Christian Wellness: Chapter 2-What is contributing to a lack of wellness?

Chapter 2



Having established that there is a negative correlation between burnout and wellness, the next step is to determine the factors that contribute to a lack of wellness among LCC pastors.  To establish some criteria for measuring wellness, the NPWS results were sorted according to wellness levels and divided into four groups that approximately correspond to the four levels of CBI burnout scores.[1] Using this methodology, 8.5% of LCC pastors are found to have Very Poor Wellness, 23.9% to have Poor Wellness, 29.1% to have Moderate Wellness, and only 38.5% of LCC pastors to have Very Good Wellness.  But why are the workers in God’s kingdom experiencing such a lack of wellness?  In this chapter, it will be shown that pastors’ personalities combine with the stressful nature of ministry to draw pastors away from wellness.

The Pastoral Personality

Pastors tend to have personality characteristics which draw them toward ministry and are helpful in such a vocation.  However, these same characteristics have the potential to interact with the stressful aspects of ministry to draw pastors away from their own wellness in Jesus Christ.  Gary L. Harbaugh indicates that pastors tend to be “idealistic, moral, work-orientated, responsible men . . .  who are responsive to the needs of others.”[2] They are usually ambivalent about authority. They are leaders, but they can be dependent on what others think and feel, which creates potential for dependence-independence conflicts as they pastor their congregation.  They like things planned and ordered rather than spontaneous.  While being “people orientated, they seem to have difficulty accepting their own humanity.  They tend towards perfectionism, with its unrelenting demand on the self.  They tend not to take care of themselves physically.”[3] Steve R. Bierly writes,

Small-churchaholics [pastors of small churches who are consumed by and addicted to their work] often function as practical gnostics.  They act as if they believe that, as long as their souls are all right with God, they can abuse their bodies all they want and it won’t affect them.  So they stay out five to seven nights a week doing “the work of the Lord.”  They gulp down all their meals on the run.  They never take a day off because the ministry is just “too important.”  The most exercise they ever get is putting their reference books back on the shelves or standing behind the pulpit for an hour on Sunday mornings.  And they wonder why they suffer from breakdowns and burnouts.[4]

Pastors also struggle with trying to control their own emotions, especially those which are perceived as negative, such as anger and sexual feelings.  They are very concerned with their own image before others, and they tend to want to be in control of all things. [5]

There are three personality traits which are common among pastors.  Pastors tend to have an obsessive-compulsive personality trait, often struggling with obsessive thoughts and being compulsive in their actions, doing certain things over and over again.  They tend to have a narcissistic personality trait, which is a strength in that it enables them to get up before people and preach and teach but it can be a weakness in that it draws them in toward themselves.  This can lead to struggles when pastors feel that they are not being appreciated.  The third common personality trait among pastors is the aforementioned tendency to be idealistic.  This is a strength when it leads pastors to new challenges, but it can also be a pitfall when pastors whose ideal expectations are not met begin to feel as though nobody understands them.[6] These pastoral personality traits means that pastors are often gifted with just the personality that they need to be caring, idealistic, and hard-working servants of God’s people.  But it also means that pastors are also set up to be drawn away from their own personal wellness by the nature of the ministry in which they serve.  As pastors struggle under the law-oriented characteristics of their own personality traits–perfectionism, control and being task-oriented–they are led towards crises in ministry and burnout.[7]

