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The calling to ministry involves service to others, self-denial, and often, self-sacrifice.
For many clergy, investing in self-care, however, can be a challenge.
Whatever its source, feelings of obligation, guilt, or shame; or a lacking sense of boundaries, clergy are prone to a high risk for burnout related to a lack of self care.
There’s no denying that ministry is complex, and therefore, endlessly busy, but those clergy and ministry staff who fail to practice self care ultimately and inevitably fail themselves and their congregations.
The matter is made worse by the common overfuntioning-underfunctioning reciprocity in the relationship between congregations and their staff.
Congregations are all too willing, indeed some expect, their pastors and staff to be the overfunctioning partner in the relationship.
And too many pastors and staff are willing to accept the arrangement.
I find that a common point of stuckness for many clergy and staff, especially young or new ones, is the uneasy senses that self-care is equivalent to selfishness.
Author Parker Palmer provides a corrective to that notion:
“Self care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.
Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.” (Let Your Life Speak p. 30).
Clergy and staff need to accept that acts of self-care will often be perceived as selfish, or even irresponsibility, on the part of many.
For some of those, no amount of rationale or education will convince them otherwise.
At those times self-definition rather than apologetics seems to me to be the appropriate stance.
For example, stating, “I am committed to taking care of my mental, spiritual, and physical health for my benefit, for the welfare of my family, and as part of the stewardship of my ministry,” is more helpful than “I work very hard at my ministry, sometimes working long hours for the benefit of others.
I deserve a break and the church should support my efforts at self care.”
The first approach is a principled stance; the second is a rationale seeking to convince.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on education include Academic Leadership: Practical Wisdom for Deans and Administartors, Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).