In Theory: Reflecting on stress facing religious leaders

May 04, 2011

Q. Stress among clergy is a little-noticed but growing problem in the U.S. According to reports, priests and pastors suffer from rates of obesity, diabetes, depression and hypertension at greater levels than the average American, as well as higher usage of antidepressants.

Part of the blame for this is being put on the pressure to be successful, such as increasing congregation size, dealing with, and increasing, church finances, and general administration. Studies have also found that clergy don't — or feel they can't — take vacations because of the pressures and duties that come with their role. Rich Teeters, a veteran pastor and speaker who currently serves at Renaissance Church, a non-denominational congregation in Summit, N.J., said, “People's deaths and serious illnesses and troubles and marital problems — they don't take vacations.” Teeters has cancelled, or cut short, his own vacations to conduct funerals or help congregants in distress.

Clergy can also find themselves isolated within their own congregations, with one pastor saying, “Clergy have been seen as either superhuman who needed no friends, or subhuman who could exist without them — but certainly not human.” Many have cited the need to be available 24/7 as reasons for not only stress, but also for cutting down on their time to prepare sermons and deal with day-to-day administration. To research stress among clergy, Duke Divinity School is conducting a Clergy Health Initiative, a seven-year, $12-million program designed to improve the health of pastors by putting their wellbeing first.


Do you find the demands of your roles stressful? If so, how do you cope?

Top 10 reasons for clergy stress:

1. Being a religious leader in a post-religious era: It’s demoralizing.

2. Being held personally accountable for the decline in church attendance (not the end of the Baby Boom, or the post-religious trend, but our lack of charisma).

3. Dwindling resources of money and constant stress about fundraising.

4. Loneliness and pressure from inadequate staffing.

5. Having your source of spiritual renewal become your job. Part one: You either have no source of renewal, or you find one that isn’t church.

6. Part two: The hypocrisy of teaching others a source of renewal which no longer renews you.

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