Workers in the Kingdom -- Sightings

The Thursday edition of Sightings has come from the Martin Marty Center -- remember Monday is Martin Marty and Thursday is someone else. This time Courtney Wilder a Ph.D. student at the U of Chicago Divinity School responds to the recently released data that suggest that clergy like their jobs. We hear a lot about clergy burn out and yet this survey suggests that clergy are happier than any other profession. This is really a nice piece on the idea of vocation and the role that idea plays in this self-analysis.

Sightings 5/10/07

Workers in the Kingdom-- Courtney Wilder

The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago recently released the results of an eighteen-year-long study on job satisfaction and general happiness. One interesting finding reveals that members of the clergy are both most satisfied with their jobs and happiest overall. The position of clergy members at the top of these categories is somewhat anomalous within the context of the other results, which show that both job satisfaction and happiness are strongly linked to the prestige associated with an occupation. But as Tom Smith, Director of the General Social Survey at NORC, points out, "a number of very high prestige occupations do not finish at the top of either list."

An overwhelming 87.2 percent of clergy described themselves as "very satisfied" with their jobs; in contrast, only 47 percent of the general population described themselves this way. In the second, related set of results that NORC revealed, which measured happiness in general, clergy reported that they were "very happy," in great numbers -- 67.2 percent versus 33.3 percent among the general population. Among the people who reported the least satisfaction with their jobs were roofers, waiters and servers, non-construction laborers, and bartenders. Those who reported the least amount of happiness overall also tended to have what Smith describes as "low-skill, manual and service occupations, especially involving customer service and food/beverage preparation and serving" -- for example, garage and service station attendants, roofers, and machine operators.

Speculation abounded in media reports of the study as to why members of the clergy were first in both job satisfaction and happiness -- but virtually none of the analyses were theological in nature. As the Chicago Tribune headline put it, "Money really can't buy happiness, study finds." Most news stories focused on the explanation that practicing one of the so-called helping professions made people happier and more satisfied with their jobs. Even news stories which included responses to the study from members of the clergy did not explore the concept of pastoral vocation, or touched only briefly on the idea of having a call from God and what this might do for one's happiness and job satisfaction.

The notion of vocation as a call from God to do a certain kind of work owes a great deal to Martin Luther. Luther's teaching on the theological significance of vocation had the effect of broadening the concept. He argued that "vocation" should not refer exclusively to a monastic calling, for even the occupations of laypeople are vocations. "On the basis of the Word of God," Luther wrote, "we pronounce the sure conviction that the way of life of a servant, which is extremely vile in the sight of the world, is far more acceptable to God than all the orders of monks."

This is closely related to Luther's position that faith, and not works, is salvific. As theologian Karlfried Froehlich puts it, "through his bold theological move of equalizing the value of all work before God," Luther was responsible for the "secularization" of the idea of vocation. He encouraged lay people to think of themselves as part of the priesthood of all believers, and thus to see their jobs as vocations in the sense that their work was blessed by God. The job of the pastor is necessary for good order, but should not be elevated above other work.

But if the NORC study is any indication, in modern American church circles clergy seem to have an especially strong sense of their work as vocation. To take up one example of how this calling is nurtured, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (my own denomination) has a detailed process of candidacy by which a prospective pastor is encouraged to discern her calling. Her home congregation, her synod, a candidacy committee, and seminary faculty are all asked to help a candidate for ministry reflect upon her call from God and to decide whether to pursue ordination. Different denominations approach ordination in different ways, but the NORC study results suggest that as a group, clergy are well supported in their vocational choices and see their professional lives as enriching and rewarding.

Of course, not every pastor is satisfied with the job, and not every pastor is happy. But for many pastors, the process of discernment is evidently successful, and the experience of their work as a vocation -- a calling from God -- is a powerful one.

"Job Satisfaction in the United States," by Tom W. Smith of NORC/The University of Chicago, can be downloaded by pasting the following URL into your browser:

"Service to others not just a job / Clergy happiest in U.S. work force, survey indicates," by Kristina Herrndobler and Barbara Karkabi (Houston Chronicle, April 20, 2007), can be read online, after registering, at:

"Money Really Can't Buy Happiness, Study Finds," by Barbara Rose (Chicago Tribune, April 17, 2007), can be read at:,1,259544.story?coll=chi-news-hed.

