By Sue Magrath | Sacred Mountain Ministries

I want to personally thank all of you who took the time to respond to our survey. We ended up with 150 participants, which is a good representation of the conference and allows us to make some reasonably accurate conclusions about the state of health among our clergy. In the following paragraphs, I will outline a few of the significant results. As you read, pay attention to what resonates with you. And please, if you have any comments, suggestions or questions, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at or contact Rev. Lara Bolger about ways in which the Board of Ordained Ministry can better support our clergy.

Mental Health

Good news: Approximately 10% of respondents reported depressed mood most days or daily. This is about the same prevalence in which depression occurs in the normal population. Bad news: 12.4% reported feelings of anxiety most or all of the time. This is about two and a half times the rate of anxiety experienced in the general population. Five percent reported experiencing more than five panic attacks in their lifetime, which is twice the normal rate. And then, the kicker—38% of respondents reported physical symptoms related to stress. Ouch! Clearly, stress is a major need of focus for clergy wellness programs.

Back to some good news, though: almost 70% of this sample had sought some kind of counseling or therapy and 89% of those who did found it to be helpful. That means that you are doing a good job of seeking help when you need it.

Interpersonal Health

Ministry can be a lonely occupation, and 44% of respondents reported feelings of loneliness either sometimes or often. However, this is significantly lower than other surveys have reported (good news!) Thirty-two percent report two or fewer close friends. There is no way to know whether this is due to being naturally introverted or whether it indicates an unhealthy social life. Perhaps more concerning is the 33% who report spending time with friends only once every three months or less. Even introverts do have friends and spend time with them, so this result may indicate an area of concern.

A good support network is vital for clergy who are unable to turn to church members for personal support. This includes fellow clergy. More good news—only 12% reported that they were not engaged in some kind of clergy cluster or ministerial association, most often because of lack of availability or time limitations.

Family Health

It appears that your families are remarkably healthy despite the many stressors of clergy life. Ninety-five percent reported marriages that are very or somewhat close, and of the 40% who still have children at home, 95% of those spend quality time with their children at least once a week. Sixty-five percent do even more.

Many of you are in two-career households, which creates significant stress for about half of those marriages. Common concerns are lack of time, differing schedules, not getting together time, fatigue, and the struggles of parenting. Thirty-three percent of all marriages in the survey report financial difficulty. And in case you were wondering, 19% of you are married to another clergy person.

Spiritual Health

The good news on the spiritual front is that 75% of you take time to pray daily. And 55% pray for a full 15 minutes or longer. Nearly two-thirds take time to read for spiritual enrichment on a regular basis, and 81% regularly engage in other spiritual practices. While 60% report weekly Sabbath, there are 17% who rarely set aside Sabbath time.

The two areas of significant concern are the 35% who never go on retreat and the 82% who have not taken a sabbatical in the past seven years. It is easy to see how those pastors might experience some feelings of burnout.

Physical Health

The results in regard to physical health were interesting but perhaps not surprising. Let’s start with eating habits—34% reported fair or poor eating habits (there again, time was a major factor). Almost half reported over-eating due to job-related stress, and when asked about the causes of snacking behavior, the most frequent culprit at 55% was “gatherings.” When you consider all the potlucks, coffee hours, and donuts during staff meetings, this is hardly a surprise! (Perhaps it’s time to education congregations about more healthy options.)

The second highest cause was stress at 53% (respondents could choose more than one option).  While the majority of respondents were attempting to stay healthy through exercise, one quarter are exercising only once weekly or less, and 31% stated that they were exercising less as a pastor than they had prior to entering the ministry. Major reason? Time, again.

The Dilemma

Pastors just don’t have time to do the things that could help minimize the stress which negatively impacts effective and fulfilling ministry. Yet there is lots of good news here. Many of you appear to have developed behaviors and habits that help overcome the many obstacles you face as clergy.

Would you be willing to share your wisdom with your colleagues through the clergy wellness column? If you have an idea for a column, please e-mail me. Thank you again for your participation in the survey.


  1. Your comments on friendships immediately triggers memories of a superintendent who attempted to train us to avoid friendships within the parish setting. After years of experience, I decided that I deserved to have friends, whether in the parish or outside of the parish. But such decisions carries some risks. How do we handle those friendships when we move on to another parish? Again, we were trained to cut off friendships when we moved from one parish to another parish. Sometimes that is easy to do if the next appointment is far, far away. However, one can’t control the directions such friendships may take. I corresponded with one ex-member and she made the decision to take my letter to the next pastor and gush about its contents. That didn’t help relationships with that pastor. He was of the school of “no contact”, though even he did not practice what he preached. But I learned to be cautious and I followed the practice of never, never providing pastoral care for friends in former parish settings. But I also didn’t cut off friendships, even with one bad experience. Every one, including pastors, deserve having friends.

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