The Nature of Ministry

Ministry is, by nature, a very stressful vocation.  Bierly describes some of the challenges arising from the nature of ministry.  First, ministry tends to isolate pastors from other people, for people tend to treat pastors differently than others and act differently around them as well.  Also, pastors are usually outsiders in the congregations and communities in which they serve.[8] Together, these two factors serve to isolate pastors, meaning that they often lack the supportive relationships they need, which are in turn a significant factor in wellness.[9] Second, pastors are expected to act differently than other people and, in this way, the ministry puts pressure on pastors to give up their own personal identity.  Third, the ministry often gives pastors inaccurate feedback.  For some people, pastors are as close to perfection as one can get on earth while to others they are incompetent, bumbling troublemakers.  The lack of accurate feedback makes it hard for pastors to learn from feedback, and they experience trouble whichever of these two big lies they believe.  Fourth, as they minister to others and deal with their parishoners’ challenges, problems and concerns, their own old wounds can be opened up again and again.  Fifth, ministry also exposes pastors to great temptations which, even when only entertained cognitively and not acted upon, leave pastors feeling guilty and ashamed.  Sixth, as they deal with sin and death, pastors are brought by the ministry face-to-face with evil and its strong presence in this world.  And finally, the busy-ness of ministry can squeeze pastors’ devotional and prayer life right out of their schedule.  This final factor, together with the common presumption that pastors serve God as a profession, creates a situation in which their personal spiritual life can seem like a job.  Together, these latter two aspects of ministry encourage alienation between the pastor and God.[10] All of these negative features of ministry tend to cut pastors off from resources that could help them and they tend to impose additional pressures that pastors would not otherwise face, thereby making the stress of ministry greater and harder to handle.

Harbaugh defines stress as “a (w)holistic reaction of a person to frustration, conflict, and/or pressure.”[11] Stress is, to a degree, beneficial and necessary.  But excess stress, or high stress over a long period of time, can have a negative impact on the whole person and lead to physical, mental and emotional problems.[12] The physical response to distress can be deadly.  As Harbaugh says, “No pastor can function at top speed forever.  As a physical person, the pastor has a limit.  When that limit is exceeded regularly, there are predictable consequences.  The weakest link in our body system starts to show strain.  In time, there may be irreversible physical changes leading to death.”[13] Walter E. Hulme, in Managing Stress in Ministry indicates that stress is either a direct or indirect factor in several leading causes of death in American society, including such as heart disease, lung ailments, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.[14]

The mental response of pastors to stress is like their physical response.  At first, there is an increase in acuity and resourcefulness and then gradually a decline into disorganization.  As pastors become more disorientated by stress, the way that they see the world changes; it seems to close in on them.  Pastors usually respond by developing what could be called “tunnel vision”; they begin to see the world in a more confined and rigid way.  This, in turn, means that they are less flexible.[15]

There is, along with a physical and a mental reaction to stress, an emotional reaction.  Because stress is usually connected with change and loss, the emotional response is usually similar to that associated with grief:  shock, denial, anger and despair.  This emotional response can lead to further complications.  For example, if the anger experienced is turned inward, it can lead to depression.  Also, it is important to note that stress can result in emotional overactivity or emotional underactivity.[16]

Stress can come about because of major life changes.  Such changes result in stress because change of any kind involves loss.  When the losses, whether actual or perceived, become significant, a crisis is experienced.  The degree to which a pastor successfully handles a particular stressor depends upon the combination of  the pastor’s personality, the nature of the stressor, and the pastor’s personal and professional life situation.[17]

The Interaction of the Pastoral Personality with the Stressful Nature of Ministry

Within pastoral ministry, the primary sources of stress are conflict, frustration and pressure, and the stress from these sources can be exacerbated by the personality of the pastor.  Conflict is created when a choice is necessary between two goals or needs.  A common conflict among pastors arises in connection with the need to please and be accepted.  A pastor who is married and has children and is driven by this need, has to make a choice between pleasing the congregation that he serves or pleasing his family.  Because of this conflict, he experiences stress.[18]

A second source of stress is frustration, which is usually brought on by the limitations of time and space.  Stress may arise from the frustration that a pastor feels when it seems like there is never enough time.  Stress may also arise from the limitations of the environment, either from being confined by too little space, or by being in a space that is too expansive to effectively manage.[19] Pastoral personality can be a catalyst toward frustration when, as is often a tendency, pastors want to be in control of all things.  Ministry is by nature open-ended, and control is difficult to achieve.  But some pastors may respond to this difficulty by micro-managing everything in the congregation resulting in their being overcommitted, overextended and frustrated.[20] The limitations of time and space will also collide with the perfectionism of pastors.  There will never be enough time to do things to perfection, and the limitations of space will always be a restriction.  This frustration can also result in guilt when pastors fail to live up to their own expectations. [21]

