Thirty-five American Baptist pastors and other ministerial leaders are one step closer to better physical, spiritual and emotional well-being, thanks to “wellness grants” they received in late 2003.

The grants grew out of their denomination’s Ministerial Leadership Commission and its Clergy Health Initiative. Grant recipients can use the $300 for things like membership in a health or fitness club, a family membership at the YMCA or a retreat at an American Baptist conference center or camp.

Recognizing that ministerial leaders need help in achieving and maintaining health and wellness, the Rev. Ian George, the commission’s executive director, said that the grants were one way congregations and ministerial leaders can partner together in pursuing healthy lifestyles.

Balanced nutrition, emotional well-being, times for spiritual reflection and a sense of fulfillment from one’s job all work together to create a healthy leader. How healthy are our leaders? How healthy are we? Consider these facts:

American Christians weigh more than American Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, according to one sociologist’s analysis of data. And among Christian denominations, Southern Baptists have more overweight and obese members than any other.

The dots are simple to connect. Ministers and other leaders face tremendous stress. Stress can cause people not only to eat more but also to make poor nutritional choices, eating whatever is quickest and easiest to obtain. Clergy in particular tend to put exercise, weight control and personal healthcare far down on the priority list. They face tremendous pressure for their churches to grow, so they work longer hours, leaving less time for health and fitness activities, not to mention family and friends.

In a survey by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth:

–33 percent of pastors said that “Being in ministry is clearly a hazard to my family.”

–75 percent reported a significant crisis due to stress at least once in their ministry.

–90 percent said that they were not adequately trained to cope with the ministry demands placed on them.

–40 percent reported a serious conflict with a congregant at least once a month.

–70 percent reported having a lower self-image after pastoring than when they started.

Perhaps saddest of all, 70 percent of pastors said that they do not have someone they would consider a close friend.

Body, soul and mind all work together. Fatigue in one area has consequences for the others. Fatigue can lead to compromised allegiance and loss of passion and can ultimately turn our hearts away from God. Solomon’s story offers a clear example.

If you want to really help your ministerial staff and other leaders, help them achieve complete health. Lead your class to talk about practical ways you can become the catalysts in your church for ensuring that they have the time, energy and resources to pursue total fitness.

The following articles from contain information and talking points that can help you stimulate class discussion:

“At-risk clergy”

“New Study on Clergy Burnout”

“The Heavyweights Are Christians”

“More Americans Turning to Antidepressants”

“Caring for Souls in a Time of Stress”

“Getting Relief From Depression”

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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