Monday, November 2, 2009

Going the Distance - Chapter 1

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 1 - The Importance of Self-Care

In Acts 20:24, Paul stated "I consider my life nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me". Herein lies the model I choose to follow. I want neither to burn out nor rust out. I want to finish the race. (quoting Berkeley, pg 10, emphasis mine)
So begins Peter Brain's book, Going the Distance. He is setting up his principles - we must take self-care seriously if we want to continue on for a lifetime of ministry.

1. The seriousness of the work
Brain has included some of the words of the Anglican ordinal, which highlights the seriousness of the promises made by minister's at their ordination. These include:

...remember the dignity of the high office and charge to which you are called: that is to say, to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord's family... Have always therefore printed in your mind how great a treasure is committed to your care. For they are the sheep of Christ, whom he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood...And if it should come about that the church, or any of its members, is hurt or hindered as a result of your negligence, you know the greatness of the fault and the judgement that will follow... (AAPB, p609-10, in Brain)
These are serious words, and I distinctly remember sitting in St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney on the day these words were read out as part of my husband's ordination service and realising the seriousness of the promises he was about to make. It is sobering and something those of us in ministry need to be reminded of.
2. The nature of ministryIt was good to be reminded that:
The core activities of pastoring - prayer, preparation, pastoral visiting, discipling and counselling - are never ending. (p12)
This is why it can feel like the task is never-finished, nothing is ever completed. I feel much the same about parenting - another role which never ends and could always be done better. I could understand his 'hobbies' where things actually get finished - woodwork and scone-making. For me, I used to love mowing the lawn - it looked neat for a few days (unlike the house) and I felt a sense of completion and accomplishment when it was done.

3. Perceptions/expectations of ministry
Brain points to a number of factors which can increase the burden on ministers:

  • their own expectations of themselves
  • the voluntary nature of churches and their members
  • the transient populations of churches
  • expectations of lay members, real or imagined
  • the low view of ministers generally in society and especially in the media
  • pressures of church growth numbers or other churches
So, self-care is important. As he quotes Dr. Arch Hart,
"Most ministers don't burn out because they forget they are ministers, they burn out because they forget they are people." (p20)
One very insightful point he makes is that "pastors are busy because they are lazy!" (quoting Peterson, p21). We all know people (not just ministers) like this - they rush about from task to task, never doing any properly but also seeming insanely busy. Brain makes the insightful point that this happens because they are too lazy to work out priorities and put them into practice. If organised, one can have the ability to assess various needs and calls on their time and what needs to be attended to and what does not, and what can wait. I have certainly seen people who operate like this, but I have no idea what to do about it!

Some things to think about:

  1. Have you seen any examples of good self-care amongst pastors (or other people)?
  2. Have you seen any examples of bad self-care amongst pastors (or other people)?
  3. Do you have a tendency to be busy because you are lazy?
  4. How are you working at good self-care, individually and as a couple/family?

Next Monday: Chapter 2 - Burnout - friend or foe?


Sarah B said...

My husband is not a minister but I am still interested, is that OK?
As a couple, we are considering word ministry for me in the medium term and one of my husband's strongest reservations (for my endeavours in this) is the lack of ability, from those he has observed currently in pastoral/word ministry, to have regular rest/holidays or even a night off.
BTW, I haven't read the book either, but I have thought and observed alot regarding this issue.

Wendy said...

Sarah - of course, that is OK - great to have you here!

I can understand your husband’s concerns - that is a concern I hear voiced from many ministry spouses - that days-off and holidays are not taken, nights are busy, etc. Interestingly, as I have observed ministry marriages, I think the point that Rachael and I talked about above with her comment still holds - busyness can be related to laziness, foolishness and wrong motivations.

You may benefit from reading this book, if you can. Brain covers a lot of this stuff in it and his principles of self-care throughout it could go a long way toward helping with this issue.

I guess I would say a few things (and would be happy for others out there, or Rachael and Nicole to add to it!):

1. The way you view all of these issues (time off, rest, etc) comes down to the same basic issue - whether you think that ministry is done on your own steam and effort, or in reliance on God and the acknowledgement that it is all his work. If you think you can and should do everything that is required of you in ministry, you will never be able to stop - for you can never finish everything. However, if you try to firmly hold on to the fact that it is God’s work and he is in control of all things - you are able to rest in him. One of the final chapters in the book (which we’ll get to in a few months) looks at how an understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith is crucial for this. When we truly trust that it is God alone who works in us to save us and there is nothing we can do on our own merit for it is his work, we can trust him in the work we can do and work we cannot do.

2. Practically, look at the way you work now. If you are someone who can take time off from your current work and you can rest when not everything is complete, you may find you can apply those same principles in ministry. If however, you cannot stop until everything is done to your satisfaction, you may struggle to define some of those boundaries in ministry. And, your husband would have good insights into how he sees your managing these types of things!

Hope that gives you some more food for thought!