Ministry has shifted—and ministry is strained. Congregational care, at the best of times, has always been important. During a pandemic, congregational care is essential. As congregational needs have increased, traditional means of support have crumbled. Pastoral care has had to take place in environments where we cannot meet or gather as congregations.
The anxiety and the expressed unknown of an odorless, colorless, tasteless, and sightless contagion have caused enormous pressure on health-care systems and stress on global economic systems. The church has not gone unscathed. The uncertainty has brought ministry pressure to the church. Ministering in unprecedented times requires a particular ministry.
Intentional pastoral care to families, which includes seniors who may be more isolated, parents working from home, and youth and children out of school and at home every day, requires more creativity and strategic vision.
In many ways, ministry served out of the pastor’s house for days or weeks using technology requires more intentionality, time, and planning. Coaching married couples, planning worship services, verifying congregational news, meeting with ministry leaders, and providing spiritual care can defy the clock and deplete all energy. Only deliberate self-care will yield effectiveness over the long haul of ministry for the pastor.
If you fail at self-care, you certainly will not be effective while caring for others.
To care for others consistently requires care for oneself. If a person is not well, it is pretty hard to care for others. Quite frankly, a person cannot give what they do not have. Thank God, we are not alone in our struggle. Trauma counselor Karen Nicola states, “I try to imagine how my pastor struggles to attend to the needs of us, while learning new technology and attempting to keep us close as a church community when being together is not an option. I wonder how his needs for self-care are being met in this unprecedented time of collective change, trauma, and loss.”
Airlines figured out long ago the importance of establishing guidelines for a depleted oxygen environment that direct parents to take care of themselves first by donning their oxygen masks before taking care of their children. Self-care is not selfish. It is wise. Even our Lord Jesus encouraged His disciples to get away to a quiet place to rest awhile when the ministry was so busy that they did not even take time to eat (see Mark 6:31).
In years past, the mere mention of self-care evoked misunderstanding and the label of not giving all. Early on in pastoral ministry, I remember hearing senior leaders brag about the last time they had a vacation as if it were a badge of honor. I wonder today how their families felt about it. Chek and Sally Phoon admonish “pastors need to be reminded that one of the greatest contributions they can make to God’s kingdom is to nurture their own families as a testimony to the power of God in loving relationships.”
Self-care can bring clarity to help nurture a spiritual discipline that establishes a relationship with God. We may feel that we have had so much theology educationally that we do not need to study, pray, or take it seriously anymore. However, this goes beyond theology. Intimacy with Christ can be faked only for a season. The secret to any authentic, viable ministry is to know the living Lord personally and intimately.
Self-care can also be experienced through a change of pace, resting, meditating, praying, and taking time out for physical exercise. Self-care is the replenishing of the depleted resources exhausted mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially in ministry. Amazingly, these were the exact attributes of our Lord Jesus as He grew into a man (see Luke 2:52). Understanding the complex role of contemporary pastors gives insight into the necessity for spiritual connection, emotional care, and physical awareness. All are essential and important to life balance in the professional journey of Adventist pastors.
Finally, because of the rise in the need for congregational care during these times, more attention should be given to self-care in pastoral ministry. In fact, “to pastor is to care.” Caring is more about who we are as persons, and that caring yields through what we do. Caring through feeding, equipping, leading, and serving are all a part of the biblical role and calling of a pastor. The higher the demand from the congregation and community, the more focus should be given to the question, How am I doing?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, faithful, caregiving pastors are needed more than ever. If you fail at self-care, you certainly will not be effective while caring for others. I pray you will take care of yourselves along the journey of pastoral ministry, to be the best caregivers, especially during this pandemic.
- Karen Nicola, “Put Your Oxygen Mask on First,” North American Division Best Practices, April 26, 2020, https://www.nadministerial.com/stories/put-your-oxygen-mask-on-first.
- Chek Yat Phoon and Sally Lam-Phoon, “The Pastor as a Person,” in A Guide to Effective Pastoral Ministry, ed. Steve D. Cassimy, Abraham J. Jules, and Nikolaus Satelmajer (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2009), 26.
- See Ivan L. Williams Sr., Keep the Flame Burning in Your Ministry: Addressing Passion, Burnout, and Renewal in Pastoral Ministry (Sacramento, CA: Brighter Hope Ministries, 2004), 103.