CREDO and clergy wellness

A letter from Herb Gunn, director of communication for CREDO, an Episcopal wellness project for church leaders. He reflects on the current news about clergy and congregations and stress:

Ten days ago, New York Times religion writer Paul Vitello launched a story (“Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work,” August 2) that raised a range of important questions on clergy wellness. His conclusions that self-care, sabbatical rest, and time for re-creation help church leaders lean into the rising levels of stress, depression, and fatigue are spot-on, and he footnoted the Episcopal Church’s health and wellness efforts in his recipe for renewal.

A week later, Jeffrey MacDonald opined in the Times (“Congregations Gone Wild,” August 8) on the same clergy propensity for spiritual burnout, yet his conclusions shifted the debate and the despair that fuels it in a different direction. MacDonald nods to “several new studies” on clergy burnout, but offers seemingly anecdotal evidence that both demeans the laity and renders the clergy as the “spiritual equivalents of concierges.”

We beg to differ.

CREDO Institute Inc., an affiliate of the Church Pension Group, has gathered and addressed relevant data in 12 years of conducting research and hosting more than 200 conferences on wellness in the Episcopal Church.

Through analysis of the Clergy Wellness Report (2006) and the initial findings of the Emotional Health of Clergy Report (2010), we have observed that there may be more to the issue of clergy stress than fickleness of congregations and the cultural pressures of increased consumerism among churchgoers.

This research points to an interesting conclusion—that differs slightly from the research Vitello noted. The only major lifestyle factor for which Episcopal clergy are at greater risk than the larger population is stress. Yet remarkably, work-related stress, which frequently leads the general population to employment dissatisfaction, job loss, or job change, exists alongside notably lower turnover intent for Episcopal clergy. Compared to the general population, Episcopal clergy report significant levels of well-being, self-efficacy, and finding meaning in one’s work.

In short, the clergy that have been the focus of extensive CREDO research reflect higher negative emotions about work (mainly due to stress), but ironically, also higher positive emotions about work when contrasted to the general population. The transformational difference in navigating the currents of their vocational commitments, we are led to believe, relies more on the clergy person’s ability for self-appraisal and a commitment to personal wellness and less on brooding that parishioners see him or her in a different light.

G. Herbert Gunn
Director of Communication

CREDO Institute, Inc.
266 S. Front St., Suite 204
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 275-3019
Fax: (901) 275-3119

Comments (3)

In addition to CREDO’s excellent work in this area, the Lilly Endowment has just concluded research on the influence of clergy peer groups. These groups have the potential to transform ministries by providing a place to explore new ideas and trouble-shoot problems. Evaluators found that clergy who participated in peer groups were more likely to promote a “culture of involvement” in their congregations that includes members in leadership. That can go a long way in counteracting burnout. More information about the study can be found at this link:

I'm glad for this bit of data refuting the anecdotal editorial of Sunday. In his editorial, Jeffrey MacDonald suggested that people preferring milk to meat is somehow new. Didn't Paul have something to say about that? He also ignored the anecdotal evidence that some people stopped following Jesus when His words got too hard for them. Or maybe there were consumer-culture-driven Americans in the first century.

CREDO received mention in a recent survey by The Lead. Results here,

The question being addressed is here,

The survey remains open.

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