Don’t do it alone

This is part two  on the topic of social self-care as a pastor. Here are some ideas for connecting with other pastors in the community:        
1. Make use of and promote Board of Pensions and denominational resources for clergy wellness.
2. Make available clergy and educator support groups and clergy spouse support groups.
3. Contract with local resources to provide confidential therapy services for clergy, educators, and their families.
4. Encourage ―Facebook or other online support/interest groups.
5. Write boundary expectations into calls and covenants for clergy and educators whereby the congregation agrees that their spending time with spouse and family is expected, days off are protected, and participation in the activities and leadership within the local community is encouraged.
6. Either in the church‘s call or the presbytery‘s budget have funds available for clergy/educators recreational activities or hobbies.
7. Form a pastoral care team and/or have a designated pastor-to-pastors and chaplain for spouse of clergy or educator.
8. Be creative in sponsoring clergy and educator retreats and outings (cruises, fishing contests, golf matches, tickets to concerts and civic events, tours or trips).
9. Arrange for corporate contract membership fees for the YMCA, YWCA, or a health club within the bounds of presbytery.
10. Sponsor health fairs and wellness contests for clergy/educators and their families.
11. Form a mentor-colleague program with means for accountability to make sure  contacts are being made. (Don‘t forget retired pastors and ministers serving in a setting other than the local congregation.)
12. Develop a ―First Call‖ program for new clergy retention and wellness.
13. Sponsor annual clergy, clergy/spouse, and educators retreats.
14. Consider sponsoring quarterly district luncheons.
15. Acknowledge clergy/educators‘ anniversaries, birthdays, ordination dates, etc.
16. Sponsor continuing educational workshops and courses for clergy/educators that have nothing to do with congregational ministry (beginner‘s golf or tennis lessons, foreign language series, ―how to‖ water ski, fish, snow ski, bowl, sail, or bird watch – use your imagination!)
17. Make sure spiritual resources are available and their use encouraged by clergy/educators and their spouses.
18. Sponsor movie/theater/concert groups.


Most pastors understand their call to ministry as extending beyond just the activities of their local congregation. In a parallel fashion to having responded to an inner-sense that moved them to enter the ministry, so they develop an interest in some particular aspect of their call that extends beyond their particular congregation. It may be an ecumenical or even inter-faith ministry in the community, a national issue about which they feel passionate, or an activity in their denomination‘s work.
In support of the vocation of pastors, what if the presbytery occasionally lifted up and celebrated these many trans-congregational ministries of their pastors? A first step in support would be simply to have conversations with the pastors about a particular area of ministry in which they feel most passionate. Even the opportunity to name that for someone else and share what they are doing in that area would feel good.
A second step would be to provide a venue by which that area of ministry might be celebrated. That might begin by collectively celebrating the many areas of ministry in which people are engaged. You might say at a public gathering, ―In our conversations we have learned that the clergy of our denomination, in addition to their work in their congregations, are engaged in the following areas of ministry. And then have the body participate in a litany that named and thanked God for having called pastors to participate in these areas of ministry. If the numbers were not too great, it would be good to name the pastors even as you identified the areas. For example, ―John Smith, Ellen Jones, etc have devoted their gifts in a ministry to feed the hungry.‖ To which the body would respond, ―We thank God for their efforts on behalf of the least of these, our brothers and sisters.‖ Then proceed to the next area of ministry to be identified. If it was a large presbytery, you might want to break the recognition down into geographical areas and celebrate one area at each meeting (See the adaption of Psalm 111 Litany of Celebration).

A third step would be to invite a group of clergy with a similar focus to develop a short presentation to the body about their work. Simply drawing them together to talk about their similar efforts would have its own value. The public presentation might stimulate others who might be interested in that area as well. All of this would be a presbytery‘s way of nurturing the larger sense of call among their clergy.

Don’t be a lone ranger

As a pastor, it is easy to go it alone. It is not uncommon for pastors to feel lonely and not have any true friends. This pattern needs to end. God created you to be social creature. Yes you have a calling to be a pastor. Yes, you are called to high things, but you are also called to do this life together with friends. You are not made to be alone in this journey.

