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, the Evangelical polling organization 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 is 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 comes 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.
Ministry leaders who participated in The Summer Sabbatical webinar such as Resilient Pastor faculty member Sharon Hodde Miller, noted that pastors who take time to rest, replenish themselves, and are more mindful of their overall health tend to fare better on the measures.
“Sabbaticals are not about vacation,” Miller argues, “but about counter-formation and all the ways that our culture is malforming us in a way that undermines the image of God and Christ in us. Practicing Sabbath, taking sabbaticals, is one way that we push back against that malformation.”
The data taps into a previous report from Barna that found more pastors had considered quitting their jobs in 2022 compared to a year earlier, citing stress and loneliness.
More than half of pastors, 56%, who considered quitting full-time ministry said, “the immense stress of the job” was a huge factor behind their thinking. Beyond these general stressors, two in five pastors, 43%, reported that “I feel lonely and isolated,” while another 38% said “current political divisions” made them think about calling it quits at the pulpit.
Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of Rockharbor Church in Costa Mesa, California, urged churches to prioritize sabbaticals for their leaders as “preventative healthcare.”
“I think one of the best things you can do if you’re introducing [sabbatical] to your church is to make it really clear who gets a sabbatical, how frequently and for how long,” Packiam said in the Barna report.
“[In the past at my church], a sabbatical was either a prelude to someone’s exit or a punishment for something that a person had done. And it’s not meant to be any of that,” he added. “This is preventative healthcare, if you will.”