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?


Rachael said...

Hi Wendy. I'm going to do the unthinkable and make a comment even though I haven't read the book yet. I just want to ask about this line...
"pastors are busy because they are lazy!"

I understand the point he is making here, but I'm not sure I agree. Do you think that busy-ness is a sign of being lazy? Foolish, perhaps, but not lazy. But, perhaps being foolish is worse than being lazy anyway!!

There's also the saying 'if you want something done, give it to a busy person'... because if busy people are the ones that are getting things done.

It seems that sometimes we see busy-ness as a good thing, to praise and other times as being disorganised, and so denigrate it. Sometimes, even being organised and having (and keeping) priorities won't sort everything out, ministry isn't that easy. People aren't that easy!

Still, it's definitely something for me to think about. I know I often pride myself in being busy because it shows how important and necessary I am.

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...

Rachael - more than happy with the unthinkable - comment away!

You are right - ministry isn’t all about being organized, because people aren’t that easy. We cannot plan everything, and nor should we - sometimes we have to respond to people and issues when they arise.

However, I do think Brain has it right (at least in some cases) is saying that busyness is a sign of laziness. Some people only respond to issues and therefore are always reactive, rather than proactive in managing their time (eg. they respond to the person who asks the most or seems the most urgent, without actually evaluating the request and other needs) Brain frames this around the idea of wanting to be an ‘unhurried pastor’. He says “the phrases I hate hearing the most from parishioners are “I didn’t want to bother you, you are always so busy” or “you always look so tired”. I’m a pastor because I want to minister to people. Self-care helps me engage in the art of being an “unhurried pastor”. This phrase … has nothing to do with laziness, but everything to do with availability and freshness for the task.’ (p21)

And some people, frankly, are busy, because they waste the time they have - they procrastinate and do not think ahead.

However, foolishness is something to consider, are we foolishly taking on too much - and why? What could be the motivation? Do we want to appear busy so that others think that we work hard? Are we looking for approval for our parishioners or other staff? And that’s exactly what you are getting at when you said “I know I often pride myself in being busy because it shows how important and necessary I am”. I guess we all need to ask ourselves - are we trying to show this to others or are we trying to prove it to ourselves? And why?

The more I think about busyness, the less I am convinced it is such as admirable quality. Yes, we want to work hard, work honestly and use our time well - but the busyness of ministers just promotes our society's general workaholism and provides no viable alternative for people to watch or follow. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that God is in control of all things, and while we are working for him wholeheartedly, we are not indispensible, nor will we ever complete every task in ministry.

Thanks for the comment!

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!


Rachael said...

Thanks Wendy. I must try and get hold of the book now. I like the idea of an 'unhurried pastor' and of being available. I also like the way you've highlighted the difference between being hard-working and thoughtlessly busy.

Some thoughts on the issue Sarah raised:

The hours that men and women involved in word ministry work outside the home can sometimes be quite odd; often evenings and weekends. This is completely understandable as it's when other people are generally not working and are availble for gathering. It does make it difficult to spend time with a spouse who is only available in those hours, too and life can get quite lonely for them.

On the other hand, there are word ministries where the hours involved resemble a typical 9-5 working day.

The good thing about pastoral/word ministry is that there is usually a fair amount of flexibility and this can provide oppurtunities for couples and families to spend time together. I knew one couple with young children who would have family and 'couple' time first thing in the morning for a few hours before he began work, in effect turning their day upside-down. Back in the days when I worked in a lab, there was a girl I worked with whose husband was a shift worker. She would vary her hours so she had most time at home with him at the times of day he was at home (it's not only ministry spouses that face these problems!).

It's not so easy when children's school hours are thrown in to the mix, and if the spouse doesn't have flexible working hours.

It is definitely worth thinking seriously about (before you start). It would be a significant factor in our thinking if I'm ever again in a position to work extended hours outside the home !!

mattnbec said...

To add another point to the wise words of Wendy and Rachael...

I'm someone who is married to a man in ministry and someone who has also been involved in paid ministry. One thing it has taught me is that it's worth being very practical in how you schedule time off. We used to have not only a 'day off', but also one morning/week that if something happened which ate-up our day off, we still had a free timeslot to relax in. If we needed time off, we took that time. If not, we used it for bigger picture planning, admin stuff etc. Also, the organisation I worked for had a policy of allowing for an additional week off/year for those who were part-time (as the balancing involved can create some extra stresses and the temptation to do more than perhaps you should). They also allowed for an extra week off/year for women if needed because women sometimes deal with the emotional nature of ministry differently to men. Obviously, you could take advantage of those allowances, but I've found the spirit of them is worthwhile hearing as you think about possible ministry in the future.