There are many Lutheran Church-Canada pastors who are hurting right now. More than one out of every six pastors actively serving in Lutheran Church-Canada are experiencing burnout while another three out of six are on the verge of burnout. Among all active LCC pastors, there are probably at least seven pastors in LCC who are suffering from extreme burnout at this time. There is much reason for concern over the health and welfare of LCC pastors.
But there is also reason for hope. There is a significant link between burnout and wellness. Pastors who have high levels of wellness have low levels of burnout, while pastors who have low levels of wellness have high levels of burnout. Therefore, the promotion of wellness among pastors has the potential to lower the incidence of burnout and to reduce its harmful effects. Thus, through improving the wellness of LCC pastors, it is possible to help them extend their longevity, be more effective in ministry, and experience more of the joy of serving in such a special way. Such results could also help to mitigate the shortage of pastors by presenting more attractive role models to young men considering the ministry. Altogether, improving the wellness of LCC pastors will advance the spread of the Gospel throughout Canada and the world.
But a Christian understanding of wellness differs greatly from a secular understanding in its motivation and goals. Secular wellness is moved by a desire to enjoy a more successful life in this world, and aims to unlock an individual’s full potential. But Christians are moved by what Jesus Christ has already done for them in giving them forgiveness, eternal life and salvation by grace through faith. And Christians desire to live lives of worship toward God and loving service toward their neighbours. A Christian understanding of wellness also takes into account the scriptural understanding of holistic personhood and the Biblical concept of the wholistic shalom wellness which God gives to believers and which pervades throughout all aspects of their lives. Christian wellness arises from appreciation for the forgiveness, salvation and eternal life, which have been given by God through Jesus Christ. Christian wellness involves being aware of the level of health and well-being in each dimension of life. (To help pastors to realize their personal wellness levels, the Pastoral Wellness Self-test has been developed. See appendix D). Christian wellness includes willingly making choices toward improving health and well-being in each dimension of life, toward maintaining a balance between the various areas of life and toward improving overall health and well-being, so that believers may more fully worship God with their entire being, be more effective servants to their neighbours, and be better stewards of what God has given them. Because Jesus Christ is at the centre of our Christian wellness, and is the source of Christian wellness, a Christian wellness approach offers a genuine hope for an improvement in the health and well-being of LCC pastors.
But it is also very important to be aware of factors that are drawing pastors away from the wellness that they have in Jesus Christ. The caring, dedicated, idealistic personality of most pastors tends to interact with the demanding, spontaneous, open-ended and highly stressful nature of ministry to draw pastors away from their wellness in Jesus Christ and into law-based behaviours such as perfectionism and people-pleasing. Specific factors such as old psychological issues that have not been dealt with, inexperience, financial stress, living in a parsonage, and the struggle to maintain a balance between work and family, are indicators that one is at a very high risk of lacking wellness.
On the basis of the Scriptures, it is clear that the road back to wellness involves a pastoral care or mentoring relationship that involves empathic love, truth and forgiveness. This is the type of relationship that is needed to provide the love and support that is necessary to face the lies and the sin that one has been involved with, to receive the healing forgiveness that Jesus gives, and to have the inner strength and confidence that God gives one to make better choices in one’s life.
With Jesus Christ not only as the centre of Christian wellness but also as the model for Christian wellness, one can see that it is important to care for one’s own finite and frail human self. Therefore, by restoring and maintaining Christian wellness through the process outlined above, one lives in wellness by taking charge of his own personal wellness, so that he might better serve others, and by letting go of all of the things over which he, in his inadequacy and human finitude, has no control over. It is enough to trust in God to take care of all of such things, while one trusts in the forgiveness that is his through Jesus Christ. As one takes charge of his own personal wellness, he then makes better choices that will enable him to improve his wellness in each dimension of his life: emotional, vocational, social, intellectual, spiritual, physical and financial.
Out of compassion and concern for the gifts that God has given to the church, further study is needed regarding how to improve the wellness of pastors. For example, the seminaries of our church have a unique opportunity to lay a foundation of wellness even as people are being formed as pastors. They could help students to learn about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses; equip them to function in the stressful dynamics of ministry; raise their awareness of wellness and encourage them to practice wellness, and facilitate and encourage pastoral counselling to give students the opportunity to deal with ongoing psychological issues. Initiatives such as these during this special time of growth and development at seminary will go a long ways toward helping people enjoy higher levels of wellness during their tenure as pastors.
Other areas are also worthy of further study, such as the development of programs to improve the wellness of pastors in their first seven years of ministry. Possible initiatives toward this end might include the facilitation of mentoring relationships and peer support during these first critical years. Some districts may consider contracting experienced pastors to provide pastoral care to young pastors in remote areas. Another possibility is the development of programs to improve the wellness of all of the pastors of LCC. These programs could include Bible studies and discussion papers to raise awareness about wellness, encouragement and facilitation of pastoral care or mentoring relationships, and encouragement that pastors should use the care and support programs offered. So that pastors may have the support they need to improve their own personal wellness, it is also important to raise congregational awareness regarding the value of Christian wellness in general and pastoral Christian wellness in particular. This could be done through Bible studies, discussion papers, and related articles in church media. Further study on some of the factors that relate to wellness would also be helpful, such as financial compensation, residing in parsonages, and the priority a pastor gives to being a father.
Christian wellness is not a magic elixir that solves all the problems of all pastors. But it can be a helpful approach as we reach out to hurting pastors and try to assist them, and as we try to lessen the incidence of distress and burnout. Wellness is not a new law or a new perfectionism. All Christians are imperfect, frail and weak human beings. Yet, because God has shown love and grace to us, we reach out to one another with love and grace. Christian wellness is nothing but living in the baptismal grace that God has given to us. Christian wellness is restored and maintained by nothing other than confession and forgiveness in the context of a loving pastoral relationship. In God’s grace and love, we already have Christian wellness. By His grace and love, we live in Christian wellness. Our Christian wellness will never be perfect on this side of heaven; but in the meantime, we do the best that we can, and trust everything else to God’s love and forgiveness.
+ + +
“If one part [of the body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12:26).
 Survey results indicate that 14.5% of active LCC pastors are suffering from burnout, 2.6% are suffering from extreme burnout and 47.9% are bordering on burnout. 2.6% + 14.5% = 17.1% or more than one out of every six. 47.9% is nearly three out of every six. 2.6% x 275 active LCC pastors = 7.15 pastors who are suffering from extreme burnout.