Caring for Ourselves. It’s not optional.

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In the last 4-6 weeks, I’ve presided at the funeral of a young man who died unexpectedly – but also admittedly had health issues and did not take care of himself physically as well as he might have. I’ve been involved in conversations about and with pastors who have left ministry after admitting to personal failure. Finally, I’ve found myself in conversation with a relative who was becoming involved at Inland Hills Church in Chino, CA just as their lead pastor, Andrew Stoecklein, committed suicide. In the middle of all these conversations (or as a result of them), a couple of thoughts kept running through my head.

Why don’t we take care of ourselves?

What will it take for us to take care of ourselves?

The first question seemed easier. There are probably a hundred reasons why we don’t take care of ourselves. Here’s a short list I started with. Feel free to make your own.

  • We’re afraid of what we might find out about ourselves if we take care of ourselves.
  • We’re too busy taking care of others.
  • We might look weak.
  • Taking care of ourselves means we have to plan for ourselves.
  • We might not meet other people’s expectations if we take care of ourselves.

The second question is harder for me to answer. Will we start taking care of ourselves when someone close to us fails or dies? When a spouse or close friend calls us out? When we’re forced to take care of ourselves because our physical body won’t just let us keep pressing on without caring? Or, will we never take care of ourselves and find the pressure and personal stress of ministry so constricting that we die either physically or emotionally in a pile?

In response to Andrew Stoecklein’s death, Pastor Paul Valo of Christ Church, Orlando, FL wrote:

“In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation at any given moment, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google. Wow! We have reduced the ministry to star ratings on Google!

I think Paul Valo is right. I think it’s likely we all see some part of ourselves in the statement he wrote. As a result, we think we have to meet that expectation rather than take care of ourselves. I think we all feel the pressure to meet that standard. We respond in one of two ways. We either find ourselves trying to be that pastor or we’re flat out angry and frustrated because we can’t be that pastor, even though that is the pastor our parishioners and consistories tell us about repeatedly.

So here’s a thought. Why don’t we start the conversation – Elders and Pastors – about what it means for us to take care of ourselves. Sure, pastors feel pressure, but so have a lot of Elders I’ve known. Pressure and expectations are not just pastoral things. They are adult things. They are relationship things. They are financial things. All those pressures are real for ALL OF US. It’s time ALL OF US start caring for ourselves. Pastors, that starts with you. Elders, that requires you to join in.

Let’s see if we can’t do a better job of caring for ourselves. It’s clearly not optional.

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