A third source of stress, along with conflict and frustration, is pressure, that is, the pressure to work faster or harder.  This pressure may arise from the pastor’s perception of expectations from the congregation or the district.  The pastor perceives that the congregation or the district expect certain tasks of him, and then he feels pressure to work harder to meet those expectations.[22] Pressure can also arise from the idealized self-expectations of the pastor and lead to stress.  And idealized self-expectations have the potential to result in a crisis when these self-expectations are not met and the pastor feels let down.  Things can even progress to the point where the pastor slips into depression as a result of failed self-expectations.[23]

The stressful side of ministry was indicated in the NPWS results. The factors which were most frequently mentioned by pastors as hindering their wellness in any of its various dimensions are:

1.      Time constraints/lack of time/time pressures

2.      Heavy work load/busy-ness

3.      Family concerns

4.      The struggle to prioritize time/tasks

5.      Lack of exercise

6.      Time spent in church work/lack of time off from work

7.      Insufficient income from congregation/low salary/unstable income

8.      Lack of discipline/laziness

9.      Lack of energy/fatigue/tiredness/exhaustion

10.  The negative effects of my work schedule[24]

Clearly, the stress that a pastor faces in the ministry–the heavy workload, the time constraints, the expectations from without and within, the frustration, pressure and internal conflict-all of which are often compounded by his own personality, is significant.  However, there are special circumstances which increase these stresses and put pastors at high risk for experiencing a lack of wellness.

Pastors at Risk

Inexperienced Pastors

Research has shown that there is a significant link between pastoral experience and wellness.  Of all the biographical factors, experience was shown to have the highest correlation with wellness.

The Top Eight Biographical Factors in Terms of Co-relating with Wellness[25]

Question #       Description                                                                              r(Qx,mWF)

3               Years served as a pastor                                                           0.351

4               Average stay in each call                                                         0.346

2               Age                                                                                          0.285

18              Housing                                                                                   -0.280

17d            Ranking of “being a father to your children”                           0.259

7               Combined baptized membership of congregation(s) served     0.248

15              Wife works outside the home                                                   0.190

19              Annual salary                                                                            0.165

Among pastors with Very Good Wellness (mWF score >27.558), the average amount of pastoral experience is significantly more than pastors in general (20.678 vs. 15.889 years).  Pastors in this group are also older (50.378 vs. 46.222 years); they stay in each of their calls on average longer (9.688 vs. 6.970 years); they rank “being a father” lower than do pastors on average; and they are paid more in salary ($38,527 vs. $36,327 per annum w/o housing). They also have lower levels of burnout, and they are more likely to own their own home.[26]

However, among pastors with Very Poor Wellness, the level of experience was not significantly lower than the average for all pastors.  This is an indication that this low level of wellness is not confined to inexperienced pastors, for it occurs in pastors who are from 32 to 64 years of age and who have between 1 and 27 years of experience.[27]

The research does indicate, however, that pastors with seven years of experience or less average higher levels of burn-out and lower levels of wellness.  They are also younger (34.310 vs. 46.222 years); they have less experience (3.086 vs. 6.970 years); they stay in each call for shorter periods (2.500 vs. 6.970 years); they are paid significantly less salary ($31,351 vs. $36,327 w/o housing); they rank “being a father” higher than do pastors in general, and they serve parishes smaller than the average (250 vs. 321 baptized members).  They are also more likely to be serving a multiple-point parish, to be living in smaller communities than most pastors, to be working fewer evenings and to be home more evenings with their families, and to be living in parsonages.  They also have significantly lower levels of physical, emotional, social and vocational wellness. [28]

There is a convergence of factors in the lives of inexperienced pastors.  On the basis of logic alone, one would expect that they would be younger, and it follows that they have spent less time in each call, for several of them may still be in their first call.  On the basis of general observations within the church, one may note that less experienced pastors tend to be in smaller parishes, with multiple points, and that they tend to receive lower salaries.  One could assume that they are more likely to have young children at home and therefore are more likely to place a greater importance on their fatherhood.  But how does one sort out these various factors to come to an understanding of the causes of the low levels of wellness among inexperienced pastors?  It is the position of this author that  life-change stress due to the transition from seminary to the parish, further stress due to a lack of experience during the first few years of ministry, financial stress, and the struggle to maintain a balance between work and family, all contribute to the lack of wellness among pastors with less experience.

