The Journey Blog

Reflections on the art of leading

A Culture of Health - Why Are Church Leaders So Unhealthy?

A recent Fast Company piece praised the work of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “For making health about more than health care,” and for the fact that the foundation has shifted its focus from health care alone to “promot[ing] a ‘culture of health’ aimed at all the elements that affect a person’s well-being, whether it’s poverty, food security, adequate housing, assistance to the elderly, or bike paths in cities.” (The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 In Not-For-Profit).

I was struck immediately with several questions that nag my mind and heart,

Why is the church so often an example of unhealth? Why are church leaders, frequently just as driven, exhausted, and neglectful of their well-being as the people to whom they want to show a better way? Why is the church, which is a sign, foretaste, and instrument of the kingdom of heaven (Van Gelder, 2000)*, anything but a place of well-being, of Shalom, instead of being a living example of it? And—what can be done to change this culture toward the picture of true health in all its dimensions that Jesus intended?

I’m not suggesting that the church will ever be free from brokenness. Christians won’t cease tasting the effects of the brokenness within them and all around them. But I am quite curious as to why the degree of unhealth in the church exists, and why the poor work and life habits of leaders are frequently worn as a badge of honor.

We stepped into doing the work of coaching and mentoring pastoral couples because we believe they are in a crucial place of influence and modeling. Yet we've learned that pastors are part of the highest risk group for stress related illnesses (that's according to the health insurance industry). Recently a shift toward recognizing the need in the evangelical church has begun. As a result the evangelical church is seeking to be better equipped to address it: from the research of the Pastors Summit to the growing number of coaching and care ministries for pastors in evidence that did not exist ten years ago.

Karen and I began to do this work because we’re convinced that change in the way pastors live and work is possible, and even incremental change can make a dramatic difference in communities who are followers of Jesus.

The time is right for church oversight boards to make mentoring and coaching for their leaders a top priority—to foster a new culture of health in the community that should most exemplify it.

* See Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church: A Community Created by the Spirit, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.