How healthy are our ministers? We asked them a variety of questions to determine various aspects of their health. This post reports the findings on their physical and mental health of our ministers and how this relates to and impacts other areas of their overall health (relational, spiritual, ministerial, etc).

Physical Health

How long has it been since you have seen a doctor?

  • Average time = 25 months
  • Max = 12 years
  • 27% reported being over 12 months since last visit

When asked about their satisfaction with their physical health we found just over one third were satisfied to very satisfied, while the remaining 58% were neutral to very unsatisfied. Here is the breakdown on satisfaction with overall physical health:

  • Very satisfied – 6%
  • Satisfied – 30%
  • Neutral – 21%
  • Unsatisfied – 37%
  • Very unsatisfied – 7%

Diet had nearly identical results (which also correlated very highly) with physical health.

  • Very satisfied – 5%
  • Satisfied – 28%
  • Neutral – 25%
  • Unsatisfied – 37%
  • Very unsatisfied – 3%

There were statistically significant correlations between health and diet satisfaction as well as satisfaction with health and stress levels (the more stress, the less satisfaction with physical health).

How much exercise do our ministers report getting per month?

  • 47% reported 10 hours or less per month.
  • 10% reported never exercising

How much sleep are our ministers getting? They are averaging just under 7 hours of sleep per night. The national average hovers just below 8 hours. Ministers rated the quality of their sleep at 71.92 on average on a 100 point scale.

There is a variable that is related to how much sleep ministers are getting as well as the quality of their sleep that I am going to spend quite a bit more time on later in the results and that is whether or not ministers have considered leaving ministry. Just to give you an idea, there are different times of variable that are required to run different statistics. One of the most helpful statistics is called “Analysis of Variance” (ANOVA). It takes two distinct groups, in this case those who have considered leaving ministry and those who have not (the independent and dichotomous variable), and compares differences in their means/averages. If the means are consistently different, then the ANOVA is able to determine that those two groups truly differ on a given variable (called the dependent variable) with a certain level of confidence (say, 95% confident that the differences are not just random variations in the data).

So here are the numbers:

  • ANOVA showed a statistical difference between those who have considered leaving ministry and those who have not in the number of hours of sleep they report (for those who know stats, F= 5.073, significance = .026) and quality of sleep (F = 8.152, sig = .005).
  • Here is what that means. Those who have considered leaving ministry report getting less sleep and worse quality of sleep at night than those who have never considered leaving ministry.
  • The groups (those who have considered and those who have not considered leaving ministry) vary in a statistically significant way (means probably not just randomly occurring in the data) on these two variable.

This doesn’t mean that getting more sleep will make you less likely to consider leaving ministry but it does give us information to ask why it is that these two groups differ in the ways that they do. I am going to dig into this quite a bit further in the posts that follow.

Mental Health

We asked a number of questions about participant’s mental health, especially as it pertains to ministry’s impact on mental health.

The good news is, 82% reported being Satisfied or Very Satisfied about the current state of their mental health.

34% reported having mental health issues they believed were a result of ministry.

Anxiety
52% have experienced significant levels of anxiety as a result of ministry with 31% of those who have reported experiencing significant, ministry related anxiety being within the last month. 73% of those who have experienced this report it being within the last year. The average time since last anxiety among those who endorsed experiencing ministry-related anxiety was 30 months ago.

Depression

34% reported significant levels of depression they believed were ministry related with 21% of those being in the last month and 52% in the last year.

Anxiety and depression were highly correlated (Pierson = .807, significance = .000)

Satisfaction with mental health correlated negatively with time since last ministry related anxiety (so the better satisfied with your mental health, the longer since the last anxiety – P = -.344, sig = .007)

Mental health satisfaction correlated with marital satisfaction (p = .376, sig = .000)

Stress

We gave participants a sliding stress scale from 0 to 100. The average was 46.

Stress correlated with a number of things:

  • Correlated with health satisfaction (the higher the stress the less satisfied with physical health)
  • Correlated with hours spent per week in ministry (higher stress, higher hours)
  • Correlated with relationship with elders (higher stress, more negative elder relationships)
  • Correlated with balance of ministry responsibilities (higher stress, less balanced)
  • Correlated with satisfaction with one’s relationship with God (higher stress, less satisfied)

Conclusion:

We find almost a bell curve distribution on satisfaction with physical health and diet with most responses around the neutral mark and very few who were either very satisfied or very unsatisfied. Both measures leaned negative. I would be curious to see how this compares to a similar question being asked of a broader, more general population of people in general (especially middle aged men, as that is mostly who was in the study). We also find ministers getting less sleep than average and while not reporting high levels of stress on average, still showing us that stress is related to a number of factors (via correlation) that we should pay attention to -particularly that stress and satisfaction with health, elders, balance and even relationship with God are significant. This does not necessarily mean that decreasing stress will automatically fix any of these things but it does show there is a relationship.

We see that ministers report overall being pretty positive on their mental health until you get more specific. Once you get more specific, we have some real issues to come to grips with. When over half of ministers report significant anxiety as a direct result of ministry, that is a real issue that must be addressed. When one third of those report its incidence within the last month and the vast majority within the last year, that is troublesome. Our ministers need support. They need to be encouraged to take care of their mental health, see a counselor when needed, and to not attach any stigma to them for being human.

Remember, what they are reporting is not anxiety and depression in general but specifically from ministry. This is one area where our findings diverged from Barna’s but for a reason that makes sense. Barna’s recent State of the Pastor’s study found a higher incidence of anxiety and depression but they were asking in general, not as it only pertains to ministry. It would make sense that asking the question generally would yield a higher incidence than asking about anxiety and depression as a direct result of ministry.

These findings remind us that ministers are whole people with a whole range of interconnected health issues. They remind us of the complexities of what it means to be human and how various aspects of our health interlock and interrelate with one another. If we are going to help ministers be healthier, then we need to focus on the whole person. This will become more and more evident as we share more results.