Staying Fit: We should celebrate efforts of clergy to be healthy
The United Methodist Church has made a big push in the last few years for better health and fitness for its clergy, with Healthmiles and other incentives, in order to have pastors enjoy longer ministries and to lower insurance rates. This has come in response to more and more pastors getting high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and other lifestyle-influenced health concerns.
The bishop of this conference models a commitment to self-care and fitness by exercising regularly each week and has led efforts for other clergy to step into healthy living. Yet we have pastors burning out early because of health issues. Our insurance rates go up, in no small part due to the unhealthy habits. Even when pastors can receive money simply for taking so many steps per day, via Health Miles, we still have hundreds who do not participate.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that physical training is of some value. One fourth of the Great Commandment involves loving God with our bodies, our strength. Twenty-five percent of how we are to love the Almighty involves our physical being, so you would think that exercise and healthy living would be important to most folks. Imagine my surprise when a pastor I know was informed that his Staff-Parish Relations Committee thought he engaged in fitness and self-care too much. But they did not relay that message directly—they said it to his district superintendent as part of evaluation.
So when a pastor takes positive steps to be healthy and increase longevity in ministry by exercising four to five hours a week, does the SPRC commend those efforts and celebrate, especially given the importance the denomination is focusing on?
No, they chastise him to his supervisor, and call into question his commitment to ministry. How sad. I felt so bad for my friend because he was trying to do the right thing for his health and ministry, and to model it for others, and he gets pushed down for it. We really should be better than that.
If you are a layperson, please love your pastor(s) enough to encourage and support their efforts toward healthy living. All of the positive benefits to exercise and healthy living are too many to number, but we shouldn’t expect pastors to slowly kill themselves with bad health habits and call that “committed ministry.” Theologically, biblically, and denominationally, it’s wrong.
If you are a pastor or clergy person, how are your health habits? What does your annual physical tell you? Do you take an annual physical to find out? Are you being supported in your quest for healthy living, exercise, and productive ministry? What positive steps can you take this year to live a more healthy life?
How can you (congregation or pastor) be of help to someone in your life (spouse, pastor, friend) in their pursuit of better living, increased health, implementation of a fitness routine, or healthy habits? Let’s try to work together for better health! It’s good for the cause of Christ, for the church and for each individual person.
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