Stress Experienced in the Transition from Seminary to the Parish and in the First Few Years of Ministry

Newly-minted pastors experience very high levels of stress during their transition from seminary to the parish.  According to the “Life Changes For Clergy” scale developed by T. H. Holmes and R. H. Rahe and modified by Roy M. Oswald, even pastors entering the ministry who experience no additional stress other than the transition from seminary to the parish, will experience “very serious” levels of stress, which can easily climb to “alarming” levels of stress with some added life-change events.[29] Not only are new pastors facing high levels of stress because of life changes, they are immersed in a challenging work context where they face numerous new situations without the benefit of past experience and where they are typically geographically distant from fellow pastors who could help them.[30]

As if all of this were not enough, pastors who are new to the ministry are struggling to develop a pastoral identity.  Bierly writes,

A wise older pastor took me aside when I was just starting out in the pastorate and told me he knew what the most important task was that I would have to accomplish in my first five years of ministry.  If I was expecting to hear, “Develop a devotional life,” or “Become a real people person,” or “Run annual stewardship campaigns,” or “Get your congregation excited about evangelism,” I was to be disappointed.  Instead, he told me, “The most important thing you’ll do in the first five years is to discover who Steve Bierly is as a pastor.”[31]

Both congregations and pastors have pre-conceived ideas of what a pastor is supposed to be, and the ministry is “hard enough without adding the burden of constantly trying to be something or someone you aren’t.  Those who try to carry that extra weight wind up with ulcers, migraines, and bouts with depression.”[32] The struggle to develop one’s own pastoral identity is both internal and external.  The internal struggle is being able to get to a point where one feels comfortable being himself within the pastoral role.  The external struggle results when one is placed into a congregation that does not want to have as their pastor the kind of person that one is. Bierly’s encouragement is that a pastor remove the pastor mask that he is wearing, be himself and not be concerned about the congregation’s reaction.  Either way, things will be better for the pastor.  If the congregation accepts him as he is, he has a home.  If the congregation rejects him, then he has the opportunity to pray for another call to a place that will accept him as the pastor that he is.[33] The challenge for a young pastor is that while he is in the midst of this struggle, he probably does not have the awareness and the confidence that he needs to face these difficulties.

The high levels of transitional stress faced by new pastors combine with their struggle to develop their personal pastoral identity and their lack of experience to mean that pastors with seven years of experience or less are very likely to be pulled away from the wellness that is theirs in Jesus Christ and consequently suffer from a lack of wellness-and likely burnout as well.[34]

Financial Stress

Stress due to low levels of financial income is a second important factor among pastors with less experience.  One pastor spoke of having conversations with his wife about the realization that they did not have enough money to make it to the end of the month, and about the difficulty of buying a starter home in a strong real estate market on a pastor’s salary.[35] Having inadequate income coming into the pastor’s household to take care of his needs and his family’s needs causes additional stress on the pastor.  Pastors with Very Poor Wellness are more likely to cite high prices, increased costs of living, and high taxes as factors that hinder them in their wellness.  This same group of pastors also indicate student loan debt as a significant hindering factor.[36] Conversely, pastors with Very Good Wellness are significantly less likely to name increasing costs of living or student loan debt as factors that hinder them in their wellness.[37] Research has also shown that the 25% of pastors who receive the lowest salaries (this group earns less than $32,000 annually without housing allowance) have significantly lower levels of wellness.[38] Therefore, the lower salaries paid to pastors with less experience contribute significantly to a lack of wellness.

