In the previous post, Hazards that Hinder our Self Care, we discussed 3 hazards of ministry that ministers and others involved in ministry need to know about so they can avoid falling prey to them. In this last part, we will look at 4 more hazards that might not be as well-known but are equally problematic if we don’t learn to address them.
1. Not Practicing Sabbath
We know that Scripture calls us to practice Sabbath. God himself modeled this for us by choosing to rest on the seventh day. And we know implicitly that, as Eugene Peterson puts it, the Sabbath is a means of grace that allows us to “separate ourselves from the people who are clinging to us, from the routines to which we are clinging for our identity, and offering them all up to God in praise.”
Peterson’s quote adroitly sums up the issue most of us face when it comes to Sundays—it is a work day, rather than a Sabbath. I unfortunately got to the point that I used to hate Sundays when I was in the local church, because all I did all day was give without ever being fed myself. But as Peterson reminds us, even in the midst of all the work, there is a very real sense in which we need “Sabbath.” Granted, for many of us, Sunday really is a work day and we need another day to have Sabbath. But the key is finding that day and being willing to commit to it weekly.
2. Allowing the Church to Take Over Our Lives
I used to live in a parsonage that was really nice. It had lots of cool features about it, and was perfect for our family. The one drawback? It was located on the church property. As a result, we had a constant stream of “guests” who thought we were the “caretakers” of the property and could assist them with anything from unlocking the church for an event to watching their kids because the sitter they had hired for their meeting failed to show up.
For those of us who work full-time as ministers, constant church activity can too easily become equated with genuine Christianity. By this, I mean that we do lots of good stuff in the name of Christ—but we may not really be doing what is most important. We tend to find that the 50 emails on our computer take much more time than we intended, but we feel good about checking off another thing on our list. And we really don’t like having another meeting to attend, but we sure feel good when we tell others about how many meetings we’ve had that week. One thing we have to ultimately determine is this: what are the priorities of my work as a minister, and how do I ensure that those remain priorities, rather than getting shuffled down the list because there are just to many other “good” things to do?
3. Being Task-Oriented vs. People Oriented
Some of us are more people-oriented; others of us are more task-oriented. But truth be told, we all are required to be involved in both types of ministry, as both are vitally important aspects of being able to do ministry for the Kingdom.
For those of us who are task-oriented (and I count myself among those), we have a real tendency to interact with things, rather than people. We like to do administrative work because we like to check things off our list and recognize at the end of the day that we accomplished many things. The result, sometimes, is that people are then considered a nuisance and hindrance rather than a help. And truth be told, sometimes we can allow ourselves to become absorbed by the tasks of ministry because, simply put, doing those tasks are easier than sitting down with a kid and listening to his concerns over his parents’ impending divorce, or spending time at the hospital with a dying saint of the church.
All of us who are called to ministry have to learn to balance our task-oriented side with our relationship-oriented side. One of our primary tasks as people involved in ministry is to invest ourselves in the lives of others. When we fail to remember that ministry is about people rather than things, we lose sight of what God sees—namely, that people are what are important.
4. Believing We Can Do It All
As far as I know, none of us are omnipotent or omniscient. Yet, we often act that way, believing that we can appropriately deal with all the problems of the people to whom we minister. That’s a problem often unique to those of us in the helping professions. The problem with this approach is twofold: First, not many of us are professionally trained counselors who have the skills to adequately help others with all the issues with which they are dealing. If we are not referring people to trained and licensed counselors to address the deeper needs, we can actually create far more harm than good. Second, we tend to continually seek to address the problems of others, giving continually of ourselves, without ever seeking care for our own needs in the process. As a result, we quickly become burned out.
Finding people with whom we can be vulnerable (a therapist, a spiritual director, an accountability partner or group) is an essential aspect to recognizing that none of us are Superman. Bullets (and unkind words) do hurt us. We aren’t able to jump over buildings (or even the hurdles that the finance committee put in our way). And we definitely can’t outrun a speeding locomotive (much less the train of conflict bearing down on us). Only as we allow others to speak into our lives in pastoral ways, allowing others to share our burdens, and bringing all these things to God can we ensure that we can handle the rigors and demands of ministry.
The key to becoming whole people is twofold. First, we need to recognize our own legitimate needs and then be willing to seek help to fill those needs. Second, we have to recognize our own limitations, and not seek to engage in those areas that are only going to get us into trouble due to our lack of experience and/or knowledge. When we can do these things, we become much better at caring for others because we ourselves have been cared for.
James Hampton is a member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
Image attribution: Jupiterimages / Thinkstock