Can we live healthier lives as church leaders? It’s true that ministry is a stressful line of work. The constant pressure of a Sunday sermon, endless pastoral needs, church conflict both big and small, community obligations – all can conspire to keep us from taking care of ourselves, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Working hard is not a bad thing at all. Ministry is hard work. But if it’s compulsive, then it’s a spiritual problem. If you can never let go, you will not be able to sustain yourself over time.
So what are some ways we can find greater health in our lives? My own experience and that of the many clergy with whom I coach and consult suggest most clergy are overfunctioners – we take too much responsibility for others and for the life of the church. This can lead to burnout, and to not enough time for family and for self-care. Asking clear questions such as: whose responsibility is this? Is it really mine? When do I need to let go? help create time and energy for the rest of life.
Mark says when Jesus and the disciples “had no leisure even to eat,” Jesus took them away from everything (Mark 7:31-32). Of course, they immediately got sucked in when people followed after Jesus. But Jesus at least made the effort to get away even when the workload was overwhelming.
We will never find greater health and wellness if we only think we “should” do it. More and more I’m working on receiving God’s love and acceptance for myself, just as I am. It is out of that place of living in love that I am able to make incremental changes. I’ve begun to think of the voices of judgment and self-criticism as demonic. Can we take care of ourselves without making “self-care” yet another weapon to use to beat ourselves up with? Remember, God loves us more than we can imagine, and has compassion for us, more than we often have for ourselves. Change comes slowly! What would a grace-filled approach to self-care and fitness look like? Perhaps some baby steps: one minute of prayer, a five minute walk, turning off electronics for one hour.
People are very different in this regard. I do really well with steady daily habits. One mentor of mine would spend several hours in prayer once a week, rather than every day. I don’t think there’s one right way to do it. People have different levels of tolerance for workload. Balance may be unachievable, but life with a certain rhythm over time is better. Living with the tension of work undone, or work unfinished, is an inevitable part of ministry. Learn to know yourself better and do what works best for you, and see if you can develop your repertoire and include some areas that are a stretch for you.