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Book Review:
Healthy Clergy, Wounded Healers: Their Families And Ministries

Rev. John Crowe, D. Min.

Number 334

In 1997, Roberta Chapin Walmsley and Adair T. Lummis wrote, Healthy Clergy Wounded Healers: Their Families and Their Ministries (164 pages). In it they share the findings of the Episcopal Clergy Family Project that started in 1986 to help pastors and spouses both be and stay healthy. 
Their book repeats the theme of the importance of family identity and individual self-concept. They draw from the relevant ideas of various theorist like Murray Bowen who developed the Family Systems Theory and Edwin Friedman who applied it to the church system in which pastors live and work.
The Episcopal Clergy Family study affirmed psychologist Friedman's view that clergy and their families function better when they focus more on how their struggles are similar to others. While it is true that the private lives of pastors, their spouses and their children are more directly connected to the pastor's work, it is dangerous to overemphasize this too much.
When pastors and spouses do fall into this trap, they tend to abandon any responsibility for their own well being and expect the congregation or the conference, etc. to care for them. Walmsley and Lummis' research found those who adopted this view rated themselves as having poorer overall health.
The negative impact of this is far greater for the spouse than for the pastor. However, those pastors and spouses who are highly effective at setting time and role boundaries in relationship with a church are by far the healthiest. In light of this, I found it strange that the author's aimed their concluding chapter on a course of action at judicatories and denominations.
One outstanding finding of Walmsley and Lummis' study is that
"The stronger the self-concept, the healthier pastors are, even considering other important factors that affect their health" (72).
It appears that neither a church's characteristics, salary level, denominational relationships nor a pastor's professional competence directly impact the overall health of pastors like their self-concept does.
Unfortunately many congregations reinforce the false belief that pastors are the most spiritual when they do not have their own self-concept. No pastor can offer spiritual leadership to a church when their self-concept depends on approval from others. This leads pastors to adopt one or two attitudes. They either blame others for their own lack of self-control. Or they become perfectionists who believe their true value comes not from who they are in Christ, but from what they do. Either attitude leads to a victim mentality whenever something goes wrong in the church.
In addition, Anderson and Mylander in their book, Setting Your Church Free, make the claim that many pastors fail because of finding too much of their identity and security in what they do as a pastor and not enough in who they are in Christ (49). It is our life in Christ that gives pastors and spouses their identity and security for life and ministry.
Anderson's book about the power of one's identity in Christ and the accompanying workbook will help pastors and their spouses greatly in this area. Those desiring to dig deeper into the application of the Family Systems Theory to the church will find the following books helpful: Friedman's Generation to Generation; Richardson's Creating a Healthier Church; and Steinke's Healthy Congregations and How Your Church Works. Jack Hayford's book, Pastor's of Promise, does not use Family Systems Theory jargon, but the concepts are there.
Overall, Walmsley and Lummis' book serves as a very well studied and practical application of the systems theory to the whole subject of church health via the health of pastors and their families. I highly recommend this book to all seminarians, pastors, and their spouses.
Rev. John Crowe
This review has also been published in Sharing the Practice Volume XXII, 
Number 4 Fourth Issue, 1999 on page 20.

Topical Index    Articles 1-49    Articles 50-99   Articles 100-149   Articles 150-199   
 Articles 200-249    Articles 250-299   Articles 300-349   Articles 350-399 

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