources of Stress

A 2010 survey by the American Psychology Association (APA) identified the most often cited sources of stress. These included:

  • money,
  • work,
  • the economy,
  • family responsibilities,
  • personal relationships,
  • personal health concerns,
  • housing costs,
  • job stability,
  • health problems affecting family members, and
  • personal safety.

Clergy may face a number of additional stressors specific to their vocation. These could include:

  • Balancing time spent with the congregation with personal/family time
  • Helping parishioners deal with problems (i.e., illness, the death of a loved one, financial hardship, etc.)
  • Needing to attend multiple committee/planning meetings
  • Public speaking
  • Parish financial concerns
  • Administrative church tasks including supervising staff

Clergy Stress Statistics

Wespath piloted a multidimensional well-being assessment to help clergy understand their own wellness in several aspects of life, including their physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial health. The assessment includes several questions related to stress, the results of which are shown here.

Question 1: During the past year, how often have the people in your organization/congregation made too many demands on you? (409 respondents)

Question 2: Over the past year, how often have you felt lonely and isolated in your work? (409 respondents)

Question 3: Over the past year, how often have you experienced stress because of the challenges you have in your organization/congregation? (409 respondents)

Strategies for Coping with Stress

Walk through the "self help" section of your local bookstore or library and invariably you will see shelf after shelf stacked with dozens of books about identifying and coping with sources of stress. While they may contain different terminology and examples, nearly every book follows the same methodology:

  1. Identify the source of the stress
  2. Identify a way to eliminate the source of the stress, or implement ways to mitigate the stress it causes in your life

Following this methodology, the table below lists several of the most commonly cited sources of clergy stress followed by suggestions clergy can use to minimize or eliminate the tension these stressors cause.

Source of Stress Suggestions for Ways to Cope
Balancing time spent with the congregation with personal/family time - Buy a day planner and schedule "family time" and "personal time" throughout your day/week; stick to the schedule
- Take a vacation that is at least one week long every year; schedule several shorter breaks throughout the year so you have time to relax and recharge
Helping parishioners deal with problems (i.e., illness, the death of a loved one, financial hardship, etc.) - Make yourself available to the congregation, but establish times when you can only be reached in the event of an emergency
- Refer congregants to other professionals (medical, financial, etc.) when necessary
- Ask a fellow clergy member or your spiritual leader for assistance/tips for assisting people you are having difficulty helping
- Contact your EAP if another person's sadness is making you sad as well
Needing to attend multiple committee/planning meetings - Identify the meetings where your attendance is mandatory/most needed
- Have a representative attend non-crucial meetings and supply you with a summary of the proceedings
- Try to schedule meetings back-to-back and in the same locations to consolidate time and eliminate travel
- Identify outdated/redundant committees that can be eliminated or merged
Public speaking - Practice your sermon in front of family and friends
- Ask a fellow clergy member for tips
- Join an organization like Toastmasters International that specializes in improved public speaking and leadership
- Take a communications course at a community college
Parish financial concerns - Have a church budget; regularly update/revise the budget based on the changing needs/circumstances of the church
- Utilize the conference resources available to local churches with financial concerns
- Keep the congregation informed of the church's financial situation
- Seek volunteers from the congregation who have financial planning experience
Administrative church tasks including supervising staff - Train staff to do administrative duties so you can focus on larger concerns
- Seek volunteers from the congregation to assist
- Make sure current staff has the required skills for their jobs; retrain/restaff if necessary

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