The Struggle to Maintain a Balance between Work and Family

As part of the NPWS, pastors were asked to rank the following items from one to four in order of importance with a rank of one indicating the item that was most important to them:  “being a husband to your wife,” “serving your congregation,” “being the child of God that Christ has made you,” and “being a father to your children.”  The level at which they ranked “being a father” had a significant relationship to wellness.  As mentioned above, pastors with Very Good Wellness ranked this factor significantly lower than did pastors on average, while inexperienced pastors ranked it significantly higher.  Additional research has shown that pastors who ranked “being a father” number one have significantly lower levels of wellness and higher levels of burnout.[39]

There is, however, other information to consider.  The group of pastors who ranked “being a father” number one ranked it above both “being a husband to your wife” and “being the child of God that Christ has made you,” roles which are usually considered to be higher priorities than “being a father.”  Such an inversion of priorities may be an indication that there are other issues, such a marital or spiritual issues, which are lacking resolution and contribute to low levels of wellness.  However, deducing a firm conclusion regarding the specific reasons that ranking fatherhood number one contributes to a lack of wellness is beyond the scope of this thesis.  Further research is required in this area to determine why the ranking of fatherhood has a significant relationship to wellness.

Yet it can be said that pastors are often pulled in two different directions-their family on the one hand and their work on the other.  They may feel called to both, and also enjoy both aspects of their lives, but there is a tension that exists between the two, and it is difficult for someone who is new to the ministry to work out a healthy balance between the two. This struggle is probably most intense within pastors who have young children at home.  But there is an additional factor to consider as well.

In recent years, the spousal roles for men and women have changed and there is, among the younger generation, an expectation that fathers will play a larger role in the life of the family than was the case previously.  This can result in inter-generational conflict within the church, as older pastors and congregational members expect younger pastors to “give 100%” of themselves to the church, while the expectation of the younger pastors is that they are going to give less of themselves to the church and more of themselves to their family.  They are just as busy as were pastors in the past, but their time is divided up differently.  But this inter-generational conflict also impacts the younger pastors’ wellness when they do not have the support they need from their congregations and their fellow pastors to do the things that they need to do to take care of themselves and their families and when they meet resistance in their efforts to improve the wellness of their families and their own selves. [40] Thus, the struggle to maintain a healthy balance between work and family and generational differences regarding the nature of that balance have the potential to contribute negatively toward pastoral wellness.

Pastors With Unresolved Psychological Issues

One particular branch of psychology, self-psychology, and particularly the work of Heinz Kohut, a prominent theorist within the field, has a way of explaining how old psychological wounds that have not been dealt with have the potential to draw people away from wellness.  According to Kohut, each person has three basic psychological needs throughout life:  the need for twinship (to have someone in our lives who is a lot like we are), the need for idealization (having someone or something to look up to and having a close association with them), and the need for mirroring (to have someone give us positive affirmation and support).[41] During the developmental years, the satisfaction of having these needs met combines with a degree of frustration in not having them met and results in the proper formation of one’s internal psychic structure.  Having someone, like a father, to look up to enables a person to develop ideals and standards which can then be worked towards in adulthood.  Having someone provide positive affirmation, or mirroring, during the developmental years enables one to develop the self-confidence and self-esteem that are necessary for successful adulthood.  Having someone who resembles oneself in significant ways helps to develop a sense of being normal and connected with others, which enables one to develop and maintain peer relationships.[42]

It is theorized that if, during the developmental years, there is a severe lack of twinship, of an ideal to look up to, or of adequate mirroring, then a hunger develops in that area.  A young boy who does not get adequate mirroring as a child will experience an inordinate hunger for mirroring as an adult.  A youngster who lacks an ideal figure to look up to and be close to as a child will later feel an extraordinary hunger to have those individuals and groups with whom he is in relationship to be the very best, and to be connected to the very best.  A child who does not experience people around her who are “the same” as she is will be hungry as an adult to have people around her who are very much the same as she is. For the individuals who have these hungers, meeting them is very important, for these individuals are very vulnerable in these areas, and failure to meet these hungers leads to a lack of functional harmony, internal cohesion, and firm self-esteem.  This deteriorated state is often referred to as fragmentation. [43]

