While you are taking care of everybody else virtually 24/7 and working on feeding your congregation, who is taking care of the pastor? How do you take care of the pastor’s soul?
When your soul is not being cared for…
One of the obvious characteristics is a heavy weariness. Your body feels tired; your soul feels tired. You experience a lowered capacity; you’re easily overwhelmed by daily issues. You might begin to feel more distant from God and less like praying. It feels like God is nowhere to be found; you’re on your own—your soul begins to languish. Like the Psalmist said, “I am in this dry and weary land where there is no water.” You feel parched. You are easily triggered, reacting to people instead of taking the time to respond gracefully and to think through how to stay relational.
When your soul is being cared for…
You are more joyful. Life seems good; you have a sense of well being—you are okay. You know who you are and are more aware of God’s presence. He feels close and relationally available, connected. There is a sense of satisfaction and goodness. Your responses are much more graceful and thoughtful.
How Do You Get There From Here?
The truth is that unless you are intentional and deliberate, your soul will begin to look like that beat up boat in the first picture. When you are all worn out you act more like a program director instead of a pastor.
A Two-Pronged Strategy…
1. Pragmatic or Structural Resources…
Rest and Quiet
The Life Model talks about the pragmatic all the time. Learn how to quiet and rest often. Take breaks. Take a few deep breaths; get out and look at the sunshine. Remember who you are and whose you are. Push the demands out of your mind and soak in the goodness of God. Dr. Wilder talks about the need to oscillate between intensity and rest. This builds strength and is good for your mental health. Take this seriously. Set a “break timer” if you need to.
Often people expect pastors not to set boundaries. They want you to be available all the time and answer your cell phone when they call. Pastors, think about how to use your phones. See who is calling and let the phone message take care of some of this stuff.
Set up a “Sabbath rest” day. When you have that day, have an agreement with your spouse or family not to talk about church business. This is your day to receive; your day to be refreshed and pay attention to what is good for you.
Have a gate keeper—someone who screen calls and protects you from the constant barrage that would sap your strength. It really is okay for pastors to set boundaries.
Develop A Pastoral Care Team
Develop a pastoral care team to take care of the congregation’s long term soul care and counseling. Part of your job is to train your people to minister to one another. It is good for them to learn how to give life and take part in the ministry. If you have heard of Steven’s Ministry, it is very worthwhile to look into. Train some of your lay people to come alongside some of those who need help. This is a way for you to delegate and off load some of the demands on your time.
Have a Hobby
Care For Your Own Family
Above all, take good care of your marriage and family. This is a way of taking care of your own soul. Make sure your spouse has someone he/she can talk to other than yourself to vent and talk in a safe and confidential place.
2. Personal/Spiritual Resources…
Daily Conversational Prayer
You need daily, conversational prayer with God. As a pastor you have a God-sized job. You can’t do it unless He is pouring into your life! The bible study to prepare for the next sermon does not count. You need to spend time with God with absolutely no agenda other than your own spiritual health, to feast at God’s table—let Him pour into you and into your soul.
This needs to be in your job description. Part of what you are being paid for is to spend time with God and have Him pour into you so that you can pour into others with the overflow. Talk to your elders or whoever is in charge of your employment and put this in your job description that you spend time with God every day.
Relentlessly Pursue Healing and Restoration
Relentlessly pursue your own healing and restoration. It is often tempting to think that the greatest problems that you deal with as pastors are church related: financial problems, procedural problems, relational and communal problems, but in terms of your own ministry, the greatest problems you face can come from your own unhealed places. If these are not taken care of, they will wear you down. Being a minister does not mean that you have arrived someplace. There is not a period of training and now you have the skills you need and now it is your turn to do all the giving. You need to relentlessly pursue your healing—this is a lifelong process.
A resource I highly recommend is Carl Lehman’s, Outsmarting Yourself. Digest what it has to say because you need to be able to identify the things that trigger you and take them to God and get those cleaned out. This is huge. Beyond that, healing changes you in ways you can’t even begin to anticipate. You learn things about the goodness of God and how God works in you for your own good. Healing will actually change the way you minister to others, the way you preach and the vocabulary you use.
Transparency Before God
Practice transparency before God. This is very important because most pastors, unless you are in some kind of very unusual group, most pastors find that full transparency probably is not possible. Even though you can model some level of transparency and show people how to walk through hard times, there is some discretion and some discernment needed in how you do that publically. A lot of people in your congregations need to see you as being up-stream from them and too much transparency can destroy their trust in you.
The problem is that whenever you try to practice some kind of limited or guarded transparency with people, it is easy to carry that over as your modus oprendi when talking to God. Throw out those boundaries in your relationship with God. And allow Him probe deep in your heart and life so you can get the healing you need. In Psalm 139 the psalmist says, “Search me oh, God and know my heart.”
You also need to find another person other than your spouse with whom transparency is possible—someone safe and encouraging, who will check in on you and challenge you. Keeping everything to yourself has a way of wearing down your soul.
Develop A Trusted Intercessory Team
Develop a trusted intercessory team with whom you can share sensitive information and keep them up to date on what to pray for. Take this very seriously because you are in a spiritual war and you need to be covered in prayer. This is important for the protection of your soul.
Leave The Outcome With God
As much as possible and prudent, focus on the process; leave the outcomes to God. Paul planted, Apollos watered but God gave the increase. This does not mean that you are passive in any way. It just means you need to know what your part is and what God’s part is. You need to stop when you have done your part; don’t try to control the outcome.
Caring for your own soul is not a selfish act.
In fact, if you want to minister well, it’s not even optional. We hope that someone has been encouraged to be more deliberate about taking care of your own soul needs. When you are in the eye of the storm of your work, busyness and overwhelm, it can be hard to remember to care for yourself. These steps will help you get started.
- Inventory your soul needs
- Implement what you can of these steps
- Determine to work toward the others
Carol A. Brown B.A., M.A.C.I. Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com http://connectwithcarolbrown.blogspot.com, and Chris Coursey, B.A., M.A. Theology
This blog post is from a talk given for Pastor’s Weekly by David Tackle, a pastoral counselor, teacher and author. You can find him at www.Kingdom Formation.org.