Pastors are Fatter, Sicker, & more Depressed
What does it say when those at the center of the church are the least healthy?

The New York Times is reporting on new research that shows pastors appear to be struggling with health issues–both physical and psychological–more than other Americans. The article reports:

"Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could."

The article goes on to speculate on causes for the decline in clergy health. A key culprit: lack of boundaries. Pastors have an increasing number of expectations. Not only are they expected to function as CEOs for complex organizations, but also spiritual shepherds, teachers, and care-givers for large numbers of people.

One researcher from Duke University sums it up well: "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."

If we are to believe these findings, what should be conclude? If ministry is proving to be unhealthy for those closest to the center of the church, what are we communicating to those on the edges? And is this simply another example of already unhealthy people being attracted to the "helping" professions? In other words, are the people most drawn to ministry those with a messiah complex who lack boundaries, who seek to satisfy their ego-needs through saving others? Or are church systems to blame for putting far too much pressure on the paid clergy?

The questions abound. Let the conversation begin.

August 06, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 16 comments

Jeri Massi

October 07, 2012  5:13am

And if we are to believe news reports, apparently there are more child molesters among pastors than other professions. There's nothing noble in ignorance. Pastors today, who say they believe the bible, have accepted a mode of ministry not found in the Scripture. In the New Testament, elders worked in concert with each other, not as individual CEOs, each building a personal empire. Several elders ruled an individual church and tended to the needs of the members. Furthermore, their structure was hierarchical, not lateral, so that local elders reported up, through a city-state structure of eldership, all the way to the Council at Jerusalem, and the Council itself was an oligarchy. Men in local churches did not hold themselves responsible to solve all the problems in their churches. Issues of great controversy or great concern were forwarded up the hierarchy, all the way to the Council at Jerusalem, if necessary. The goal of pastoring in the New Testament was the education of believers so that they could govern themselves within the hierarchy of church authority, appointing local elders, and then the more experienced elders could then plant new churches. Modern pastors have turned the pastorate into a sole endeavor, independent in many cases, with the pastor acting as some sort of head man of the church, the center of the social structure of the church, the man who appointed to be the poster child of the church. It's amazing that so many men who claim to believe the Bible have failed across the board to recognize how far they have taken the role of pastor from what the Bible has laid out, turning it into something entirely different from the original design. So of course they bring disaster onto themselves. In short, they are doing it wrong. And they have a reason to be depressed. They really are failing to lead the flock of God. The amount of corruption we find in the pastorate of America's churches is the outward manifestation of their disobedience in setting up a system that glorifies leadership and numbers and money and prestige. And the stress, despair, and loss of faith are the inside manifestations of their disobedience.

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November 22, 2011  2:20am

Sometimes Pastor are depressed due to problems in the church, but as a Pastor of the church he should be physically fit, in the service of the LOrd and the leader to everybody.

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David Price

April 14, 2011  1:07pm

I pastored a large church of over 1,000 attenders almost 30 years and found it very easy. I just let my staff do all the work.

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November 01, 2010  2:34pm

There are many expectations that are placed on pastors. My father is a pastor growing up I have seen the way that situations within the church have effected him. Recently a situation within my church arose that effected my fathers health in a negative way.The situation is now taken care of but in the mist of crisis my father came very close to having a heart attack because of the stress of the situation. I think that it is important to keep in mind that the things we do as a church body can effect our pastors just as much as lack of exercise can.

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August 17, 2010  10:56pm

As a pastor I have to ask myself on ocassion: Would I be pleased if my congregation all followed my example? This includes how busy I am and my time with the Lord and with my family. I also try to bear in mind Jesus' words that the weary should come to him for rest for his yoke is easy and his burden light. I am not advocating laziness, but the call to salvation should not be a call to hours more activity on top of an already busy life. I think pastors need to model this by cutting down on busyness. I am learning that programs sometimes have to stop when there is no one else to do them because it is not my job to maintain every program the church has ever begun. As for being overweight - All our business takes place over coffee and potlucks!

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nilda zoraya

August 14, 2010  8:39pm

John T., I wholeheartedly endorse your friend's perspective on the correlation between a pastor's waist measurements and his credibility. Not to say an overweight pastor cannot be used mightily by God, but to point out that pastors should be examples for their congregations. Sure, everyone has flaws, but why not take responsibility for gluttony and rein in its impulses. Why should everybody be able to gauge their self-control just by looking at the expanding middle? It's enough to fight inner issues. I congratulate you for the efforts to better yourself and your ministry by loosing weight. For more help on this issue, I recommend The Lord's Table, an interactive online course from Setting the Captives Free, that deals with sinful eating habits such as gluttony, anorexia and bulimia, from a Biblical standpoint. And, get some new neckties to go with that shrinking neck! :D

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August 11, 2010  10:06am

I think the article lets unhealthy pastors get off too easily. The reasons are obviously complex, and vary among individuals. One statement in the article has been overlooked. Ministers used to be healthy and live longer. Perhaps we need to study why this phenomenon has changed. Realistically, some of them should change jobs because they do not have the calling of God.

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Gregg Pvc

August 10, 2010  9:44am

One reason is expectation/comparison. Go to any church seminar and there is the latest pastor with thousands of people in his church sharing about how to build the successful church. The first question asked is "how many people are in your church?" Even though the number of megachurches is increasing, most pastors serve in smaller congregations, many struggling. Of course that is the pastor's fault because leadership is obviously lacking. Maybe. Maybe not. Still it is hard not to compare when the model for success is the church with thousands.

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John T

August 09, 2010  10:53am

Sheerahkahn... My neck is making a comeback!

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John T

August 09, 2010  8:34am

As pastors we are called upon to lead by example. I have failed miserably in the "be healthy" category. One fellow pastor told me, "When we are over-weight, we tell the whole world that we have no self control." I got my wake-up call 6 weeks ago when I was diagnosed with diabetes. Since then, I have lost 17 pounds and I am walking every day. This is a serious discussion that we MUST have. Thanks for starting it.

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