Courtney Wilder is a PhD candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School.----------
The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "The Desire to Acquire: Or, Why Shopping Malls Are Sites of Religious Violence," by Jon Pahl. To read this article, please visit:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


John Crowe said…
This article about pastoral satisfaction does not fit with the information that I read which includes the fact of clergy physical and mental health crisis before us today across denominations and around the nation. Nor does it fit with studies conducted by the ELCA concerning clergy health. How can so many clergy who are unhealthy also really find that much satisfaction in pastoral ministry?

I've listed below several sources that point out how unhealthy clergy are today. You can find a longer list @

A collaboration for clergy health and wellness

Bethann Witcher Cottrell, PhD, Vine City Health &Housing Ministry, 2986 Country Squire Lane, Decatur, GA 30033, 770-908-1212, and Gail G. McCray, MA, Morehouse School of Medicine, 720 Westview, Atlanta, GA 30310.

Doctrinal and theological differences aside, US churches have in common a pastorate whose health is cause for concern. Although limited, research indicates that the critical issues facing clergy today are weight, mental health, heart disease and stress. It is evident that the clergy suffers a disproportionate amount of preventable morbidity and mortality. The Vine City Health and Housing Ministry and the Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta in collaboration with the National Primary Care Center of the Morehouse School of Medicine plus 6 additional partners organized, implemented and evaluated a one-day Clergy Health and Wellness Conference to raise awareness among African-American clergy in metro Atlanta as to critical significance of their own self-care and to provide support and resources for African-American clergy in metro Atlanta to be leaders in promoting health and well-being within their congregations. This session will discuss the current reality of US clergy health including data from a health risk appraisal of conference attendees. As a result of the conference organization and implementation, presenters will outline the challenges of the faith-health partnership and present strategies for engaging clergy in health-based activities based on the conference evaluation and lessons learned.

Lutheran’s Ask How Healthy Are Our Pastors?
"Mental health problems including chemical dependency are the leading cause of disability in the ELCA health plan, accounting for one-third of the 300 [rostered ministers on disability]," she said. Despite studies suggesting a stable rate of depression in the general population, the ELCA health plan shows more clinic visits and prescriptions to treat depression.

Weight and exercise top health concerns A recent elective survey found that unhealthy weight and cholesterol and blood pressure levels are the top medical-risk factors facing ELCA pastors, lay and rostered leaders, seminarians, and their families.

Southern Baptists are addressing churches' 'dirty little secret'

They are also taking depression in Clergy seriously Wounded Heroes

Baptist pastors have been quickly removed from their churches whenever they share problems with depression. What would churches today do with Martin Luther who was very open about his own struggle with depression?

The Family Secret (The Church Scandal that does not make the news)

From an article "Disabilities and Clergy"

The executive director Pension, Inc. for the Virginia Conference of the UMC stated the following in a June 22, 2006 UM News article. The clergy population as a whole consumes a tremendous amount of mental health benefits. The health insurance industry has walked away from clergy because of that. They say ‘we can’t handle you any more. You’re too expensive. During the time of the previous generation of UM clergy, we were in the top five healthiest profession in the US. This generation of UM clergy are now in the bottom five least healthy. For example, UM clergy are 20% heavier than the general population.

The pastor's well-being often reflects a church's health and happiness

Lastly, when I began my research into church/clergy health "Ministry Health" was about the only web site on this subject back in 1996. Now it is the largest and most comprehensive.

Today, web sites about church/clergy health crisis ministries for clergy are abundant. I just learned of a new one this week that I will add to my church/clergy triage/emergency page.

The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod a clergy/church study was conducted in 1999 by Alan and Cheryl Klass. They found the same unhealthiness that is found elsewhere. One big problem was labled E.G.O. people, i.e. those who want to Edge God Out as if the church belonged to them. They also found that the most unhappy clergy were not the ones they heard from the most. I had a link to that study at one time, but I can't find the study anymore.

From what I hear, read, and keep up with those in first hand ministry with clergy in crisis, we are loosing more ministry leaders each month than we are loosing in Iraq.

As I wrote in an article for Sharing the Practice in the winter of 2001

If someone asked you to tell them the greatest tragedy of the American Church within our lifetime, what would you name?
Was it the scandals of the TV evangelists several years ago? Is it the increased interest in non-Christian religions like the New Age movement, Islam, and Buddhism?

Is it the decrease of biblical values and morality among church people? No, as Robert Moeller wrote in 1994 in his book, Love In Action, The well-publicized televangelist scandals of the late eighties did minimal harm to
the reputation of the church in our culture—that is, in comparison to the true scandal of our time. The true scandal is the way Christians mistreat one another,
fighting and conducting uncivil wars against one another in churches across our
nation. (41)

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