Sounding the Alarm on Our Leaders’ Health

The Rev. Jeff Thiemann calls for a wellness reformation

“Jesus came that we would have abundant lives, and I believe that it is time for us to stop walking away from that promise in the way that we live.” Jeff Thiemann, Portico’s president and CEO, delivered this message to the ELCA Conference of Bishops in Oct. 2015, calling for a renewed commitment to physical and emotional health. Through a wellness reformation, he said, we can reduce health care claims and raise up leaders who embrace life’s abundance and model it for their people.

ELCA-Primary medical claims are 23% higher than Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s average for a national group our size. And what’s worse, our health risks, left unchecked, spell for many of us a future of chronic illness and reduced ministry longevity. Though sobering, our risks aren’t unique. “Clergy suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension at such alarming rates that it’s become a mark of the profession,” reported the Leadership Journal published by Christianity Today. We must change course.

Read “Sacrificing the Body” from the Fall 2015 issue of the Leadership Journal

Jeff shared with the Leadership Journal, “Some people think about [ministry] as a sacrifice. They think, ‘I’ve chosen this as a sacrificial calling, and so I’m willing to live that out.’ And we’re trying to help people see that bigger picture: we need them to be healthy in order to be able to serve well.”

He told the Conference of Bishops, “I believe rostered leaders and the congregations they serve can become significantly healthier, physically and emotionally. And I believe our congregations can better support these leaders. In the process, we will not only contain health care costs, our leaders will become more resilient, the kind of leaders the church can call upon to thrive in the coming decades.”


Watch Excerpts From Jeff’s Speech

1. The Problem
Escalating health care costs are more than a strain on congregation and household budgets. They’re a threat to our shared ministry.

Watch this 4-minute video


2. Where We’ve Been
After eight years of sampling wellness, our community is still not as healthy as it needs to be. We’ve taken small steps. It’s time for longer strides.

Watch this 2-minute video

3. What the Numbers Tell Us
Since Portico launched the Mayo Clinic health assessment in 2008, our health risks haven’t significantly improved. In fact, some have worsened.

Watch this 5-minute video

4. Next Steps
What do we need to do differently? How will we get started?

Watch this 7-minute video

5. A Wellness Reformation
What will a healthier ELCA look like? Now is our opportunity to imagine and shape culture change together.

Watch this 3-minute video