With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Following are two separate readers’ comments and two others’ questions.
Comment: I know that you have championed whole-person and health promotion for our church workers for a number of years. My story could be summarized as wanting to do more of the healthy things I ought to do, i.e., exercising, dieting, but I have little time or energy for it. I am a [director of Christian education]. My church is in a financial crunch and is reducing some staff. More is placed on me to do. This crowds out my extra time to do more healthy things. In a way, your emphasis makes it worse. I hear that I am supposed to do things that I don’t have time or money for and my church doesn’t make it any easier. Then I feel bad for not doing it. It is a catch-22. Maybe you should stop championing this stuff to us individual church workers until churches catch on and support it.
Q: Sometimes good news happens and is to be shared. My congregation decided to offer each of our staff a complimentary membership in a health club, provided [we] would use it and report back what [we] were doing. Led by our parish nurse, our congregation has been studying a lot about holistic heath. We formed a health cabinet that helps this work in our midst. But out of this came a desire to be more helpful with our staff. This is why we are offering this. I like this. Is this common in our churches?
Q: Have you ever heard of a church having money in their budget for continuing education but then having the pastor have to use vacation time to spend it, except for the official pastoral conferences? Does this not seem counterproductive to you?
Comment: The Concordia Health Plan is offering wonderful incentives to its members to do more healthy things, such as attending a retreat, taking a health-risk appraisal, exercising regularly. This is great. Maybe our congregations also would get behind this and even offer similar incentives.
All of these reader responses point to at least one common theme: promoting health and wellness behavior needs to have strong institutional (such as congregational, district and other organizational) support.
One of the readers is correct in noting that I have emphasized health promotion over the years. Much of our health-care dollar is spent on treatment of disease and precious little is spent on prevention. This can and must change. Even if one-third (although most estimates are higher) of illnesses are preventable, then the costs involved in treating preventable illnesses could be substantially reduced by implementing more healthy behavioral changes among the workers of the church.
Classically, the message to church workers has been that they need to develop more healthy behaviors.
But this message needs to be supported by parish policies.
It is not enough to simply place this as an additional burden on the worker. Policies that resource and support more healthy personal lifestyles need to be put into place. Money and time for continuing education and support for health-club membership (with the goal of putting a coached exercise regimen in place) are two examples of these policies. Other examples of such policies are those that offer sabbaticals, require time off, limit an expected work week and directly support church workers’ marriages and families (such as supporting a weekend at a Lutheran Marriage Encounter). Applause to our Concordia Plan Services for offering its most recent institutional encouragements and incentives!
Concordia Publishing House will be offering a new book, starting Nov. 1. Titled Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands, it represents a step in addressing this whole area.
Encouragement and institutional policy need to go hand-in-hand.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is director of the M.Div. and Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Sept. 26, 2011