 Pulpit & Pew’s 2001 national clergy survey asked pastors how often in the past year they had felt “lonely and isolated in their work.” About 17 percent said “very often” or “fairly often” and another 51 percent said “once in a while.” Only 32 percent said they had never felt lonely or isolated.

Loneliness and isolation were the single greatest predictor of overall job dissatisfaction. Generally, those who had the highest levels of loneliness were the most likely to be dissatisfied in their ministry, while those who reported little or no loneliness had the highest levels of job satisfaction.
Another Pulpit & Pew study also found a strong link between loneliness and clergy dropout. In that study, researchers interviewed ex-Catholic priests who had left the priesthood within five years of ordination. They found that isolation and a lack of close friendships were one of the most important reasons the former priests cited for quitting the ministry, second only to celibacy.
 Here are some ideas to get you started in finding some social care in your life:
1. Don‘t burn your former bridges. Keep close phone and/or Internet contact with best friends or close family members.
2. Seek new friendships in social and community settings that fall outside of the boundaries of your local congregation. You will not develop outside of church friendships without actively placing yourself in social situations where friendships may develop.
3. Form cordial and friendly relationships with church members but be judicious about divulging too much personal information. Other church members get jealous of the clergy and spouse‘s ―in church relationships. Also, many a clergy family has felt betrayed by a close friend when church conflicts surface.
4. Seek other clergy (along with clergy spouses) for support and fellowship.
5. Make it a priority to have some personal, outside of church interests, hobbies, sports, or goals. Pursue your passions!
6. Therapy is good for the soul. Don‘t neglect your emotional self, especially if you are in pain.
7. Become part of a clergy (or clergy spouse) support group, lectionary study group, spiritual formation group, book club, etc.
8. If single, date outside of your church‘s membership.
9. If married or in a relationship with a significant other, have a set weekly ―date night.
10. Take all of your vacation time and study leave and make sure it‘s away from your local community.
11. Your calendar is your friend. Schedule your recreation as you would your church committees. Take your weekly days off. On those days,―Thou shalt do no church work! (Eleventh Commandment)
12. If married, make a list of future goals and activities that you would like to experience together (e.g. hiking in the Andes, skydiving, kayaking the Amazon, picnicking in a secluded meadow, bird watching, gardening, etc.).
13. Seek out someone to be your pastor and/or spiritual director. What other creative suggestions can you add? Share these strategies with other pastors and spouses. Be willing to contact your presbytery committee on ministry if problems arise. 


 This is part one, I will post part two next week.
                 

Tips for completing your physical goals

If you work in a stressful profession, neglecting your  body makes you very vulnerable to that stress. The most obvious areas of care for one‘s body are diet and physical exercise. A first step towards improvement is becoming conscious of your reality. Take a piece of paper and describe how you are currently paying attention to your diet and getting your exercise. Are you pleased with the result? Also in this journal, describe a first step in improving your behavior for the next week. Reflect on the past, but look forward to the goal, make one simple action plan.
There is always a temptation for small indulgences. You may tell yourself, “I’ve been working hard, doing so much good” or “I deserve that candy bar or extra order of French fries.”  Another may be, “I’ve been so busy meeting the demands of my job that I have just been too busy or too tired to go exercise.” Not all indulgences are bad but they can easily get out of hand. Becoming conscious of them is a first step to keeping a balance in your life. On your paper, list a couple of small indulgences that you have given in to during the past month. I know for me, I enjoy fast food from Wendy’. This is both unhealthy and expensive. If I can cut this one bad habit out for a month, I will save money and realize that I can eat healthier.
If you do make a plan to do exercise, try to make a connection with other people. Some people play sports together, attend exercise classes with others, find a partner to walk with or run with, etc. When someone else expects you to participate, this builds accountability and support for changing your habits. Also making the event social makes it more fun and offers more of a motivation than just the pure physical exercise (which you may actually be dreading). 
These three simple exercises can be useful in helping you accomplish your physical goals this next year. First journal about your plan and then take one step to execute that plan. Second, consider any “indulgences” that are slowly taxing your health. Third, make the exercise (and even the diets too) social, adding a social element offer an alternative motivation to meet your goals.