Rev. Rick Underwood, Ph.D., LPC, MHSP, SATP
I was boarding a Southwest flight when I noticed a father and his young son in the line just ahead of me. When we boarded the plane, they sat in a row on the left side of the plane. I sat one row behind them on the right in the aisle seat. The father sat absorbed in his magazine, while his young son was excitedly taking in his new adventure watching the movement of the plane as we taxied down the runway. I was traveling from Nashville, Tennessee, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for a speaking event. As I sat reviewing my notes, I heard an exchange between the father and son that caught my attention. “Diddy, are you scared? No son, I am not scared,” the father replied. When the plane’s engines throttled up, pulling the weight of the plane filled with passengers and luggage, one honest little boy said, “Diddy, you need to hold on so you can hold me.”
In his letter to the saints in Ephesus, Paul exclaimed, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” (Ephesians 3:16).
As pastors, teachers, mothers, and fathers in these times, we find that there are people in our lives that are concerned, unsure of the future, fatigued, and even frightened. They are expecting, hoping, and asking us to hold on to the truth of God’s promise of strength.
Sometimes the challenges, joys, and culture of ministry tends to guide clergy to rely on their own strength. I walk along the journey of life with pastors, and I am aware that time, expectations, and fear often hinders pastors from taking assessment of their inner being. By God’s design, there are several aspects of self: spiritual self, physical self, and emotional self. Living in the balance of these supports the overall well-being of self.
Research supports numerous factors of ministry that need to be addressed in the support of overall well-being. Vocational ministry can contribute to personal isolation. It is true that the pastor is often with groups of people, and yet they often state they have very few close friendships with whom they can share their concerns and request accountability. The role of the pastor is often packed with requests for time to shoulder the concerns of others within the local church and the community. While few requirements of the role of clergy include physical activity, it can be a sedentary occupation for many. Clergy needs to allow themselves the time, energy, and commitment to physical health. National studies reveal that clergy have a higher rate of chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, and heart diseases than the general population. I believe most readers would agree the role of clergy contributes to emotional stress elevated by expectations of self. Studies reveal that in the United States, clergy suffer from some form of depression at 8.7% compared to 5.5% of the United States population. What might be the cause of these rates? Some may be contributed to the higher average age of clergy in the study, the presence of congregational conflict, unrealistic clergy expectations about ministry, excessive demands of congregants, and serving the first-line support of life circumstances, (illness, death, financial losses).
Positive information of the research revealed that two-thirds of clergy reported being happy, fulfilled, satisfied with their lives, and filled with warm, trusting relationships, compared to half of the population of the United States. Pastors are resilient and can “bounce back” from the stress, expectations, and demands. Pastors often share that positive spiritual renewal is enhanced by an encouraging call or time spent with fellow pastors, Sabbatical, and family time. When pastors can find more ways to spend time on the joyful aspects of ministry, there is greater overall satisfaction in ministry.
Please consider these brief questions and thoughts for yourself:
- What brings me the greatest joy in my current ministry context or leadership role?
- Do I take the time God expects of me to examine my overall sense of well-being?
- Are there fellow ministers that God is bringing to my mind that would benefit from my encouragement?
- How do you assess your sense of physical, emotional, and spiritual self?
As a fellow clergy and mental health therapist, I am grateful for the increased emphasis on the overall well-being of God’s servants. We are focused on the “Person of the Pastor” to be able to “hold on” to rely on God’s strength, power, wisdom, and grace.
Rev. Rick Underwood
Rev. Rick Underwood, Ph.D., LPC/MHSP/SATP, founder of the Center for Pastoral Health at Trevecca Nazarene University.
Rick and his wife Donna are EAGALA certified in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Rick is an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene. Rick and Donna served as youth and university pastors for 25 years. Rick’s unique perspective of youth and university ministries, along with formal clinical experience, enables him to serve individuals and families and as a resource speaking at special events. Rick practices in Brentwood and Nolensville, TN, specializing in clergy families, adolescents, men’s issues, and compulsive sexual behaviors. Rick and Donna have three adult children and six grandchildren. Rick enjoys spending time with his family and working with his horses. Contact Dr. Underwood’s office at www.rucounseling.com or 615-415-8636.