Pastoral Self-Care

Dr. Raymond Pendleton

Professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling

  • Church & pastoral health

Pastoral ministry is a sacred calling. It requires the best that we have in terms of serving a congregation. The tasks seem overwhelming at times and there is often a long list of unfinished business that must be carried over to the next day. The accumulated demands are confusing. Where to start? There is no end of what need to be done.

The stress that comes with so many tasks is cumulative. A desire to be all things to all people Increases the load. Then the burden becomes too heavy. Burnout and breakdown are real possibilities. The solution is hidden from the overwhelmed person.

The solution does not seem logical. But the need for self-care is essential for restoring the balance and provide for a sense of strength and wellbeing. Let’s discuss the multifaceted process of self-care.

To begin with is the recognition of the five aspects of personhood: physical, emotional, cognitive, relational and, at the center, spiritual. This complex matrix of personhood needs to be understood in the way that each function or facet influences the others.

As an illustration let’s look at depression. When a person is depressed, physical energy is depleted to psychomotor retardation. The normal emotional response to various issues is dulled. Thinking and problem solving are difficult. It takes too much work to interact with others. Finally, prayer, in-depth bible meditation and study is unproductive, and we are distracted in worship. It is too hard to follow the teaching of others.

The process of self-care begins with a careful analysis of all the demands on our time.

Every person has the same 168 hours in the week. How we use that time reflects the issues that we must consider. The temptation is to list the ideal time distribution. However, there is no single template. Everyone faces an array of different issues. We need to be honest with ourselves. The place where we make the most investment of resources  indicates what is the most important to us.

The first step is to look at the week just passed. Look at your calendar or appointment book. There will be blanks that you can’t identify. This will remind you that you need to try, in the week(s) ahead, to note all your activities. It is most helpful if you make the analysis over a one-month period. The reason is straightforward because each week is different. I have found it helpful to have an accountability partner, not necessarily your spouse

An accountability partner is one who understands the myriad demands of ministry.

The second step is to identify those activities or relationships that are the greatest source of stress. Every congregation has members who are very needy and will consume an inordinate amount of time and energy.

The third step is to list the tasks that need to be carried out each week. After you have assembled all this data then a plan for managing your time and energy should be developed.

Next month we will begin to outline the process of orderly self-care that will provide for a balanced and fulfilling ministry.

Dr. Raymond Pendleton, Professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling

Dr. Pendleton is a licensed Clinical Psychologist. He has retired as a full time faculty member at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he served for 44 years. He served as Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling and for many years as Director of the Mentored Ministry Program. He is Chair of the Board of Lead Them Home, serves on the Hagar's Sisters board and is a member of the American Psychological Association.

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