|Healthy churches need healthy leaders, speakers say|
Participants take a 10-minute exercise break at the health ministries conference.
A UMNS photo by Deborah White.
By Deborah White*
Oct. 12, 2007 | WICHITA, Kan. (UMNS)
"If you're really serious about serving the Lord, you'd better start
taking care of yourself," Bishop Scott Jones told health ministry
leaders at a national conference.
"Empowering Ministries of Health: Starting, Implementing and
Advancing" was the theme of the third annual National Congregational
Health Ministries Conference, held Sept. 23-26 at the Spiritual Life
Center in Wichita. The event was sponsored by the United Methodist Board
of Pension and Health Benefits and the United Methodist Board of Global
The conference continued a growing emphasis on health ministries in The
United Methodist Church. It attracted 165 United Methodists from 54
annual (regional) conferences, more than double the attendance at the
2006 National Congregational Health Ministries Conference in Memphis,
Tenn. A fourth annual conference is planned for Sept. 21-24, 2008, at
Lake Junaluska, N.C.
Bishop Scott Jones of Kansas urges United Methodist leaders to take care of themselves. A UMNS photo by Bob Arvizu.
"We have got to figure out how our churches become centers of healing
- spiritual and physical," said Jones, who leads the denomination's
Kansas Area. His opening keynote address laid a holistic foundation for
After reaching a point of exhaustion, Jones said he started paying
more attention to his health. Now he wears a pedometer to count his
steps, brings carrots to cabinet meetings and limits his caffeine
Building healthy churches
Weaving scriptures and personal experiences, several other speakers
joined Jones in emphasizing that self-care for leaders is an important
step in building healthy congregations. Participants also toured two
health ministries in Wichita and broke into four workshop tracks to
study aspects of health ministries including planning, evaluation,
teamwork, communications, coping with stress and making self-care
"The challenge is to get healthy ourselves, to pull back from the
table," said the Rev. Embra Jackson, assistant to Bishop Hope Morgan
Ward of Mississippi. Jackson, Ward and 600 clergy members in Mississippi
wear pedometers and walk several miles a day as part of the Amazing
Pace health ministry.
In the 1950s, pastors were at the top of the health charts, Jackson
pointed out. "Now we're at the bottom," he said. "We need to get well.
If leaders get healthy and well, the church gets healthy and well."
Kim Moore, president of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund in
Hutchinson, Kan., shared his personal struggles to stay in shape —
such as lifting weights before a physically demanding mission trip and
walking at 6 a.m. instead of sleeping while out of town on
"We increasingly know the behaviors that matter, but we struggle to incorporate them into our lives," Moore said.
The literature of health ministries says "get a team," Moore said. "Too
many people believe they are essential. I thought I was essential. I
took a sabbatical and found that my colleagues could run the Health
Ministry Fund without me.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson explains the principles of
good teamwork. A UMNS
photo by Bob Arvizu.
"We've got to get this attitude into the church: I am valuable but not essential."
Time for fitness
During his presentation, Moore used an exercise DVD to lead 10
minutes of simple exercises. The DVD, "Fuel Up and Lift Off LA," was
produced by the California Department of Health Services to demonstrate
how to fit fitness into meetings.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the church's Los Angeles Area remarked
about the growing participation in the health ministries conference. "To
see how it has grown over the last three years is truly amazing," she
She told stories about long-distance tandem bicycle riding adventures
with her husband to illustrate the principles of good teamwork:
trusting each other, handling conflict in a healthy manner, building
commitment, offering accountability and prioritizing results.
"Jesus sends disciples two by two," Swenson said. "It models the
partnership God offers us through Christ. We are not alone. ... The one
next to you is ready to go with you into the land of health, wholeness
Bishop Ward said the health conference is an invitation to go forward
with a rule of life. "Our rule of life is what we practically do," she
For example, Ward exercises early in the morning. But it took her
quite a while to put this practice into place in 1995. After
exercising — somewhat reluctantly — for two months with her
husband, she finally woke up and wanted to go. Her headaches
disappeared. "I don't feel well if I don't exercise," she said.
"As we move forward in health ministries, we will engage with people
who want to be well. It's important that we be rooted and
grounded — and with strength that comes with humility," Ward
'Causes of life'
"This room is filled with people who embody faith and health," said
Gary Gunderson, senior vice president for Health and Welfare Ministries
at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis.
Gunderson, internationally known for his work in faith and health,
outlined the "leading causes of life." He stressed that this "language
of life" is a better way to communicate about congregational health
ministries than the language of death.
"Public health looks for unexpected pathology. We are looking for unexpected vitality and how you get more of it," he explained.
He defined the "leading causes of life" as:
Connection. "A small congregation is the size of the connection that causes life."
Coherence. "Congregations can't help but make coherent the love
of God by showing up. That's the health power that is in congregations.
It makes life coherent when you are falling apart."
Agency - the capacity "to do"; making choices that matter for those who matter.
Blessing - a sense of connection that ties one generation to the next.
Hope. "Hope chains us together toward life. We live out of our expectations, our hopes."
Gunderson said using the "leading causes of life" as a framework
helped pastors in Memphis set up a Congregational Health Network that
connects church members with the five hospitals in the Methodist Le
Bonheur Healthcare system.
In this network, a "navigator" representing each hospital and a
liaison with each church work together to help church members when they
need hospital care. The goal is to have 400 congregations in the
"The whole structure is to make sure a person is held in a web of intentional compassion," Gunderson said.
At the closing worship, the Rev. Fred Douglas Smith Jr. of Wesley
Theological Seminary in Washington D.C. said Jesus came to "trouble the
water," referring to the story of Christ healing the man who waited
years by a pool to be healed.
"Jesus asked, 'Do you want to be healed?' The question is really why do
you want to be well?" Smith said. "Do you have a reason to live? Why do
you want to be healed? What is it that gives your life meaning? What is
the hope you have welling up inside of you?"
Conference leaders demonstrate how to
fit exercise into meetings. A UMNS
photo by Deborah White.
Smith said people served by health ministries often do not comply
with guidelines for taking care of themselves. "They have no reason to
comply," he suggested. "You need to ask the question, 'Is there
something more important to you — than fried chicken or drugs?' ...
Jesus entered the scene full of life and full of grace, saying, 'I have
"Life is contagious. It spreads from smile to smile, from tender
touch to tender touch. If you want to live, you need to be around folks
who are alive."
*White is associate editor of Interpreter magazine and served on the leadership team for the National Congregational Health Ministries Conference. Both Interpreter and United Methodist News Service are ministries of United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Deborah White, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5102 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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