“Many pastors struggle to stay sane because they’re operating under the handicap of a flawed philosophy of Christian leadership,” from Self-Care for the Weary Pastor.
Are you a member of the club: The few who do the majority of the work at your church — especially now in these demanding times?
As a church leader, it’s imperative that you take care of yourself. Unfortunately, that goes against the grain for many pastors and ministry servants who feel on call 24/7 and feel guilty for needing time off. Even Jesus needed solitude, and he encouraged his disciples to get away for a break.
So, here’s your permission — and a few self-care tips. Take time out for you this week. Note: These tips should be adjusted for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Take a timeout. Church leadership is challenging. If you find yourself increasingly frustrated, depressed or stressed, put yourself in timeout. Find a nice, quiet spot alone, and leave your phone behind. Shut your office door. Sit in the car. Hide in the bathroom. When there, close your eyes and take several deep breaths, say a prayer, tense and relax your shoulder muscles and roll your head and neck. It’s amazing what a difference five minutes can make.
- Leave for lunch. Everybody deserves a break (breakfast, lunch or dinner — depending on your hours). The busier the day, the more important it is that you take one. If at all possible, leave the church. You don’t have to go far. If you don’t want to eat out, pack your lunch and go to your car in the parking lot, a local park or food court to eat. Have your spouse or a friend meet you, but make it a rule not to talk “shop.”
- Move that body! Finding time to exercise is hard when your schedule is already full, but exercise offers many emotional as well as physical benefits. Even mild efforts are helpful and can help prevent burnout and fatigue. If time is an issue, try parking farther from the church or walking around the parking lot once every time you enter or exit the building. You might also consider walking to a colleague’s desk versus sending an email.
- Be natural. Fresh air, scenic views, warm sunshine on your face … through God’s design, our bodies seem to naturally recharge whenever we venture outdoors. Yet, all day, every day, many people only step out of one structure or vehicle directly into another. With the portability of technology today, there’s no reason that work can’t be accomplished outside just as well as inside. So, plan the next staff meeting under your picnic shelter. Sit under a tree to do your Bible study. Be creative!
- Maintain a hobby. Reading, sewing, shopping, building, baking, taking pictures — whatever you like to do, do it! You can’t just say you have a hobby, you need to spend time maintaining it. At least once a week, block out time on your schedule to do the things you love.
- Reward yourself. Treats aren’t just for children. Even the most serious no-nonsense adult enjoys a reward. Purchase a variety of small items that you consider indulgences, things that you really like but wouldn’t normally purchase for yourself: candy, a gift card to your favorite coffee shop, gourmet cookies or hot cocoa packs, a special body wash or hand soap. Pick up several items and then tuck them away at home and at the office. When you’re having a particularly bad day, pull one out and enjoy.
- Create memories. Good memories help carry us through rough times. Make a point to create lots of them. Spending time with the people you love builds emotional reserves that helps you get through those busy, chaotic days that never seem to end. Keep pictures of good times and loved ones on your phone or desk to remind you of good memories.
- Worship and praise. No amount of service can take the place of worship. Prioritize not just Bible study time but worship as well. Instead of taking calls when you’re in the car, play worship music. Play praise music while you are getting ready in the morning. Sing hymns when you’re alone in your office. Sing the Doxology as you wash your hands. If you are a pastor, schedule a week when you don’t have to preach but can listen to someone else’s sermon.
- Get away. You may think that everything will fall apart if you aren’t there, but you will fall apart if you’re there too much. At least once a year, take a vacation or staycation. Delegate someone else to be in charge, and get away. If you can’t afford a long trip, take several day trips. Plan ahead or be spontaneous, but avoid at all costs being sucked into work. Turn off your phone. Unplug your computer, and just relax for a while.
- Eat, sleep and maintain balance. You know what you need to do. Eat right. Get a good night’s rest. Get a physical every year. Follow health and safety recommendations. Take care of yourself. There’s only one of you! Set an example for your team and family and encourage them to lean into similar practices. By establishing an environment that supports self-care and wellness you'll feel more at ease in taking time in the future and in helping those around you to do the same.
These steps are even more important in light of the recent COVID-19 restrictions. While church buildings may be closed, pastors and church leaders are having to work harder than ever to meet the increasing needs of their congregations. Finding creative ways to encourage spiritual growth and unity, combat loneliness, visit the sick and minister to the hurting is proving even more stressful under isolation practices.
Since the needs of your congregation are likely to continue to grow during this trying time, you must remember that self-care is important. However, it won’t happen without effort. No matter what your profession or ministry, it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race of life. Don’t be deceived into thinking that you’re more godly if you work yourself to death.
Be intentional. Schedule time for rest and relaxation. Work as hard at taking care of you as you do your church. Your church needs you, but they need you to be healthy and well — emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.