Caring for the Called Makes Positive Impact on Ministry Workers’ Health

Published on April 21st, 2020

Caring for the Called has promoted the health and well-being of Northeast Indiana church workers since 2014, so they could better serve their congregations, schools, and ministries. Supported by The Lutheran Foundation for nearly 6 years, the project came to a close on March 31.

Rev. Richard Koehneke began serving part-time as a ministerial health consultant for Caring for the Called when the pilot project began. The project assisted 41 northeast Indiana congregations in 10 counties and 17 schools in The Lutheran Schools Partnership. Rev. Koehneke also connected with deaconesses and directors of Christian education in northeast Indiana.

Utilizing his experience and wisdom from 38 years of parish ministry, Rev. Koehneke provided guidance to congregations and lay leaders in caring for their workers. His previous experience included the LCMS Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and serving at Concordia Theological Seminary and the Indiana District, as well as being a member of the Indiana District Ministerial Health Commission and the LCMS Ministerial Care Coalition.

Rev. Koehneke created six objectives for the program that included fostering a culture of intentional, proactive, practical care and concern for the well-being of pastors, teachers, and other church workers.

To accomplish the goals, Rev. Koehneke educated lay leaders and school boards on ways they could help their workers to practice self care and promote a more balanced approach to wellness. “The healthier the workers are, the healthier their schools and churches will be, so that the ministries can become stronger,” Rev. Koehneke said.

The program addressed common health and wellness concerns of ministry workers and reinforced positive changes. Rev. Koehneke’s ministry experience gave him the ability to openly communicate with lay leaders about the challenges of ministry work. “I could speak frankly to lay leaders and talk about things that their pastors might not feel comfortable talking about,” he added.

Rev. Koehneke stressed to lay leaders the importance of providing active support to their church workers. He encouraged them to check in with their pastors and ask questions like, “What’s bringing you joy and what’s taking away your joy? What things are helping your well-being?” He encouraged lay leadership to provide practical and sustainable action in addressing their ministry worker’s needs.

The program also addressed several major threats to worker well-being and the reasons why church and school workers may hesitate to ask for help. Often, they want to be seen as hard workers and get positive reinforcement for working hard. Rev. Koehneke asked lay leaders, “How can we honor and encourage self-care as much as we honor and encourage hard work?” The program stressed the importance of assisting workers in prioritizing their well-being so they could continue in faithful and joyful ministry for the long term.

One elder who attended the program said that Caring for the Called provided a much needed conversation about worker well-being. “I’ve been an elder here and in another congregation for seven years and this is the first time I’ve participated in a discussion like this. Long overdue and very timely.”

Lay leaders who participated in the program were given information about a variety of resources to assist their workers, including the staff of the Indiana District, Concordia Theological Seminary, Grace Place Wellness Ministries, Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat, Doxology, PLI, Concordia Health Plan Pastoral Support Network and Employee Assistance Program, PALS (for new pastors), Cross Connections, Run Hard Rest Well, and the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Program. These resources gave churches and school leaders the opportunity to respond appropriately to the needs of their workers.

The Indiana District is grateful for the financial support of The Lutheran Foundation in promoting the health and well-being of our workers.