“You’ve Got a Friend in Me!”: How to Get the Social Support You Need

Blog September 13, 2023

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12, NIV)

This week’s blog deals with pastors’ emotional health and is drawn from the book Mending Ministers on Their Wellness Journey,[1] which is based on recent research on Adventist pastors’ health in the North American Division.[2]

Self-care is as important for pastors as for any of us; perhaps more so, as they are responsible not only for their immediate family, but also for their church family. Rick Luciotti, from the Care to Clergy and Clergy Families for the Penn Central Conference of the United Church of Christ says that self-care includes “clergy learning to develop significant interactions and relationships with peers, family and friends outside the parish for adjusting to and coping with the demands of pastoral ministry”[3]

A 2014 study showed that around 60% of Adventist pastors and their families do not have a network of other clergy families with whom they can really be open; more than 70% of pastors’ spouses have few people they can talk to about the important matters in their lives; the same proportions said that they find it difficult to find close friends within the congregation because it is complicated to be both friend and minister.[4]

The 2021 study by Drumm and Činčala of Adventist pastors found that social support was key to wellbeing.

A big factor that helps me is my fellow colleagues that I can trust . . . I have friends in the ministry, in [this] Conference and in other Conferences. It’s a small group, but they are there, you know, to talk to. I know that I can talk to them about my frustrations. They give me sound advice.[5]

Good relationships with family, friends and mentors/coaches provide nourishment that can have a tremendously positive impact on Adventist pastors and their family’s health. A lack of social support can lead to depression, cognitive decline, and suppressed immune systems, while strong social support strengthens immune systems, decreases stress, increases cognitive sharpness, and results in positive mental and physical health.[6]

Of course, for social support to be effective, pastors and their families need to be able to trust the support person and know he or she will keep their confidence. Some study participants were wary about peer support due to negative past experiences.

Here are three elements suggested in Mending Ministers that can be useful in developing the social support of friendship: be a friend, seek a friend, and keep a friend.

Be a Friend – be the kind of friend you want to have.

Seek a Friend – it takes time and effort to find and establish friendships, but it’s worth it.

Keep a Friend – make the effort necessary to maintain your friendships.

God intended us all to experience connections around us, to provide and receive love and support from our brothers and sisters in the church. Pastors have a number of barriers that can keep them from that vital support and need help from both the Church and their members to develop the kinds of relationships that will nourish them and enable them, in turn, to nourish their flocks.

Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.

Published by ASTR on 09-16-2023

[1] Ivan Williams, Petr Činčala, and René Drumm, eds., Mending Ministers on Their Wellness Journey (Lincoln, NE: AdventSource, 2022. https://www.adventsource.org/store/adult-ministries/elder/leadership/mending-ministers-41273), and https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2022/11/22-11-resources

[2] R. Drumm and P. Činčala, SDA Pastor Health Qualitative Study Report: What Can

and Must Be Done to Save the Health of Adventist Pastors. Unpublished report to the North

American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Ministerial Department (2021b)

[3] R. Luciotti, “Clergy Self-Care,” International Journal of Choice Theory & Reality Therapy, 2009: 12–15.

[4] D. Sedlacek, et al, Seminary Training, Role Demands, Family Stressors, and Strategies for Alleviation of Stressors in Pastors’ Families. Unpublished report prepared for the North American Division Ministerial and Family Ministries Departments in conjunction with the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (2014).

[5] Drumm and Činčala, What Can and Must Be Done,pg. 9.

[6] M. Reblin and B. N. Uchino, “Social and Emotional Support and its Implication for Health,” Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 21:2 (2008), 201–205. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0b013e3282f3ad89