Church Worker Wellness

By Dick Koehneke

The leadership of  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is reaching out to church workers and their spouses to find out what kind of help they need most.  In 2016 the synodical convention passed five resolutions to address worker wellness.  A large survey was conducted in 2017 among ordained and commissioned ministers and their spouses.  Results of the survey were published in 2018.

There is good news to report.  Church workers overwhelmingly (85%) said that they are satisfied in their current call.  Some 75% say that their passion for ministry has increased since they started in their current call, and 88% say that their gifts and abilities are well suited for their responsibilities.  But the survey responses revealed some signs of difficulty.    

Earlier this year 45 online focus groups involving 380 workers discussed their most pressing needs.  The signs of difficulty that appeared in the survey were expressed more fully in the focus groups.  These groups included commissioned and ordained ministers, international missionaries, and spouses. 

Nine key needs were expressed repeatedly in the focus groups

  1. A change in the culture of Synod

We need to foster a culture of cooperation and support, not competing and comparing.  Workers should be able to admit weaknesses and ask for help without feeling ashamed for doing so. 

  1. Care provided at the local level

There is a need for care and support that is easily accessible, whether that’s from fellow workers or professional providers.  Workers need someone who walks alongside and understands.

  1. Relationships more than programs

Programs come and go, but relationships endure.  Some programs do address relational needs (for example, DOXOLOGY, PALS for new pastors, Grace Place, and the offerings of Concordia Plan Services) and they are appreciated. 

  1. Non-reporting caregivers

Workers need to know that their ministry won’t be jeopardized if they admit a need.  They suggested the idea of a “worker chaplain” who discusses issues with them without reporting to the district president.

  1. Recognition and connection

Church work can be a very lonely calling.  Spouses of church workers may feel even lonelier than the worker does.  Friendships can be difficult to develop.  Commissioned workers often feel that they are less appreciated and recognized than the pastors are.

  1. Healthy churches, schools, and ministries

A worker’s well-being affects the health of the ministry he or she is serving, and the health of the ministry affects the well-being of the worker.  Sometimes there are unrealistic expectations and a tendency to blame the workers for the problems of the church, school, or other ministry.

  1. Communication, awareness, and advocacy

The members of the congregation – certainly the lay leaders – need to be aware of the needs of their workers and be equipped with resources to help address those needs.  The workers’ self-care needs to be encouraged and supported if it is to be durable and effective. 

  1. Financial assistance

Many workers are in mathematically impossible situations, and they are not able to change those situations themselves.  In most cases they cannot “take on more hours” or get a second job.  As the costs of health care continue to rise and workers pay more and more of those costs, the situation worsens.  Student debt intensifies the problem.   

  1. Be reminded of their identity in Christ

Because they are so dedicated and committed, many workers equate their worth with their work.  They need regular time away from their work in order to be refreshed and renewed.  They need to be reminded that they are precious to God not because of their performance but because of God’s love, grace and forgiveness in Christ.  This is a message that they gladly share with others but sometimes do not hear for themselves.

Here are my personal observations

I recently attended a three-day meeting of the Ministerial Care Coalition of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  This group is made up of representatives from the districts of the LC-MS.  We discussed all nine of the concerns expressed above.  We learned or were reminded that many good things are happening in districts and synod.  Many good ideas were expressed for future action at the levels of synod, districts, and local congregations – often in conjunction and cooperation with one another.

I want to express deep appreciation for Concordia Plan Services and the Office of National Mission of the LC-MS.  Both groups were represented at the conference by people in leadership.  There is a strong commitment to moving forward together in support of the well-being of our workers. 

Our workers are doing great and important work in the service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We’re in this together.  When the Body of Christ is healthy, amazing things happen as God works through His people.  For good reasons, I am thankful.  For good reasons, I am hopeful.         

P.S.  Check out the new church worker wellness web page on the LC-MS website.  I think you’ll like what you see: www.lcms.org/wellness