The spiel you hear every time you fly includes a good lesson for church leaders. It’s when the flight attendant briefs you about the oxygen masks and says, “If you’re traveling with children or someone who needs assistance, be sure to put your own mask on first before helping them.” That makes sense, because if you’re struggling to breathe, you’re probably unable to provide the help someone else needs.
Yet so many pastors and church leaders address what can seem like a never-ending list of challenges from church members without stopping to take care of their own needs. Granted, the desire to serve is part of what calls most people to ministry, but we can’t forget that we’re all human and have to care for ourselves if we’re going to be effective at caring for others. Even Jesus took time away from his disciples to rest and pray privately.
Taking time for ourselves can seem to be selfish, but it isn’t. When we give ourselves the time and space to rest and relax, we become rejuvenated and can return to the demands of our ministry with fresh energy and enthusiasm. An occasional vacation can help, but most pastors and church leaders really need breaks more often than an annual trip to the beach. In fact, blocking out time for yourself each week is a sensible strategy. Spend that time doing what makes you feel better, whether that’s a hobby, working out, going somewhere, or just reflecting in a quiet place.
A similar challenge for many pastors is an inability to confide in others. We all have moments when we feel overwhelmed, struggle with self-doubt, or notice that our ability to be compassionate is starting to wane. Who can we turn to? Spouses are one choice, but they face their own challenges, and we don’t want to overwhelm them. Confessing doubts or anxieties to the congregation’s lay leaders may not enhance job security.
That’s why pastors can benefit from establishing a relationship with a professional counselor who understands the realities of ministry. A counselor is a safe option for pastors, because he or she is required to keep conversations confidential. Even if you’re not feeling overwhelmed by your role and responsivities, just being able to confide in an objective listener who knows what your work is like can provide tremendous relief from stress.
Talking to a counselor isn’t a sign of weakness or a lack of faith. It’s actually a recognition of your own limits and a desire to be a better servant of God. You may be surprised how many other people in clergy talk with a counselor on a regular basis. Why not give it a try? Make a single appointment with a counselor and see how you feel afterward. I’m confident you’ll feel so much better that it won’t be a one-time visit.
John Money was a pastor and is now a counselor who has helped couples, families, teens, and other individuals seeking emotional and spiritual healing.