How Happy, Healthy Church Workers Lead to Healthier Ministries
Church worker wellness has become an increasingly hot topic. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) listed worker wellness at No. 5 in Mission Priorities: Promote and nurture the spiritual, emotional, financial, and physical well-being of pastors and professional church workers. Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) has also adopted a goal to incorporate worker wellness into our work to assist the Church in providing workers who are healthy spiritually, emotionally, financially, mentally and physically. Healthy workers are better equipped to lead healthy ministries, and together healthy workers and healthy ministries make healthy financial decisions.
Church worker wellbeing has always been at the heart of the LCMS. Even Martin Luther struggled with bouts of depression in his ministry. Many church workers can relate. While the pressures of ministry are certainly different today, they are not new.
C.F.W. Walther, who did so much to shape the LCMS, understood very personally, the pressures of ministry. He was a powerful preacher, an apt administrator and a devoted theologian who worked relentlessly to serve our Lord. From outward appearances, he had it all together. All his hard work took a toll. By 1859, the stresses of ministry almost overtook him, resulting in a nervous breakdown.
Out of loving concern, His congregation sent him on sabbatical to Germany to get needed rest. Rejuvenated, Walther returned to ministry with renewed vitality and vision. The challenges of Walther’s ministry had not changed, but after resting he was more equipped to handle them. Rest and self-care helped Walther return to ministry with vitality, though he continued to struggle at times.
Dr. Christoph Barnbrock, professor of Practical Theology at Lutherische Theologische Hochschule in Oberursel, Germany, wrote, “When Walther passed away in the spring of 1887, his Synod and the Seminary he had served for so long had experienced an incredible growth. And yet throughout his lifetime he had been burdened by his perceived inabilities, a perception that remained a faithful companion to him: suffering from his ‘very small, extremely limited knowledge’ and feeling ‘as if I were not a worker but a stumbling stone in His vineyard, which He must finally cast aside.”‘ Many church workers share Walther’s angst.
The inability to handle ministry stress occurs when workers fail to care for needs properly. Ministry stresses have accelerated in recent years. Church workers are busier than ever, and it is easy to neglect self-care. Whether it is spiritual self-care, physical exercise, nutrition or relationships, these stresses are real. There are solutions. Grace Place Wellness is your ministry partner through LCEF. The goal is to provide care for church workers and see church workers find renewed joy and vitality in ministry.
Local ministries have an important role to play. No church wants to be served by a “mediocre” pastor, director of Christian education, deaconess or any church worker. Church workers of excellence exist with proper nurture and care. No school wants faculty members to simply go through the motions. Vibrant educators who are receiving care love what they do and serve with joy. In many places this already exists, others struggle because of “unintentional unintentionality.” Ministries may not purposely neglect care for workers, but over time it can happen. If a ministry is not intentional about care, it risks becoming unintentionally uncaring.
Ministries with plans to intentionally care for workers are much better equipped to encourage and support them, leading to happier and healthier ministries. As church workers and ministries recognize a growing sense of partnership, God continues to do marvelous things, both in the local ministry, but also for their witness in the larger community. This is what Walther, and his multiple ministries experienced as genuine care and concern was expressed, received and lived out. It’s part of the history of who we are as Lutherans.
As we celebrate our 175th anniversary, what a great time to recapture a focus on intentionally caring for church workers. It’s putting into practice what Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34).” In His love, first received and then shared, we all find joy and vitality. In Him, we not only find full forgiveness, but also true wellness!