How to avoid burnout in ministry: Principles of self-care

“Self-care is the wisdom to ensure, as far as humanly possible, a wise and orderly work that conserves and lengthens a pastor’s ministry. It means understanding the meaning of positive health and working toward it as a way of ensuring that we will remain effective in the great work God has given us to do.”  Peter Brain, Going the Distance

While there may be hesitancy or cynicism with the idea of self-care, the reality is, as pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile says, “the more your life involves you giving yourself away to others, the more necessary is self-care.”  The authors of Resilient Ministry found that self-care depends upon the connectedness between these five elements:

Spiritual self-care asks where pastors derive their identity and sufficiency: from their position in the church or from their position in Christ? This dimension of self-care requires personal spiritual disciplines in the Word and prayer, not just for sermon preparation, so pastors can and will practice what they preach (1 Tim 4:6-8). With 40% of all pastors saying that it is somewhat difficult to find time to invest in their own spiritual development, this is a critical issue. (1)

“Pace your life. Acknowledge your limitations. Don’t be too slow…you have a stewardship to account for (Matt 25:14-30). Don’t be too fast…we’re called to plant and water for our joy, but God makes it grow (1 Cor 3:6-7). We have to do life and ministry as humans, which means we cannot be everywhere at once (omnipresent), we cannot know all things (omniscient), and we cannot fix everything (omnipotent). Those things belong to God.” (2)

Emotional self-care involves working through four key identity issues: personality, family of origin, the distinction between role and person, and comparisons to others. This process may involve a close friend or a counselor (Phil 4:11-12; Eph 4:26).  

Relational self-care involves having a support system of strong, safe friends who can help and hold you accountable and who love you enough to tell you when you are wrong. This includes various levels of friends both in and out of your local church as well as your peers in ministry (Prov 17:17, 27:17). 

Physical self-care engenders ministry fitness. With 76% of clergy listed as either overweight or obese, we must return to rhythms of regular exercise, healthy eating and rest, including regular days off, vacations, Sabbaths and sabbaticals (1 Cor 6:19-20, 9:25-27; Prov 24:5, 31:17).

With the exception of those who work in slavery-like conditions, chronic overwork arises from a disbelief in God’s provision and attempts to take matters into human hands. (3)

Jesus rested. Jesus regularly got away and sought the Lord. Why do we think we don’t need to? Most of us run hard and all day long, running on empty until we breakdown where we are. And we begin to equate that as “productivity” and “hard work” when really we’ve been diminishing in productivity all the while. (4)

Intellectual self-care is important because it is possible for pastors to fall into intellectual ruts and not be renewed in their minds. Dedicate time for enrichment reading, reflection, informal (leisure reading and interactions), non-formal (structured and intentional), or formal (classroom) education (1 Pet 1:13). (5)

Self-care is not selfish. It is a way to address the disintegration in our lives and remain fruitful for the length of our lives.

Reflect

  1. What would help you value self-care more, even in the midst of expectations, exhaustion, and excuses?
  2. What have been your levels of frustration, depression, and dryness this past year? What can help you manage them well?
  3. To what extent are my needs for connection with others met? Who are my true confidants?
  4. What is one bad habit that you would like to replace with a new routine toward better physical health?
  5. In what areas would you like to pursue professional development? What would you hope to learn?

(1) Barna, State of Pastors 2017
(2,4) Thabiti Anyabwile on Self-Care, message at MTF Twin Cities event
(3) Rest & Work, Theology of Work
(5) Self-Care notes adapted from ncdefca.org

 

Topics: Personal Wholeness

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