Pastoral Self-Care (Part 3)

Dr. Raymond Pendleton

Professor of Pastoral Care & Counseling

  • Church & pastoral health

One of the best methods for appropriate selfcare is developing a plan for the management of stress that is a part of meaningful ministry. In the first part of this series, we talked about the importance of taking a careful inventory of the way in which our time is utilized. This assessment will help to shape the contours of moving forward.  

The Apostle Paul refers to the life of faith as a race to be run. This means careful personal preparation.  A whole person view, that we have discussed, is to identify the 5 interactive facets that are at work: physical, emotional, intellectual, relational and spiritual. 

Becoming good stewards of our bodies is where we begin. We are reminded by the Apostle that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we must treat the body that God has given us with respect and appropriate care.  Having a balanced nutritional diet is a good place to begin.  It is easy to slip into careless patterns of eating. The second concern is for proper exercise.  Much of our work as pastors is quite sedentary. We need to find something that we like to do for physical activity, for example, walking or running puts that eustress on our bodies and tends to reduce stress. 

God created us as beings with emotions. Learning to understand our emotional style helps us to adapt to the normal stress of emotions. Our emotional responses are also combined with our personality type. Some of us are Type A: energetic, often competitive and tense.  Some of us are Type B: more relaxed and easy-going. There is no ideal personality type for the Christian minister. There are many examples of productive ministries for all kinds of personality configurations. The management of our emotions is essential.   

Stress often leads to dangerous addictive behavior for the self-soothing of the overworked and underappreciated pastor. Using food for comfort or some other activity including the viewing of material that leads to addiction to pornography. If this has become an issue it is essential to deal with it since it destroys marriages and ministry. It is not a matter of self will to overcome this but rather a plan of working through the issue with others.  Here I want to recommend a book by Jay Stringer, “Unwanted, dealing with sexual brokenness” 

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans that we are not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Guiding our intellectual life is essential. Having a Christian mind is a God Centered Mind a mind that is humble and hungry to be fed by the good things of God. I recommend an excellent book on the Christian mind by John Stott and Mark Noll. Having a Christian mind leaves us free to make good and godly decisions. 

Our relationships in ministry are critical. For the married pastor a good solid and loving relationships with our wives and an open and available relationship with our children is essential and is an example to the congregation of a godly way to live. Many families of pastors feel that they are living with a stranger who pops in occasionally but spends the majority of time is spent on the business of the church. It is no wonder that so many children of pastors leave the church. 

At the center of our spiritual lives is our relationship to God in Christ. Having a disciplined prayer life. A life soaked in our meditation on the scriptures; not only when we are preparing to preach. 

Let me conclude with some thoughts about the management of stress. Do one thing at a time.  Do the best that you can and avoid living your life by comparing it to others. Separate out those things over which you have no control. Don’t get boxed in by indecision. Accept the reality of your own limitations. God uses us as we are because his strength is made perfect in our weakness. Face crises has they come and resolve them.   

We serve a loving, gracious, and tender Shepherd who wants to lead us through the path ahead. 

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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