News Articles

Ministers, spouses identify personal health concerns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Results of a random sampling of Southern Baptist ministers and their spouses have shown four top personal health concerns of weight, stressful lifestyle, lack of exercise and cancer.
The responses came from a survey mailed to 5,000 randomly selected ministers and their spouses in February. The study was sponsored by the SBC Sunday School Board’s LeaderCare staff in cooperation with the Annuity Board, according to Tommy Yessick, wellness specialist for LeaderCare at the Sunday School Board.
LeaderCare is a strategy to meet the personal development needs of pastors, church staff and their families. The Annuity Board provides health and life insurance for SBC ministers and their families.
The survey was designed by the LeaderCare staff with input from an advisory board including pastors, laypersons, state convention staff, college and seminary personnel, national SBC agency staff, physicians and wellness experts. Results were compiled by an independent survey analysis firm to assure confidentiality and anonymity.
Questions related to participants’ personal health concerns and current level of wellness, as well as preferences and needs for health and wellness resources. Responses from 1,119 ministers and 1,000 spouses will be used by the Sunday School Board and the Annuity Board to address the wants and needs of ministers and their families.
Concerns related to weight validate similar findings from a 1997 pilot project that included a random survey among church staff and their spouses, as well as a separate health questionnaire completed by persons attending the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention. At that time reports of eating habits leading to excessive weight gain was of significant concern to both agencies.
Concurrent with tabulation of 1998 survey results was the release of a report from Purdue University indicating Southern Baptists in the South are most likely to be obese, compared to persons of other denominational or religious affiliations.
“Workload and finances were the ministers’ most common stress sources, while spouses most often cited finances and finding time to spend with the minister spouse,” Yessick said. “Responses indicated ministers and spouses most often turn to each other for help in changing a health habit.”
Common themes among verbatim comments provided in survey responses included requests that the denomination:
— communicate the wellness needs of ministers and their families to churches.
— help provide better or less expensive medical insurance.
— encourage uninterrupted vacations or family time for ministers.
— provide support for bivocational ministers.
— provide counseling opportunities or an accountability program related to health issues.
Among respondents, one in five indicated they do not exercise at all. Most ministers (56 percent) and spouses (43 percent) consider themselves to be active and generally exercise at home. Younger ministers were more likely than older ministers to report they do not exercise. Yessick said responses also raise concerns that ministers may equate busyness with exercise, thinking, for example, that numerous “trips” through the church facility constitute exercise.
Both ministers and spouses indicated they are most interested in personal well-being and physical activity/exercise. Spouses were much more interested in nutrition than were ministers.
Stress management was a topic of interest to ministers and spouses alike, as was help with healthful eating on the run. Spouses also exhibited strong interest in healthy cooking, women’s health, weight management and lifestyle physical activity.
Full-time ministers demonstrated much more interest in most programs than did bivocational ministers. Younger ministers were more interested than older ministers.
Of the health screening options rated, ministers were clearly most interested in prostate screening (69 percent) and cholesterol screening (64 percent), while spouses were most interested in breast cancer screening (74 percent).
As with other categories, younger ministers and full-time ministers were more interested in such programs than bivocational or older ministers. Overall, only one in four respondents expressed interest in attending a seminar on wellness issues.
While findings in the area of personal health and lifestyle habits indicate ministers (30 percent) and spouses (40 percent) take medications that affect their mood or help them relax or induce sleep, half reported taking such medications only “rarely.”
Being a full-time staff member, having a larger church staff and serving a larger-membership church appeared to be stronger indicators of higher stress. Satisfaction with compensation seemed to relate directly to almost every type of stress. However, the data indicated a high satisfaction with staff positions despite low satisfaction with compensation.
Yessick said, “This seems to indicate that a strength of call to ministry provides positive results in enduring stress, but is not proving to be adequate for the long haul.”
Overall, ministers indicated having strong family ties but would like stronger social ties with friends. Yessick said this supports findings from a 1991 study by the Fuller Institute of Santa Barbara, Calif., which indicated that 70 percent of ministers do not have even one close friend.
Among the many comments on returned survey forms was an observation on ministry lifestyle which Yessick believes may serve all ministers and spouses in maintaining wellness:
“I have learned that God has not made us responsible for the whole world. I am part of his plan; I am not his plan. I spend time with him, my family and myself. He is blessing my ministry, and the work gets done.”
Yessick said the survey results and respondent comments will directly influence the content and methods of providing wellness resources for ministers and spouses. Persons interested in information on LeaderCare Wellness may contact Yessick at (615) 251-3846 or by writing to LeaderCare, 127 Ninth Ave.,N., Nashville, TN 37234-0166.

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis