Who cares for the pastor?

Lillian Daniel sparks an interesting conversation about clergy self-care in her article at Out of Ur, What Clergy Do Not Need.  Lillian’s point is that the “self-care talk” given at ordinations has become a joke, a cliche.  What we as clergy need, she asserts, are  deep relationships with fellow pastors and with God.

Further,  Daniel states:  “My hunch, based upon my own experience in times when I have not taken care of myself, is that what I was missing was not within me already. I was lacking something, but it was not something that a lecture in self-care would fix.”

Here’s my comment in response to her post:

While the “self-care talk” may have become a cliche, that does not invalidate serious conversation about the need of pastors to pay attention to their own emotional, spiritual, and physical signals.

Self-care should not imply “self-reliance,” but rather recognition that I as a pastor need to mind my schedule, my commitments, and my relationships — the one with God included. Only we can do that for ourselves.

Blaming the pastor in need of physical, emotional, or spiritual renewal is not productive or helpful. We have too many instances of self-imposed failure to add  failure to care for self  to that list.

The answer lies not just in ourselves but in community with others. While community with fellow pastors is welcomed, my own faith community has most often provided the support, encouragement, and prayer I need. My approach is not to circle the wagons with fellow pastors, but to allow my own community to care for me, as I care for them.

I had another opportunity to experience that communal care this past summer when my brother died. I found being on the receiving end of care a difficult and humbling experience. I am trying to allow my own faith family inside my emotional and spiritual fence so that they can exercise their care for me in a shared call to “bear one another’s burdens.”

What do you think?  Do pastors need each other, or is our own church family a place of healing and care?  Who watches out for your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being?  This should be interesting, and with hundreds of clergy leaving the ministry each month, this is a conversation we need to have.

3 thoughts on “Who cares for the pastor?”

  1. We, as pastors, should not view our church family as the primary source of healing and care. Yes, healing and care can come from them but totally relying on them for this is not healthy.

    What we need is a multi-fronted way of helping us deal with our lives as pastors. Relationships with those outside of our church family is a great way of providing a sense of identity as a person without the lens of pastor. Several relationships that I continue to nurture have helped me through those times when I needed to be just John and not Pastor John.

    I have also found that monthly visits to a psychologist have provided me with great opportunities to see those areas where I need help. I am a family systems person so I appreciate the perspective and how I function in my family and church family are related.

  2. Pastoral self-care cannot ever be stressed enough. Thanks for your article and pointing out that even that old cliched line needs to be retold over and over again…until it becomes part of the clerical identity.

    I also like what John commented about for a pastor to have a life outside of the congregation. I would add that a pastor also needs to find fulfillment outside of the congregation (e.g., going back to school, volunteering somewhere, joining a bowling league, et al). Otherwise, if a pastor’s relationship with a congregation sours, the pastor may find him/herself thinking they are a failure.

  3. I’ve belonged to a small accountability group of pastors (six or seven of us) for over 15 years. We meet every other week for an hour and a half. Our main focus is to go around the group and do a “soul check” as we call it.

    I’ve pastored one church for 34 years. In order to hang in there for the long haul I’ve found this group to be indispensable. We bear each others burdens and encourage one another. I’ve shed my share of tears with the group. It’s been good. I can’t be as open with anyone from my church as I can with these guys. It’s great! I’d recommend an accountability group for any pastor.

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