If I were to start over, what would I be sure to practice?
Self-care is not only good stewardship of the self but also a gift to the church. When a Christian minister practices self-care, the congregation is blessed!
Such practices include:
1. Self-care of the mind. Most of us need to be intentional about stretching our minds. Too many ministers do not read widely and get stuck in a mental rut. The mind needs exercise. After completing my academic degrees, I continued to audit numerous classes at several seminaries. I also read widely including book reviews, good blogs, and journal articles. Such practices have helped sharpen my thinking over the years.
2. Self-care of the soul. Ministry is a calling born out of one?s experience with Christ. Yet one must be intentional about cultivating a heart that is available for what God wishes to do through that calling.
Most mornings, I begin the day reading my Bible, praying, and writing in my journal. These disciplines and others have been important for cultivating my heart. Prayer books, biographies, and classical devotional material have all been helpful to me.
3. Self-care of the emotions. So many ministers have neglected this one! Perhaps a person has never dealt with the pain and hurt in his or her life. Meanwhile, others are confused by this person?s intense anger and on-going depression. Often such emotions spill over into the church and other relationships.
What does a person need for emotional care? Relationships. Yet, many ministers speak of the loneliness and lack of close relationships that characterize their lives. Unfortunately, when someone lacks healthy, intimate relationships, that person will often seek intimacy in inappropriate ways such as pornography, emotional and/or sexual affairs.
How do authentic relationships happen? Generally speaking, one has to take initiative instead of passively waiting for a friendship to form. Some of the most unlikely people may turn out to be wonderful friends. For me, these friends have included people both inside and outside our church. For many years, I have regularly had lunch with a few people who are not a part of our church. These relationships remind me that I am still a normal human being who is married and has a mortgage.
4. Self-care of the body. Far too many ministers practice the spiritual disciplines and nurture their intellectual life but then completely neglect to care for their bodies. Self-care is about caring for the whole self, including the body. I have tried to be attentive to this after witnessing the impact of a stressful lifestyle on a few ministers who neglected their bodies. Sleep, nutrition, and engaging in some kind of physical exercise are each very important.
Taking a day off is extremely important. Play, relaxation and just being human are a part of what it means to be a healthy, whole person. Such self-care is not a luxury but is a God honoring investment in long-term ministry.
April 24, 2008