Church consultant Win Arn once surveyed members of about 1,000 churches asking the question, “Why does the church exist?” Astonishingly, 89% of those surveyed responded that “The church’s purpose is to take care of my family’s and my needs.”
I thought, “That can’t be right.” So I conducted the same survey with my own congregation. Surprisingly, 80% of my congregation said the same thing. I’m still stunned.
To be fair to church members, pastors must actually agree with this survey, if you look at their actions. Most pastors are enormously adept at people-pleasing. They often do whatever it takes to take care of their people. They even feel guilty for not doing it. And yes, they are heavily criticized when people think they don’t care.
So perhaps the survey isn’t so crazy after all. If that’s what church members think the role of the church is, we’re only proving it by our actions.
Yes, pastors are good at taking care of others, but admittedly not so good at taking care of themselves. It seems they can’t allow others to see they are human too. They don’t want to appear to be weak or fragile. But then they can’t receive the same love and care they give. Pride goes before a fall.
That’s why pastors must balance caring for church members and caring for themselves. That’s not selfish. Pastors won’t be any good to anybody if they’re suffering from burnout and depression.
Pastors are good at taking care of others, but admittedly not so good at taking care of themselves.
Here are seven things that will help a pastor learn to take care of himself:
1. Take a day off every week, and refuse to do “church work.”
Tell your church family what day that is so they can expect you not to be available. They will also hold you accountable for it. Most pastors say they take a day off each week. What they mean is they have a day off, but rarely take it. Foolish mistake. A people-pleaser’s nightmare is to take time off.
2. Go outside for a walk every day.
It will lift your spirits and help your waistline. It helps lift depression, the greatest medical problem of our generation.
3. Spend some time every day in private worship with God.
Pastors usually don’t read the Bible to feed themselves. They are studying to feed other people. They haven’t even realized that the end result is they are starving to death spiritually. That opens the door to deception and poor decision making.
4. If you’re working from home, avoid the temptation to eat at will.
Eating is pleasurable, but watch out if you’re trying to eat away your pain. When working away from home, it’s much easier to discipline yourself between meals. But when food is always just a few feet away, it’s hard to say no. No one will do this for you. Only you can discipline your appetite.
5. Spend private alone-time with your spouse every week.
We kind of fall into parenting. The kids are there and run and jump on us. But we don’t fall into a good marriage. Our spouse doesn’t usually come and jump on us. They are waiting for an invitation. If you don’t work hard at your marriage, eventually you won’t have a marriage — or a ministry. Just ask all the divorced ex-pastors.
6. Operate out of your strengths, not your weaknesses.
Too many of us keep doing what we’re not good at, and that’s a huge mistake. That mode of operation will eventually prevent you from learning and growing into the disciple your family and church needs. Remember, you’re not fully developed emotionally or spiritually just because you’re in ministry. Consider taking an assessment like StrengthsFinder to figure out how God made you. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina can work with you to take the assessment and provide some coaching around it. We have great coaches who have worked with many pastors.
7. Create margins.
Everyone needs margin in four areas: physical energy, emotional energy, time and money. If even one of those areas is deficient, you will pay a deep price for it. I know, because early in my ministry I didn’t have margin in any of those areas. Eventually it all caught up with me because I couldn’t say no to anybody or anything. It took me a long time, but I’ve worked hard to create margin in each area of my life. Now, I try to protect this margin at all costs.
If we can assist you in learning to better care for yourself , please don’t hesitate to contact us.
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