When a pastor has one of these archaic hungers, the way that he relates to everyone around him is affected.  It is important to remember that everyone, even as an adult, has needs for mirroring, idealization and twinship.  We need people to give us complements and affirmation; we need people and ideals to look up to, and we need to have friends.  And for each of us, one of these three needs is somewhat stronger than the others.  But for someone with a hunger that is rooted in a deficient supply of one of these needs during his or her developmental years, that particular hunger is much stronger than it would be otherwise.  It may even dominate that person’s life and threaten him or her with fragmentation.  When the unrealistic expectations of such a person are not met, he may respond with an insatiable rage known as “narcissistic rage,” or he may withdraw.[44] The person with an archaic hunger lacks an internal sense of self-esteem, self-assurance and belonging, and he or she is therefore dependent upon the outside world for a sense of personal cohesion.  A pastor with an archaic hunger for mirroring, for example, may constantly seek compliments on his preaching and teaching skills.  A pastor with an archaic hunger for idealizing may expect his congregation to be perfect. A pastor with an archaic hunger for twinship may demand that others think, act and believe just as he does.[45] Pastors with archaic hungers exhibit symptoms such as those described by Robert L. Randall:

Vulnerable self-esteem; feelings of emptiness, joylessness, meaninglessness, lack of initiative and/or hyperexcitability; a variety of sexual, perverse activities; a diffused sensitivity to people; hypochondriasis.  These arise because the person lacks the development of solid, internal self-structures needed to:  regulate self-esteem when injured; infuse personal goals and ideals with energy and hope; utilize what selfobject support is offered; and channel the impulses and drives of the body.[46]

Pastors who have archaic psychological hungers that have not been dealt with typically have difficulty in relating to others and functioning within their environment.  Therefore, they are readily drawn away from the wellness that they have in Jesus Christ.

Pastors Struggling Under the Law

A pastor’s personality, the stresses he faces in ministry, his lack of experience in ministry, and old psychological issues that have not been dealt with, all work together to pull a pastor away from the wellness that he has in Jesus Christ.  Invariably, the pastor is drawn toward a Law-based behaviour such as people-pleasing, perfectionism or authoritarianism.  Apart from his wellness in Jesus Christ, that pastor is under the Law.  Theologically speaking, the Law only kills; it is not able to give life.  As Paul writes to the “foolish Galatians,”  “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law'” (Gal 3:10).  The parallel between Christian wellness and sanctification has been mentioned in chapter 1.  Just as the basis and source of our sanctification is not the Law, but the Gospel, so it is with our wellness.  Pastors living under the Law will invariably be lacking in Christian wellness.

A Biblical Example of a Lack of Wellness:  Elijah in 1 Kings 19

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah experienced a euphoric victory over the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel.  God had acted dramatically and decisively before the people of Israel to show that He was the one true God (1 Kgs 18:16-46).  The issue of who was God should have been clearly settled for all the people of the northern kingdom.  But in chapter 19, at that very moment, in what should have been a time to savour that glory, Elijah was singled out and marked for death by Queen Jezebel.  He ran for his life to Beersheba, and experienced a crisis both personally and in his ministry.  He spoke to God of how zealous he had been, and how his fervour and hard work had met with rejection and death threats from his people.  Elijah felt isolated, persecuted, and worthless, and he wanted to die.  At this point in the scriptural account, Elijah was burnt out and lacked wellness (1 Kgs 19:1-14). Biblical prophets were not immune and neither are clergy today.


One could say that pastors have a high propensity for a lack of wellness.  The same personality traits that help them to be good pastors are the traits that interact with the stresses of ministry to pull them away from wellness.  A lack of experience, and old psychological issues that remain unaddressed, combine with the aforementioned factors to place some pastors at an exceptionally high risk.  As pastors are drawn away from wellness, they are drawn into living under the Law.  A scriptural example of pastoral unwellness can be seen in Elijah.

