What the Research Says about LCMS Church Worker Health

When young men attend Seminary to pursue life in ministry, they may picture the worship service, scratching and editing weekly sermons, and offering counsel. Maybe they expect to visit congregants suffering from illness or distress.

But what they may not realize is that life in ministry can come with health and spiritual challenges. Church workers have higher rates of obesity, depression, stress and overall life dissatisfaction when compared with the general population of the US. This can be confusing and unexpected.

A Close Look at the Wellness of LCMS Ministers and Families

In 2016, a resolution passed at the Synodical Convention laid the groundwork for a joint effort from many partners who serve LCMS ministers and their families. This included a comprehensive survey about ministerial wellness in the LCMS. Results were released this week.

The study focused on the areas from the Wellness Wheel–relational, emotional, physical, financial, vocational, intellectual and spiritual. The survey has a foundation in robust research methodology and includes both ordained and commissioned church workers, as well as their spouses.

Financial Support

The survey results point to significant financial stress, across the spectrum of people participating. This was the category from the wellness wheel mentioned most often. The survey also asked people to rank the categories based on their preference for turning to a Lutheran service provider. Interestingly, they also expressed indifference to relying on Lutheran service providers for finance.

Strained Family Relationships…Which Are Contagious

The research shows an alarming number of church workers (one in three) that report challenges in their family relationships. This often correlated with emotional, vocational and relationship issues as well. Though the results were anonymous, spousal results were linked, which revealed that if one spouse faced a hard time, the other did as well. This means that one area of poor church worker well-being is likely to spread across the wellness wheel, and cause distress to their spouse, too.

In fact, the most commonly expressed need that came directly from the respondents’ own words was better support for families and marriages. When it comes to relationships, church workers appear to have a strong preference for Lutheran service providers.

The Burden of Expectations and Scrutiny

Being a pastor or a pastor’s wife comes with an added layer of scrutiny. A deaconess or church worker may feel like she or he isn’t “supposed” to struggle. Emotional struggles are seldom logical, so it can seem like faith should be enough. But that simply isn’t always the case.

Among church workers:

  • 47 percent have experienced anxiety or depression related to their ministry
  • 41 percent are often bogged down by people’s expectations
  • 20 percent say the demands of ministry are more than they can handle
  • 55 percent have experienced significant stress from financial concerns (20 percent say it is ongoing)

We’re here to help.

Please know that the Missouri District’s ministerial health committee is here for you, whether you’re facing a significant life challenge or simply want to safeguard your wellness. Contact Rev. Gene Wyssmann at gene.wyssmann@mo.lcms.org.


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