Worker Wellness and Healthy Wholeness

I’ve just spent several days meeting with a number of my fellow district presidents and other representatives from over twenty of our LCMS districts, all gathered together for the purpose of discussing and discovering ways that we can best care for and support the pastors and other workers of the Lord’s Church within our fellowship. I was keen to be part of this conversation, the 2024 LCMS Ministerial Care Coalition (MC2), because caring for our pastors and their families – and so also for our teachers and other church workers and their families – is and needs to be one of our foremost priorities and responsibilities as a Synod at every level.
This year’s MC2 was responding in large part to some of the resolutions that were passed at last summer’s Synod Convention (especially Res. 1-06 and Res. 1-07), dealing with worker wellness in general and with mental health awareness and advocacy in particular. The latter of these originated within our own Indiana District, and it is therefore of special interest and importance to me, that we should seek out ways to encourage and support our pastors and all our workers in this area of life on earth under the Cross. Indeed, our hearts and minds, emotions and relationships are subject to the same curse and frailties as our mortal bodies of flesh and bone.
In keeping with Synod Res. 1-07, I am aiming and hoping to have mental health advocates in each circuit, or at least in each region of our Indiana District. But what this will mean or look like, exactly, I am still working to determine. In the meantime, I’m grateful to VP David Mueller for agreeing to serve as our district mental health advocate, and to Dcs. Carole Terkula for the work that she has already been doing for some time now, in the Fort Wayne area, via her position at the Lutheran Foundation.
As I have been attempting to convey in various venues over this past year or so, it is important to avoid “all-or-nothing” extremes in considering mental health concerns. That is to say, advocacy and care in this area of mortal life can never take the place of the Holy Gospel, nor ever be permitted to compete with the Ministry of Word and Sacrament as the Church’s definitive and fundamental responsibility and means of care; but neither does our necessary focus and emphasis on the Gospel preclude our care and concern for other aspects of this body and life. Mental health care, like medical care in general, is among the Lord’s good gifts of daily bread, which we are given to receive with thanksgiving and sanctify with His Word and prayer.
Mental health is, of course, only one aspect of our overall health and well-being as human beings. Other areas of special concern for many of our pastors and other church workers include their physical health, their marriages, families, and other relationships, and their financial circumstances. Financial concerns and challenges are often involved (whether as cause and/or consequence) of other wellness issues, but all the different aspects of our overall health and well-being are interconnected. Time management skills are often vital to keeping things in order and in balance, along with basic budgeting skills, a clear sense of vocation and identity in Christ Jesus, and an honest recognition that we are finite creatures who live by faith in the true and only God. It is the Lord who holds all of us and all things in His loving care.
Rather than simply “putting out fires” and responding to various crises, I would love to see us focus on what it means and what it looks like to be healthy and whole in our stewardship of this body and life and in all that the Lord in His mercy has given us to be and to do as His dear children. At the same time, we recognize that this body and life are temporary, that we live for now under the curse and consequences of the fall into sin, and that as Christians we bear and suffer the Cross in and with Christ Jesus.
It is essential and of chief concern to me that the pastors have pastoral care for their own spiritual health and well-being, which is ever and always at the heart and center of our healthy wholeness as Christians. And to that end, I point especially to the fellowship of our Circuit Winkels, to the mutual conversation and consolation of brothers in Christ and in office, to the ministry of a father confessor, and to the camaraderie of ordinary friendships with other Christians. None of this aimed at adding to your burdens or “to-do” list, but as sources of encouragement and support. Rest assured that your labors are not in vain, but neither is the weight of the world resting on your shoulders or dependent upon you. Christ Jesus has you in His care.