Does This Stress Make Me Look Fat?


pastorsAccording to statistics, the stresses of ministry and the demands of congregants competing for our time and complete attention may not only be depleting our emotional and spiritual reserves, it may also be exhausting our physical self-controls.

Offering our bodies as a spiritual act of worship is highlighted in numerous ways throughout Scripture. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Having more body to offer, however, doesn’t increase its sacrifice as a spiritual act of worship.

A recent research study was conducted among a representative sampling of 568 senior pastors of Protestant congregations. The study showed that as a result of the stress and demands of ministry the typical pastor is not in good shape physically. Those polled average under seven hours of sleep a night, are on average more than 30 pounds overweight, regularly skip meals, eat unhealthy foods when they do eat and often suffer from sleeping problems.

In the study, 71% of all ministers admitted to being overweight by an average of 32.1 pounds. One-third of all ministers were overweight by at least 25 pounds, including 15% who were overweight by 50 pounds or more.

According to the study, pastors are not exercising regularly. Only half said they get the recommended minimum, which is 30 minutes of exercise at least three days a week. Of this sampling, 28% indicated they don’t typically get any exercise at all. Fifty-two percent experience physical symptoms of stress at least once a week and nearly one out of four are subjected to these symptoms three or more times a week.[1]

The life of ministry and service can often sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. Scripture reminds us, however, that the pressure we live under is a weight God never intended for us to carry.

Since we live in a culture that values motion as a sign of significance we often assume our ministry pace should also reflect that motion. But from these statistics we see that it is unhealthy and maybe even a little arrogant when we lead ministry as if it is all up to us, as though it wouldn’t get done if we don’t do it, as if our efforts are indispensable to God and as if our entire ministry relationship with Him depended on it.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Matthew 11:28-30 like this, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Let us lay aside every weight…and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.  Hebrews 12:1-2


[1] The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona. The sample of 568 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches. The study was conducted in all 50 states using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.


2 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Milton Ferguson on 27.04.14 at 6:41 pm

    David, very helpful. Thanks. Your insights are right on target. Your approach, as always, is constructive and affirming. The quote from Peterson’s “The Message” reminds us again how powerful the “breath of God” is, moving in and through the witness of His messengers.

    A “silly little story” illustrates the problem of ministerial stress. There once was a pastor in Texas who, in keeping with “the Texas tradition” did everything in a big way.l As his ministry flourished, he, himself, also grew to large proportions. One day, visiting with his own physician, he sought help in understanding and dealing with people addicted to alcohol and tobacco.

    Suddenly, in the middle of their conversation, his doctor, also a good personal friend, said, “Whoa,
    Wait a minute. Are you doing research for a sermon, Preacher?” And, his doctor friend didn’t stop there. “Look,” he told his Pastor, “I’d rather one of my patients use alcohol or tobacco, or both, than to eat like you do!”

    The preacher suddenly had another problem to deal with….anger! Lot’s of it, rising from deep-down, bubbling up from below, old fashioned “righteous” anger. But his friend wasn’t finished. “You see, Pastor, this isn’t your problem alone,” he said. “You have plenty of help. Lot’s of folks in the church help you, especially the ladies,…. like when you take Sunday dinner at their house.”

    “Now, if you were “out running ’round drinking and whooping it up with the boys,” they’d be pushing the deacons to get you fired. But, when you come to their house to eat, they shove a second piece of double-layered chocolate cake at you. ‘Course, you don’t want to hurt their feelings! So, you take it….and eat it –all of it!”. Then, when the word gets around, guess what happens next Sunday.”

    As the preacher told me his story, he said “you know, that doctor really was my friend.. At the time it felt like ‘a blow below the belt’ (pun intended); but, you know what? It probably saved my life, and perhaps even my ministry.” My friend talked on, at length, and explained how that experience was “a kick in the pants” that awakened him to the serious, sometimes tragic, consequences of unrecognized or mishandled stress. It was the “crisis moment” that helped him get started in what became a continuing quest,…. learning how to recognize and handle stress in a redemptive way in one’s life and ministry.

    “Please, God, help me to do the same!”

  2. Posted by David Manner on 27.04.14 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks for the great illustration, Milton. Your responses are always right on point and very helpful to the discussion.

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