[1] James R. Paulgaard, “Survey data 5.02” [Excel data file], April 2003.  The survey results were sorted by the Clergy Burnout Inventory score and grouped into the four burnout levels:  Level 1 = CBI score of 0-32 which means the pastor is experiencing no burnout; Level 2 = CBI score of 33-48 which means the pastor is bordering on burnout; Level 3 = CBI score of 49-64 which means the pastor is experiencing some burnout; and Level 4 = CBI score of  65-80 which means the pastor is experiencing extreme burnout.                                                                                                                          Questions 50 and 51 on the NPWS were found to produce results inconsistent with the rest of the survey questions.  Therefore, results from those two questions were omitted from the calculation of a wellness score called the modified Wellness-Financial (mWF) score.  The mWF score is the sum of the wellness scores for each dimension of wellness (emotional, vocational, social, intellectual, spiritual and physical) plus the financial wellness score.  The financial wellness score was included in the mWF score because research indicated that financial factors had a significant relationship to burnout.  Pastors who receive the lowest salaries have significantly higher levels of burnout, and pastors who receive the highest salaries have significantly lower levels of burnout (Cf. James R. Paulgaard, “Survey research-Part A [Excel data file], April 2003).                                                                                                            The mean of the modified Wellness-Financial (mWF) scores in each level of burnout were calculated, and then the midpoints between each of these means was determined.  These midpoints were used as the boundary points between each of the four wellness levels.  Thus Very Poor Wellness is defined as having a mWF score of less than 23.204; Poor Wellness is having a score between 23.204 and 25.236; Moderate Wellness is a score between 25.236 and 27.558; and Very Good Wellness is a score above 27.558.

[2] Gary L. Harbaugh, Pastor as Person (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 70.

[3] Harbaugh, 70.

[4] Steve R. Bierly, How to Thrive as a Small-Church Pastor (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 117.

[5] Harbaugh, 70-71; Pastor D, 3; Pastor E, 7.

[6] Pastor E, 1, 4.

[7] Harbaugh, 71.

[8] Bierly, 15-18; cf. Harbaugh, 72-73.

[9] Pastors with Very Good Wellness (mWF score > 27.558) indicate “supportive people in the congregation,” “accountability,” and “community involvement” as helping factors significantly more often than do pastors in general, while pastors with Very Poor Wellness (mWF score < 23.204) indicate “supportive family” as a helping factor significantly less than do pastors in general (“Survey 5.04”).  Also, pastors who indicate “supportive people in the congregation” as a helping factor have significantly lower levels of burnout than do pastors in general (James R. Paulgaard, “Survey research-Part D” [Excel data file], April 2003, p. 13); pastors who indicate “lack of support within the congregation” or “lack of friends” as a hindering factor have significantly higher levels of burnout than do pastors in general (“Survey research-Part D,” pp.34, 36).

[10] Bierly, 18-33.

[11] Harbaugh, 43.

[12] Harbaugh, 48; Pastor G, 5.

[13] Harbaugh, 49.

[14] William E. Hulme, Managing Stress in Ministry (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, 1985), 19.

[15] Harbaugh, 49.

[16] Harbaugh, 50.

[17] Harbaugh, 46-47.

[18] Harbaugh, 44; cf. Pastor H [pseud.], interview by author, transcript of tape recording, 22 January 2003, 1.

[19] Harbaugh, 43.

[20] Harbaugh, 70-71; Pastor D, 3; Pastor E, 7.

[21] Pastor D [pseud.], interview by author, transcript of tape recording, 20 January 2003, 3.  Cf. William E. Hulme, Your Pastor’s Problems:  A Guide for Ministers and Laymen (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday, 1966), 62-3.  Hulme offers some insights into pastoral perfectionism.  He says, “He [the perfectionist] needs to be perfect in order to accept himself.  Since he naturally falls short of his goal, he is continually punishing himself for being a failure.                                                                                                                              “The perfectionist is overcompensating for his extreme sense of inferiority.  Since his doubts about his worth are so strong, only perfection can reassure him.  Being very sensitive about his deficiencies, he may become quite defensive if others should allude to them.  Perfectionists tend to run themselves down, but they do not expect others to agree with them.  In fact, it may irritate them if they do.  One of the reasons we run ourselves down is that we hope thereby to move others to build us up.  The perfectionist is seeking reassurance.  Yet verbal reassurance gives only temporary relief.  The real goal-perfection itself-forever eludes him.  Even if he should attain it, it is doubtful if he could accept it.  The perfectionist is a guilty person, and he is driven by this guilt to punish himself.”

