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Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands

Submitted by on February 2, 2012 – 11:10 am2 Comments

When I joined the LCMS International Center in 1991 as the synod’s first Director of Ministerial Health/Health and Healing Ministries, the intention of the new position was to strategize about, implement initiatives toward, and advocate for health and wellbeing for church workers.

That’s what I began to do, assisted by a number of wonderful folks in districts (we trained church worker health advocates for each district), parish nurses, counselors, and other health professionals. There was a certain eagerness to attend to health issues. Who could not be “for” the strengthening of the workers of the church, their spouses (if they were married), and their families (if there were children)?

At the beginning, the primary audience was the church worker him/herself. The principle question: how to help workers of the church take their health (and that of their spouses and families) more seriously in preventive and wellness ways and then to implement actions that would support their health. Who could not be “for” doing this? So also the pressure was on the worker to be healthier.

What I initially failed to realize was that there was an important additional variable, not as easily directly addressed: congregational, school, and institutional personnel policies and attitudes.

For instance, we could encourage the worker of the church to be a life-long learner and participate in continuing education, but if the school or congregation had neither money nor non-vacation time for such education, the worker was placed in quite a pickle. The pressure was on to do continuing education, but the resources were not provided to do so. Teachers were in a bit of a stronger position than pastors, DCEs, DCOs and deaconesses because they were required to do continuing education to keep their license.

In short, without institutional support our health advocacy was putting more expectation on the worker without corresponding support available. Clearly more was needed than simply understanding the need of the worker and holding up to the worker pictures of what a healthy worker should be doing.

Thus emerged the book Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand (CPH 2011). The target audience: the lay leaders of our congregations, schools, and other institutions. While I hope workers of the church also read it, I really hope our lay leaders read it, discuss it, and use it to strategize and implement church worker health and wellbeing. As a short-term goal, I hope our district presidents will have all call committees that want one of our seminaries’ graduates in 2012 read the book and then begin, even before their new graduate arrives, to plan for and implement the support of their new worker (and others if there is a larger staff).

There are no one-time cure-alls for church worker wellness. It is an ongoing process. This is the next step.

2 Comments »

  • Jeff Kloha says:

    Thanks, Bruce. I was struck by your comment that teachers are “required to do continuing education to keep their license.” Presumably that is a state requirement, but I’m assuming that were a teacher to lose his or her state certification they would no longer be able to hold a call?

    Still — I’ve never understood why some kind of continuing process of “licensing” or “certification” was never developed by the LCMS also for its pastors, built into the call documents and congregational budgets as a “given.” Pastors seem to view all this as “optional” for themselves, and most congregations given a financial pinch would conclude the same. I hope that your book will help to change a few minds.

    • Bruce Hartung says:

      Without going into the requirement of continuing education (although I do support that), I think the basic relationship needed is parish leadership–church worker in the identification of and planning for continuing education work. In the nineties (ah, back in the day) when we on the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support researched what congregations were actually doing, we discovered that less than 25% of our congregations had money and non-vacation time set aside for continuing education for their clergy. By the early 2000s we were over 40%. So there was some change evident. I think part of this change is a result of joint planning. If a congregation and a pastor agree on continuing education that is both good for and interesting to the pastor and also consistent with the on-the-ground needs of the congregation more support becomes evident. The members and leaders of the congregation can see the evidence of the continuing education.

      Jeff, thanks for your response.

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