The following article is part of a series where Ryan Williams and his wife, Natasha, write corresponding articles on ministry throughout times of trial. This article is the companion piece to Natasha’s initial post on the topic of self-care.
After enduring many different episodes of church chaos: breakdowns of internal structure, staff revolt, division on an elder team, revelations of sin leaching into the public sphere, gossip, attacks on my character, and shepherding challenging leaders, one might think I am an expert at handling myself in times of trial. While I have learned a thing or two, it hasn’t come easy. One observation is the consistent ways a ministry couple is attacked during trial in the church. In this three-part series, a companion series to one for the ministry wife, we’ll discuss some of these attacks. In this post we’ll look at the importance of a pastor’s self-care.
The words “self-care” may cause some push back: shouldn’t we die to self? And yes that is the call upon all who follow Christ. When I say self-care, I’m not saying be selfish. Self-care in ministry is honoring God by exercising faith in him to care for you, your family, and the church. The bridge to this truth and application may seem hard to find, but there are practical ways to practice this.
For me, these “lessons learned” did not come from doing things right, but from living and doing things that resulted in failure to care for myself, my family, and the church well. Consequently the pain and suffering I endured through trial in ministry was needlessly deepened. Here are three lessons I learned the hard way:
1.) Get Away from Work
This means more than absence from the office; it means mental and emotional presence with people and the places you are when you are not at the office. We take so much home with us, not just in our briefcases, but in our minds. To care for yourself during times of trial when ministry seeks to press in on all sides, you need to get away.
Clearly this means turning off your phone, not checking e-mail, and making yourself unavailable to leaders and congregants for periods of time, but there’s more than that. Be aware and present with what is around you: the people, places, and experiences you’re having. When my eldest son was born, there was a considerable amount of church chaos going on too. I know I missed memories and experiences with him because I was never “away” from work, even if I was home with my family. I regret the loss of what really mattered because I was captured by thinking my availability to ministry in the chaos was what defined me.
2.) Take Your Sabbath
While this seems similar to getting away from work, there’s a little more to it. I am not going to tell you to go back to the practice of Jewish Sabbath (Exodus 35:1-3), or to be legalistic about what you should and shouldn’t do on your day off, but if you want to survive a ministry trial, you need to take a day off every week and you need to protect that day.
Take all of my suggestions from the first point and build them out into a day. Find what you enjoy and do that. If you don’t know what you enjoy, spend your sabbath day figuring that out. Don’t just practice functional sabbath where you do it because you have to, but press into a true and life-giving sabbath. Even though the trial of ministry might be raging all around you, your faithfulness to this type of rest speaks to your trust in Jesus, whose church it truly is.
3.) Enjoy Jesus
This is an overarching in-all-and-through-all point, but it is one I lost in the midst of trial. I was just working for Jesus, doing what I should do, and never enjoying my Savior.
Read your Bible, pray, and practice your spiritual disciplines. When you remember you are truly loved and valued by your Savior, not because of how well you pastor, how well you navigate criticism, how full a plate you can shoulder, but simply because he loves you, you’ll begin to engage in the type of self-care that will see you through the trial.
I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s quote, “The love of God does not find, but creates that which is pleasing to it” (Heidelberg Disputation). God’s love found you a sinner, with nothing to offer him but your sin, and by his good pleasure he made you alive (Eph 2:1-5) and is pleased by what he has done in you, pastor. You can’t add to or change that.
Endure your trial as a loved son of God, remembering this is the key to true “self-care”.