[22] Harbaugh, 44; Pastor D, 2.

[23] Pastor E, 6.

[24] James R. Paulgaard, “Survey data 5.04b” [Excel data file], April 2003.  The hindering factor ranked second in the survey actually was “Other misc. hindering factors.”  However because this is not really a proper factor on its own, but rather a sum of minor factors, it was omitted from this top ten list.

[25] “Survey data 2.0.”

[26] “Survey data 5.04.”

[27] “Survey data 5.04.”

[28] James R. Paulgaard, “Survey data 3.05” [Excel data file], April and May 2003.  Not all pastors with low levels of experience are suffering from a lack of wellness.  Among pastors with seven years of experience or less, 13.8% have Very Poor Wellness, 27.6% have Poor Wellness, 37.9% have Moderate Wellness, and 20.7% have Very Good Wellness.  The question of “why some and not others” is an area for further study. Cf. “Survey data 5.04”:  Pastors with Very Poor Wellness are likely to spend more evenings with their family than do pastors on average and they are more likely to be living in parsonages.

[29] Oswald, Clergy Self-care, 30-34.  Scores were summed for the following events that happen in the transition from the seminary to the parish:  Geographical relocation, new job in a new line of work, change of financial state, start or finish of school, change in living conditions, revision of personal habits, change in residence, change in schools, change in recreation, change in social activities, developing of new friendships, Christmas, Easter, and Lent.  The total score for these events was 309 indicating “very serious” stress levels.  If there are additional factors that may occur in such a transition, such as:  Start or stop of spouse’s employment, change in schools, and mortgage or personal loan of less than $50,000, the sum would be 372 indicating “alarming” levels of stress.  And this would be without any stress events within the congregation being included.

[30] Pastor A [pseudo.], interview by author, transcript of tape recording, 20 January 2003, 5; Pastor C, 5.  Cf. Pastor I [pseudo.], interview by author, transcript of tape recording, 23 January 2003, 13-15, regarding how much stress is created when pastors seek to impose their own goals upon a congregation instead of serving to fulfill the goals of the congregation.

[31] Bierly, 138.

[32] Bierly, 139.

[33] Bierly, 139-47.

[34]This concurs with data collected from interviews, for two pastors alluded to or spoke of experiencing burnout early in their ministry:  Pastor A, 5-6, 27-28; Pastor B [pseudo.], interview by author, transcript of tape recording, 20 January 2003, 8-9;

[35] Pastor A, 6, 43-44.

[36] “Survey data 5.04.”

[37] “Survey data 5.04b.”

[38] James R. Paulgaard, “Survey Research-Part A-rel. to modified Wellness score” [Excel data file], April 2003, p. 57.

[39] James R. Paulgaard, “Survey data 3.23” [Excel data file], April 2003.

[40] Pastor A, 2-4, 19-20, 33, 35-37, 40-41, 50; Pastor B, 2, 6-7; Pastor C, 8; Pastor D, 10; Pastor H, 8-9.  Cf. “Survey data 3.23”:  The seven pastors who ranked “being a father” as their top priority average thirty-six years of age.

[41] Robert L. Randall, Pastor and Parish:  The Psychological Core of Ecclesiastical Conflicts (New York:  Human Sciences Press, 1988), 33, 38-40,

[42] Randall, 41-44.  Cf. St. Clair, 143-147.

[43] Randall, 44-46.

[44] Randall, 55-56, 118.  St. Clair, 147-48.

[45] Randall, 57-58, 82-83, 120-121.

[46] Randall, 45-46.


  1. Thank you so much for your post! You really hit the nail on the head with this one. With the economy the way it is right now with all the layoffs and more to come; government spending and deficit out of control; the continued housing slump; one wonders where to turn for help. Thanks so much for the taking the time to post this information.


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