Faithful and Fractured is written by Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, PhD, and Jason Byassee, PhD. Ray Jean is a researcher at Duke University and Jason is the senior pastor of Boone United Methodist Church in Boone, NC.
This book answers the question, ‘Why are pastors in such poor health, and what can be done about it?’ The contents include the rationale for and outcomes of the multi-year Duke Clergy Health Initiative conducted by the Duke Divinity School.
My bottom line on the book – if individuals in a church or a denomination are concerned about the health of their pastor(s) this book offers excellent insight and sound recommendations!
Background. Beginning in 2008, staff of the Clergy Health Initiative conducted surveys of over 1100 active North Carolina United Methodist clergy to assess their mental, physical, and spiritual health. The findings from these surveys, combined with insights from pastors who participated in focus groups, provided a compelling view into the state of pastors’ well-being. These results were used to provide a holistic program, Spirited Life, to impact on their health status.
Although this book is about what the authors learned about United Methodist clergy health, it can benefit clergy across all denominations.
The authors write:
“There is a true crises in clergy physical health. We believe it stems from the stressors pastors face today and the expectations other people have of pastors, paired with pastor’s expectations of themselves. In this book, we look at what it means to be called to holy work and how the deep sense that your work is sacred makes you more likely to sacrifice – even if unconsciously – your well-being. We also look at the external expectations. It is the combination of the two that sets the stage, for some clergy at least, for depression and stress.”
So, a big part of this book is explaining about the various stressors that pastors have to contend with and the suggested solutions on how to manage those stressors. Rae Jean and Jason do an excellent job of capturing the results of their research and sharing it in a way that is digestible and applicable. They also do a great job of explaining the physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual impact of poorly managed stress.
Following are some excerpts from the book that I found particularly noteworthy:
- “When we ran a health intervention for clergy, we found that clergy needed to be given permission to take care of themselves over and over again.”
- “The high rate of obesity among clergy is taking a toll on– And truly fracturing – their physical health.”
- “So United Methodist clergy in North Carolina have serious health problems. What about clergy of other denominations and in other areas of the country? There are a few studies of clergy physical health, but they all point in the same direction. So, unfortunately for United Methodist pastors, clergy obesity is not isolated to North Carolina.”
- “Data from multiple sources, denominations, and geographic areas all point to a serious physical health problem for clergy: obesity.”
- “Proper care for our bodies requires as much attention as care for our souls. If we are indeed as physically unhealthy as the Duke Clergy Health initiative has shown, then there is a hole in our gospel. It’s one of many holes. We’ve been blind concerning race. We’ve been silent about economic injustice. We’ve neglected our own scriptures and their demand to care for the poor and love God’s creation. So add personal health to the list.”
On page 97 of the book, the authors share a list of 10 suggestions that pastors in their Spirited Life intervention provided them. These are very applicable and practical recommendations on how a pastor can care for his/her own health.
My favorite part of the book is Chapter 7, Clergy Flourishing. This chapter includes the formal recommendations from the authors. As much as I’d like to recapture each of those recommendations here, I’ll refrain as I want you to read the book for yourself and to glean your own insight.
The chapter starts with this quote from an interview with a flourishing pastor:
“I think that expectations, yours and theirs, are crucial to overall clergy health… they’re crucial to maintain a close relationship with God, because after everybody else is mad at you and abandoned you – even your own family – God is not going to, so you’ve always got… to keep that relationship nourished. That’s really important. And take care of yourself because, as a caretaker, you cannot take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself.”
Here are just a few of the important recommendations that are listed: Foster supportive relationships. Be authentic in doing your work with God. Set and maintain healthy boundaries. Set realistic expectations. Engage in healthy behaviors.
The chapter ends with great suggestions on what individual parishioners can do to support the mental health of clergy as well as what steps denominational officials can take to promote flourishing of the pastors they oversee.
Constructive Criticism. If a second edition were ever to be printed, I’d like to see Chapter 7 formatted a little differently to better delineate and highlight the various recommendations that are offered. And page 145 refers to Table 7.5 however there is no table as such. Instead, the book contains paragraph headings for different groupings of clergy that were interviewed and relevant content in the respective paragraphs.
The book is chock full of great information and recommendations that are relevant to clergy health and flourishing.
My advise to clergy is this. Purchase a handful of these books. Read one yourself, and give a few to key people in your church/ministry and to one of your closest and supportive friends. After you all read it, host a meal to talk about what you each can do to support your personal whole-person health.
And make it a healthy meal!
If you desire to purchase multiple copies of the book, a discount is available through the publisher – Faithful and Fractured, Responding to the Clergy Health Crisis
Clergy and Pastor Health Initiative in Charlotte, NC
I have partnered with MissionFit Ministry to deliver wellness programming to pastors and church leaders in the Charlotte, NC area. Read more about how we are integrating spiritual fitness into a total wellness package for program participants at the link I’ve provided.