Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Ircel Harrison, Joel Emerson, Phillip Moody, and Chris O'Rear
Occasionally, I will come across notes from some professional conference I attended years ago.  Many of these dealt with self-care and life/work balance.  As I review those notes, I find that this has always been a challenge for me.  I assume that it is for many of us in ministry.  How do we take care of ourselves and those about whom we care while pursuing the demanding life of a minister?

This week I attended a conference sponsored by Mental Health America of Middle Tennessee.  My friend, Chris O’Rear, who is executive director of the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee, had the unenviable assignment of being the final speaker of a worthwhile but day-long conference.  Fortunately, Chris’ presentation was worth staying to hear.  He discussed the topic that never goes away—work/life balance for clergy.

I won’t try to share in this post everything that Chris said, but I do want to list the basics of self care he provided and make some comments about each.

Healthy boundaries.  This is difficult for those in pastoral ministry especially when it comes to family boundaries.  The minister wants his or her family to be a part of the congregation, but they are not on staff nor should they be held to the same standards that a staff minister must meet.  Too often, both spouses and children come to resent the church because of the demands made on both the minister and themselves.

Healthy and open communication.  Whether this is with significant others (such a family members), co-workers or parishioners, clear and honest communication must be nurtured and encouraged.  What is not said is as important as what is said.

Eating a healthy diet.  I think that many of us have come a long way on this.  We realize that not everything has to be fried in order to be eaten (unless one is at a state fair) and that we can say “No” to certain things.  Even so, this is always a challenge.

Getting plenty of rest.  Another speaker at this conference talked about the four basics of our physical lives—air, water, food, and sleep.  Sleep provides the opportunity for our brains to be renewed.  If one has difficulty getting a good night’s rest, he or she should consult with a trained professional.

Making time for exercise.  Again, everyone knows that this is needed, but we often need accountability structures to assure that we do what is good for us.  Even a brief period of exercise each day helps build confidence, resilience, and health.

Cultivating our own spiritual practices.  Do you study the Bible just for sermon preparation or do you immerse yourself in Bible study, prayer, and other disciplines for your own spiritual health?  Such practices are proven to be good not only for the soul but for the body as well.

Making time for hobbies and other interests.  Leisure time activities not only refresh and divert us but they feed our creativity.  We come back from such activities with new purpose and insights.

Easier said than done, you might say, and that is very true.  I do know that if a minister does not practice these things on his or her initiative, not only will the ministry suffer but so will relationships and personal health.  I once heard a pastor say, “I would rather burn out than rust out.”   A better approach might be to stay well tuned and maintained so that you can sustain your ministry for the long haul.

Thanks, Chris, for reminding us that self-care for the minister is not a burden but an opportunity.

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