I asked my son, Brian to share today about some aspects of pastoral self-care. Rev. Brian Farmer is senior pastor at Cairo First Church of the Nazarene in Cairo, GA. He has served there for over 10 years. Before that, he was heavily involved in ministry with my husband and I. Being a pastor’s kid means he has literally been in ministry all his life.
Thank you, Brian, for some excellent advice.
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We all know the regular talking points that come with the topic of self-care: nutrition, exercise, sufficient sleep, regular physical care, etc. These are universally applicable. But, we’re talking about self-care of the pastor. As we’re in a unique position, there are unique aspects of self-care which are vital to us specifically. Here are five important specific aspects of pastoral self-care.
1) Daily Communion With God
Make daily communion with God a priority in your life.
Taking the opportunity to be in the Word each day (for personal spiritual development, not sermon development) is vital to our spiritual health as pastors. As the primary means through which we hear from the God who cares for our souls, we need to crave that nourishment.
Prayer is also part of this.
—And, not so much prayer as an event, though, that’s both acceptable and healthy, but prayer without ceasing, an open line of communication with the God who is always listening. Our words and our lives ought to be like the red phone—a direct line to God, open at all times.
Western society has misconstrued prayer as being primarily about presenting our requests to God, when prayer is primarily about ascribing worship, praise, honor, and glory to Him, and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak back to us.
An unknown author penned these words:
“It is not necessary to be always speaking to God or always hearing from God, to have communion with Him; there is an inarticulate fellowship more sweet than words. The little child can sit all day long beside its busy mother and, although few words are spoken on either side, and both are busy, yet both are in perfect fellowship. He knows that she is there, and she knows that he is all right.
So the saint and the Saviour can go on for hours in the silent fellowship of love, and he be busy about the most common things, and yet conscious that every little thing he does is touched with the complexion of His presence, and the sense of His approval and blessing. And then, when pressed with burdens and troubles too complicated to put into words and too mysterious to tell or understand, how sweet it is to fall back into His blessed arms, and just sob out the sorrow that we cannot speak!”
Don’t get caught up in the details—
- time of day,
- the length of time,
- what order you do things in,
- what you do before or after,
- where you do it, etc.
These are just the details. What’s important is making communion with God a daily part of your life. This is of the utmost importance, not only for your spiritual well-being but for the spiritual well-being of those the Lord places under your care.
2) Family Comes First
- It’s very easy for us as pastors to shuffle our families—spouse, kids, siblings, parents, what have you—to the backburner in the execution of our ministries. We often justify it in our minds with the rationale that because we’re called by God to this position, it needs to take priority (more on this in #5).
- But, the fact is that, while there will always be responsibilities that take us away from family for a time, on the Biblical scale of importance, the order is unflinchingly God, Family, Pastorate.
- Your family is one of the primary means through which the Lord displays His love for you, refreshes your spirit, and refocuses your attitude.
- Moreover, if Titus 1 is to be believed (and, it’s God’s Word, so it should be), proper attention to and care for family is a pre-requisite to the pastorate.
- For your own sake, and the sake of those in your life, keep things in their proper order. You, your family, and your congregation will all benefit tremendously from this.
3) Friendship Outside The Fold
Burn this into your heart and mind, pastor: you *need* a true, close friend outside of your congregation with whom you spend regular time. It’s not something nice or even something that’s highly recommended; it’s vital. There needs to be someone close to you in your life to whom you are not “Pastor (Your First Name Here),” but simply “(Your First Name Here).” You are a person first (again, more on this in #5), and there needs to be a relationship in which you can be just you, without the pressures and expectations that come along with the pastoral relationship.
To even the best of people under our care, who know and understand us for who we are, we will always be “Pastor,” even after we’ve moved on from their congregation. Taking off the collar, so to speak, is so very important to our well-being, and it revitalizes us for the tasks of ministry.
4) Regular Rest
No, not sleep; rest.
The pastorate can easily lend itself to workaholism, both physically and mentally, and that leads to burnout. Slowing down and stopping for a while as a regular part of your life is key to remaining properly focused and energized for the tasks of ministry.
Take that day off each week,
whatever day that may be, and don’t let anything short of an absolute emergency alter that. Your congregation is more capable than perhaps you or they may realize of handling many, if not most, of the tasks of the church (and the reality is that this needs to happen more often than it does in our churches; but, that’s a different blog post).
Regular times away need to happen,
as well—date nights with your spouse (if you’re blessed enough to have one), day or weekend trips with the family, regular vacations, and the like. If the opportunity is both present and conducive, take a sabbatical, whether you use it for study, relaxation, or something else.
But, remember that rest is as much mental as it is physical.
It’s entirely possible for a pastor to be physically away from the tasks of the pastorate, but mentally right in the thick of them—and, that’s just as draining on you, and just as frustrating for your loved ones, if not more so. We need to separate ourselves from the work mentally just as much as we do physically.
5) Pastor is Not Who You Are, It’s What You Do
As pastors, we find ourselves in the peculiar position of not selecting our vocation, but called to it. However, what I’ve observed as perhaps the most dangerous aspect of pastoral ministry is the tendency for us to define ourselves by this vocation.
—And, yes, it’s a “called” vocation, but it’s still a vocation, whether you’re full-time, part-time, associate, bi-vocational, or anything else.
This tendency is enhanced by the fact that we’re one of the rare sets of professionals whom society largely defines by vocation, too.
Think about it. How many people who know that you’re a pastor call you not by your name, but by one of the several terms for your profession, even if they’re not part of your church?
Please don’t misunderstand me: to be a pastor is a high calling, and worthy of the utmost respect. But, always remember this: it’s not who you are, it’s what you do. Before God called you to the pastorate, He created you with personalized tastes, talents, and takes on life. You were born into and foster relationships with others that last a lifetime. These things are what define who you are because they’re permanent; you’ll always be these things, regardless of age, life status, or legal standing.
But, you won’t always be a pastor.
Mark these words, and never forget them.
Every single person who has ever or will ever enter the pastorate will exit it someday. And, that day may come sooner than you think, for reasons you never expected and on terms that you didn’t set. When that day comes, how you’ve defined yourself will largely tell the tale of how your life goes from that point on. If you’ve joined Western society in defining yourself as a pastor, there’s going to be a serious identity crisis in your future when you’re no longer a pastor.
On the other hand, if you define yourself not by your vocation, but by your personal identity and standing as God’s child, you will be more secure and stable.
Call it an aspect of pastoral self-care both for now and for the future:
yourself by what you do, but by who you are and by Whose you are.
From one pastor to another
—take care of yourself,
and let others take care of you, as well, just as you care for so many.
As pastors, along with our fellow believers, both behind and before the pulpit, we’re in this together. We need each other. And, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we won’t be able to effectively care for others.
Rev. Brian C. Farmer