My first and last health check as a minister took place over forty years ago – just before I went overseas with the Baptist Missionary Society to serve in the Congo. Since then, I have never been asked for a health check. Neither my first church in Altrincham, nor the Baptist college of which I was principal, nor my present church, appointed me ‘subject to a health check’. They took it for granted that I was in good health – and would remain in good health. Were they right – or were they wrong?
Last night I met with a couple wanting to get married in our church. Amongst other things I told them that I would expect each of them to go to their GP and ask for a full check-up. Although at the end of the day they may take one another ‘for better or for worse’, I told them that it was only being fair to one another to be sure that there was no major health problem in the offing. Over the years I have found this to be a very useful exercise. As a result, for instance, one young groom-to-be discovered he was suffering from testicular cancer. Fortunately the cancer was still in the early stages. How grateful he was for my insistence that he saw his doctor.
Increasingly employers in the secular world are demanding health checks on their potential employees. They want to be sure, as far as it is practically possible, that the people they appoint will be fit for work. And people in general are wanting a health check-up. To my mind that makes sense. Just as we have our cars checked over every year through the annual service and (for older cars an MOT), so it makes sense to have our bodies checked out every year – and in this way ensure that everything is in working order.
According to one BUPA hand-out:
Even the most ardent supporter of the NHS would have to concede that preventative medicine is not its strong point. Moreover, given that the average GP appointment lasts about six minutes, there’s very little time available to discuss more than one or two issues.
By contrast most private health check-ups last at least 45 minutes – and often longer.
Clearly health check-ups are not infallible. Indeed, according to some Danish research health MOTs do not reduce deaths overall. And yet, there seems to be little doubt that health check-ups do encourage people to adopt more positive life-styles. Indeed, according to BUPA, three quarters of people who have had one of their health assessments have taken active steps to improve their health afterwards.
The reality is that ministry is a highly stressful occupation, where trauma of one kind or another is often the order of the day. It involves long hours – a 50 hour week is the norm, with many ministers working even harder. The work is largely sedentary – it does not help that ministers have to consume a fair amount of food and drink in the course of their duties. Not surprisingly many ministers are over-weight if not obese.
It seems to me eminently sensible that before calling a minister, a church should ask for a health check-up. What’s more it is surely eminently sensible that having called a minister, a church should expect their minister to undergo a regular check-up – at the church’s expense!
How often should such a check-up take place? Some would argue that a check-up should be every year – just like a card needs an annual service. Significantly InterHealth, a medical agency based in London with specialist knowledge and experience of serving those people in Christian ministry, recommends a comprehensive medical check-up be undertaken at two year intervals. This involves a thorough 45 minute examination with an expert clinician who is sympathetic to the demands and pressures of Christian ministry.
Yes, medical check-ups costs money. But at the end of the day, if they result in early diagnosis or a healthier life-style, they more than pay for themselves. It is in the interest of every church to ensure that their minister undergoes some form of regular health assessment.