Despite discontent about their job, overall health, wellness of pastors better than general public: study

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While record levels of pastors have seriously considered quitting and expressed discontent with their jobs in recent years, in general, they are faring better than the general public in health and wellness a new report from the Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations study has found.

The data for the report, “Challenges Are Great Opportunities”: Exploring Clergy Health and Wellness in the Midst of Post-Pandemic Malaise, includes survey responses collected from 1,677 Christian clergy leaders from more than 40 denominations in the fall of 2023.

“The survey shows that a majority of clergy seem quite healthy,” the researchers from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, who conducted the study funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., explained. “The overall level of health and wellness exhibited by clergy is impressive — even given the level of the pastoral discontent uncovered in our earlier report.”

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For the study, researchers used a slightly modified version of the Harvard Flourishing Study battery of 11 questions with six additional items to explore a variety of health and wellness measures on a scale of 0 to 10. The items covered areas such as financial health, mental health, and general job satisfaction. In all but one measure — relationship satisfaction — clergy reported faring better than the general public.

Pastors, in general, compared to the general public, have a keener sense of their purpose in life.

“Compared to these averages of a national sample of Americans from summer 2022, clergy seem to be doing better than the general public on most of the items we compared,” researchers said.

“Clergy have a higher mean on all but one item, and clergy are healthier by half a point or more on most items. The largest gap between clergy and the public is on the item ‘I understand my purpose in life’ where clergy have a mean of 8.6 out of 10 and the public have a mean of 6.8 (a difference of 1.8 points),” they added.

“The only statement where clergy leaders are below the general public is ‘my relationships are as satisfying as I would want them to be’ where clergy are only 0.1 point lower than the general population. The overall composite wellness score for the 11 Flourishing items is 0.7 greater for clergy than the general public respondents. Based on these comparisons, the clergy within our study appear to be quite mentally and emotionally healthy.”

The data showed, for example, an increase in the share of pastors taking a day off each week between 2020 and 2023, which researchers say indirectly helped to boost the health and wellness of pastors.

“When we asked clergy about their practices around taking a day off each week, we found an increase since 2020: from 68% to 74% of clergy taking a day off in 2023. However, statistically there was no difference between the health and wellness scores of those who took a day off and those who did not,” researchers said.

“This could be because most clergy do take time off. Without a doubt, this practice indirectly contributes to a better work environment and relationship with the congregation, and therefore boosts well-being as the following quotes attest, but it doesn’t significantly improve wellness in the survey data.”

Researchers said pastors in America are more likely to be white (80%), male (80%), employed full-time (75%), and function as a single leader (60%) instead of part of a leadership team which is the case for about 31% of pastors.

In key measures of well-being such as physical, mental, emotional, and overall health, pastors have suffered significant declines over the last seven years, especially when it comes to having true friends, a new report from Barna Research shows.

Citing data collected for their Resilient Pastor research from 2015 to 2022, Evangelical polling organization Barna Research, showed pastors suffered significant declines in all areas of well-being when asked to rank how they felt as excellent, good, average, below average, poor or don’t know.

The 2015 data was collected between April and December that year and was based on 901 interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S. The 2022 data was collected from Sept. 6-16, 2022, and was based on 585 online interviews with Protestant senior pastors in the U.S.

When it came to having true friends, the data show that 20% of pastors in 2022 ranked themselves as below average in that area compared to 10% who did so in 2015. Another 7% ranked themselves as poor when it comes to having friends in 2022 compared to just 2% in 2015. While 34% of pastors ranked themselves as excellent when it comes to having true friends in 2015. That share dropped to 17% in 2022.

Pastors also indicated that their physical health suffered significantly between 2015 and 2022. In 2015, only 7% of pastors ranked their physical well-being as either below average or poor. Seven years later in 2022, that number has more than tripled to 22%, with some 18% reporting their condition as below average. Only 9% of pastors reported their physical health as excellent in 2022 compared to 24% who did so in 2015.

The share of pastors who reported their mental and emotional health as below average increased from 3% in 2015 to 10% in 2022. The share that reported their mental and emotional health was excellent also fell from 39% in 2015 to just 11% in 2022.

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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