Pastors receive coaching in life and wellness

Trina Stutzman

by Lora Steiner, Franconia managing editor

When people think of health coaches, they usually think of Biggest Loser, the television show where participants vie each week to see who can lose the most weight—or someone with a whistle, like that annoying high school gym teacher who made your whole class run timed miles. Trina Stutzman isn’t one of those coaches. Stutzman, of Perkasie, Pa., is a wellness coach with Everence, through an initiative that offers combined support, education, and accountability to help people have more balance in their lives and increase their wellbeing.

Wellness coaching starts with a phone call to Everence, which matches interested participants with wellness coaches. The initial conversation focuses on what the participant hopes to gain from coaching—What’s most important to you? Where do you want to go?—then from there, it’s about establishing small goals and setting up first steps to success. Some people want to check in every week, others every month, but no matter how often, it’s always about working towards the participants’ goals. All coaching is done over the phone, and wellness coaches offer safe, supportive, nonjudgmental, and confidential space for conversation.

Wayne Nitzsche, pastor of Perkasie congregation, decided to take advantage of wellness coaching about two years ago, and stayed with it for a full year. When he first saw it was being offered, Nitzsche didn’t really think it was something he needed, but decided to try it anyway. What he found was a holistic approach to his wellbeing: concern for body and soul, mind and emotions.

For Nitzsche, the process ultimately led to him establishing habits for more balance, practices he still sticks to.

“I’ve come to believe pretty strongly that as we pay attention to our own functioning—be that spiritual or physical or emotional—that we find a deeper, richer life… but the temptation is to always look outside, look to someone else, to make our lives better, instead of looking within,” says Nitzsche.

Nitzsche says the hardest part was setting realistic goals, ones that were both stretching and yet attainable. His coach was good at reminding Nitzsche of his goals and being gracious when he didn’t meet them, celebrating when they were met, and looking deeper when they weren’t.

“To have that encouragement and accountability,” says Nitzsche, “Knowing that you’re going to talk to someone about what you’re doing or not doing—can be pretty helpful.”

Rollin Handrich, who works with Everence in their Goshen, Ind. office, says that sometimes the changes they’ve heard about have been dramatic, other times, incremental. But as he points out, people have often spent a lifetime developing habits that lead to their healthcare problems. The goal of the program, Handrich says, is to get people to rethink some of those habits and set comfortable goals, all the while considering the full picture of their lives: What are your stresses? What is your home life like? “It’s not just eat better, and exercise.”

Stutzman agrees.  “[Wellness coaching] is more than just physical health, but really looking at, ‘Do you want to be well?’ And that looks different for every person.”

She says some people set goals like losing weight, but for others, it’s setting healthy boundaries or stress relief. In a way, Stutzman sees her work as helping people bring into balance the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.  “What does that look like to love yourself as you love other people?”

So far nearly 400 people—about 10 percent of eligible pastors and employees of Mennonite organizations—have participated in at least an initial phone call. It’s a part of the insurance plan offered to pastors and employees of Mennonite organizations whose plans are managed by Everence. Costs are covered by employers, and there is no charge to those who opt in to the program. Pastors and spouses covered by the Corinthian Plan can receive up to $600 for each filling out the online assessment and a follow-up coaching call to discuss their results. More information on wellness coaching is available at or by calling 800-348-7468, ext. 2462.