Pastoral life is extraordinarily complex making it difficult to sum up pastoral wellbeing in four simple resolutions. However, there are simple modifications we can make to our schedules that can create a positive difference. Perhaps, the greatest challenge for a pastor is taking the time to love themselves as much as they love others. (Matthew 22:36-40)
The formula for this balance originally modeled by Jesus has changed over many years and has unfortunately resulted in burned out and exhausted pastors with some short-term results, perhaps outward success, but inner misery that does not take long to come to the surface. “We have not been called to success but to bear fruit.” (Dr. Elizabeth Conde Frazier) and those fruits are only born from a well-planted, nurtured, and healthy tree. With this in mind, we invite you to consider these questions for new resolutions in your well-being:
1. Who is your close friend? 70% of pastors do not have a close friend according to Pastoral Care. There are multiple reasons for this, and you can read more about it in our previous articles. Therefore, feelings of loneliness and emotional burden increase. The impact on our mind, our body, and our other relationships are more than we can measure with the naked eye. So, having a close friend with whom you can be completely authentic, transparent, and vulnerable can help significantly. It is even better if that friend is also a pastor who can understand the dynamics and demands of the pastoral role. Providing mutual space for each other can help not only the personal wellbeing of both individuals but also appeal to the creative side of pastoring.
The motives for meeting with this person, however, should resist being work-related mostly, as the mental association with work demands could diminish the effects of good bonding time with a friend. Nor should the conversation permit comparison and competition. The recommendation is to create an authentic and safe space where both parties enjoy simply being.
One way to meet this need may be to invest time in cultivating a consistent relationship with a close friend. Who might that person be? Does he or she live in the same city as you? Is it someone you can meet online? It is possible that you may not yet have a close friend with whom you have established these levels of trust. However, it is always good to start, especially when there is a delicious meal or coffee involved. Or, you may consider adding a few miles of exercise to that time to oxygenate the body. The options are endless. It just takes intentionality. Cultivating this kind of relationship cannot be delayed for when there is time to spare. It is fundamental to our personal and pastoral well-being. The recommendation is to be consistent with this time. You can set aside one day of the month from the beginning of the year and write it down in your calendar to make it a priority. You can also share this expectation with your friend(s) and agree to do everything possible to sustain and protect this time.
2. Have you considered therapy or counseling? Close friends who are safe spaces for sharing can be therapeutic without even realizing it. However, a safe, nurturing, anonymous, relational conflict-free space to help process the emotional and mental challenges a pastor constantly faces is critical to long-term well-being. Even the most emotionally strong pastor needs to recognize that he or she regularly provides space for the traumas of others, and those who provide that kind of space for others can be indirectly impacted by that trauma. These indirect impacts have the potential to develop Compassion Fatigue, Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), and/or Burnout, a pathway to Depression. Even if you think that it is not a big deal, the mind and body are going to process it, and that processing will be externalized, whether you decide it or not. Upon suppression of the feelings, the symptoms are not long in coming: mood swings, trouble sleeping, anger, palpitations a weak immune system are just some of the effects that we tend to “normalize” that are anything but “normal.” One pastor mentioned that it felt like “death by a thousand of paper cuts.” (M. Bloom in Flourishing in Ministry)
For the same reason, professional help in the life of a pastor is a basic necessity if one desires to run the marathon and not just a short race. Friends and spouses are a great help, but they do not deserve to be burdened with responsibility for our mental and emotional health, nor with its symptoms and impacts. We need to free them. Identifying a therapist or counselor and making the first appointment can be a good start. From then on, it is good to establish the best pace of therapy or counseling according to personal needs. In addition, this will not only be good for you but will set a good example for the emotional health of the rest of the church. Mental and emotional health should be a priority in our faith communities and in the communities we serve.
3. What is your routine for encountering God? It is ironic but perhaps the same routine and pastoral demands have diminished your time to fully meet with God. We may pray a short prayer before a message for the sake of minimally fulfilling God’s use of us. But God is not necessarily interested in using us. We are his beloved children. It is hard to believe that a loving father just wants to use his child. That would be a dangerous relationship for any child. God desires a relationship of love, and we were made in Him. It is in His breath that we find life (Genesis 2:7). And therefore, there should be no greater pastoral demand or ecclesial expectation than to abide in Him; not because of a demand from the Father but because of the nature of the child and the relationship created in love. So, the development of a spiritual routine to meet God should be based on the uniqueness of your personality and God. What are the spiritual practices that connect you to God? Should you consider experimenting with a new one? Like all other practices, be intentional about making room in your schedule to ensure it happens.
4. What do you like to do and what fulfills you? This is one of the most spiritual questions a church leader can ask themselves, even if it sounds unspiritual. In fact, this question is associated with the previous question, “What is your routine for encountering God?” Like any father, God wants to see you enjoy the life He has given you and enjoy Him. And the pastor must also have room to be human, to be a child, to nurture their identity. Some pastors have found that climbing a mountain, planting new plants, swimming in the sea, watching a movie full of art, playing a musical instrument, cooking a new meal… fills them with life! Just in these activities, they have encountered God again, have been filled with creativity, and have renewed their spirit to continue the race ahead of them, full of joy and hope. Having this space as part of our routine is essential. This is not for when we finally feel exhausted at the end of the year. In fact, God establishes the weekly Sabbath routine as a constant space to enjoy Him and enjoy what He has created. Have you asked yourself this question before? What do you like to do? What is your answer? Is asking yourself this question a part of your routine and resolution for the new year? We encourage you to do so.