Before leaving the subject of pastors and their survival in ministry (touched upon here and here and here), there are several things that need to be said to pastors themselves. That is, you need to take care of yourselves. Others would like to take care of you, yes. But they may not know what you need, or how to give it to you.
To many you work only when you are visible and the rest of the time you are, well, they have no clue. So other than praying for you (greatly appreciated!), they are not sure how to care for you. Therefore you need to care of yourself. Take care using all the regular and ordinary channels – good diet, exercise, brushing your teeth, getting medical check ups, finding sabbath rest, and so forth. But I would like to suggest several perhaps not so obvious strategies.
1) Engage a hobby.
Find an activity which is unrelated to ministry and which you do just for fun. Make it one which at the end of the day you can stand back and say, ‘It is done.’ Ministry is never done and the job description is completely open-ended. But a hobby can be taken up and put down at will and has a clear measure by which progress can be measured. Learn woodworking, stamp collecting, gardening, or something similar. If Winston Churchill could find time to take up painting while leading a country at war, you are not too busy to take up, say, crocheting. You need it.
2) Find a friend.
As well, you need a friend. Most pastors do not have one, not one with whom they can be completely honest. Find a friend outside the church to whom you can express your mind, unload your frustrations, and find time to laugh for no reason at all. Sometimes we just need to vent, to unload our thoughts on someone who understands, whom we can trust, and whom we cannot offend. I would not have made it this far without friends in ministry who have heard my gripes, comforted my tears, and pushed me back out into the fray when I wanted to quit.
3) See a therapist.
I’m not joking. Don’t be so proud to think you don’t need help. This is a calling you cannot pursue alone! If anger or depression or listlessness or marital bickering become an issue, it is time to seek outside help. There is nothing shameful in that. Your ordination does not make you invincible nor does it remove your human struggles. Sanctification is neither immediate nor perfected in this life. Good therapy can be a part of your growth in grace, and growth in ministry. Pursue it.
4) Read good books.
There are books that I have returned to frequently over the years, books which have encouraged me and shaped me, books which have centered me and which have reined me in when I was wandering afield. There are five that I would want every pastor to have read or be reading….
[And here is where I would identify those five books. But I’m going to wait on that. First I’d like to hear from you, my readers. Whether you are a pastor or not, what books would you want to see populating such a list?]
So, yes, pastor, get your exercise, take your day off, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, cut back on the salt, and see a doctor. But there are elements of self care necessary to our calling that too many of us neglect, to our own, and our congregations’, detriment.