By Rev Dr Melinda Contreras-Byrd
Several years ago I had the great blessing of having been selected as one of about 20 clergy who enjoyed an all expense paid self-care focused pilgrimage to Israel. At least for me it was life changing! I was shocked at what I learned (and now teach) about the lives of pastors.
Three of the major researchers into clergy life all voiced similar statistics:
The Barna Group reports that
90% of pastors report working between 55- 75 hours per week
50% of pastors report feeling unable to meet the demands of their jobs
70% constantly fight depression
50% of pastors starting out will not last 5 years
50% of pastors’ marriages end in divorce
70% of pastors do not have a close friend
Ellison Research reports that according to the results of their study:
71% of pastors say that they are overweight by an average of 32.1 pounds
52% say that they experience signs of stress on a weekly basis
Other statistics note that pastors’ physical health is comparatively worse than others in the areas in which they live, while pastor’s mental health is likewise riddled with increased symptoms of clinical depression, anxiety, stress and burnout.
As a “seasoned” practicing psychotherapist — pastors would approach me (much like Nicodemus came to Jesus )—under the cover of confidentially to share concerns about their emotional or physical health and the stresses of congregational leadership. Unwilling to follow any of the self-care suggestions I (or others) offered one by one I watched them succumb to deteriorating health, divorce and death.
While on the Israel trip, I realized for the first time that my experiences with self-care and pastors was not just mine, and that we have a real crisis as clergy!
I returned from my Israel pilgrimage more relaxed and adjusted and a woman on a mission!
Sadly – my mission would prove to be stymied at each turn. Irrespective of the support from my Bishop, a cadre of devoted, creative, professional and clinically trained clergy and a previously formed 501C3 set aside to address the unique mental health needs of clergy — we could not get clergy to “buy into prioritizing themselves” on any significantly demonstrated level.
A more recent review of data disclosed an additional upsetting state of affairs.
While there is a growing body of information on the status of pastors, there is hardly any focus on pastors’ care. Of themselves Pastors and self-care is typically understood as how to teach pastors to better care for others —but not themselves.
If there is little on pastors ‘self-care —-there is nothing at all regarding how Latino and Black pastors view self-care or how well they focus on it!
Weary over the years — I continue to attempt to insinuate myself into clergy meetings, pastoral retreat agendas and to interest clergy in even half-day self-focused retreats.
But there is always grace!
I was recently blessed to receive a research grant from the Louisville Institute’s Pastoral Study Project. My topic is this, “Factors in the Development of Successful Strategies for Engaging Black & Latino Pastors in a Program of Clergy Self-Care”.
Along with a team of researchers, a research assistant and a translator (Rev Dr. Amaury Tanton-Santos, Rev, Kim Mayner, Rev. Natalie Mitchem, Ms. Kamaria Byrd and Ms. Enercida Rodriquez Jones) I have set out to do 4 things:
1 Review the literature on the status of pastors’ health
2. Assemble a group of clergy/clinicians and scholars to assist us in discovering and articulating how factors such as culture, gender, theological interpretations, factor into the decisions Black and Latino pastors make regarding the status they give to self-care.
3. Survey of a sample of Latino and Black senior pastors who have at least 3 years of experience as pastor.
4. Analyze the resulting data with conclusions about ways in which the information can be used to create more feasible and engaging programs for the longevity, spiritual, emotional and physical improvement and empowerment of Black and Latino men and women who take up the banner of “pastor” in our communities.
In order to make this research successful we need your help! If you are a pastor who meets the criteria in #3 above please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BALP2013 and take our survey before
If you are unable to take the survey on-line or have further questions you may contact Dr. Melinda Contreras-Byrd at firstname.lastname@example.org
for further information and to receive the survey as an attachment to fax, or send back to our office. The survey is also available in Spanish by contacting me at the
above e-mail address.
The survey is anonymous and will take under 10 minutes to complete.
Thank you for your support. This is your chance to make our experience matter!!