Pastoral Care and Counseling
We in the ministry are a unique group with a unique set of stressors, pressures, problems and expectations that are a natural part of our calling. From the days of Moses to our modern times, we are plagued with a sense of isolation, loneliness, and unclear expectations. Combine that with the fact that most clergy have a natural bent towards being people pleasers and wanting to be liked and we have a prescription for a lot of stress in our lives. We are good at helping others identify these things and trying to help them cope with them. But are we good at doing this for ourselves?
How much attention we need to give to the various parts of our lives depends on us. We are all different. I have owned several different cars in my life and each one would have different levels of care to run properly. Some of us may need to spend more time focusing on physical health issues than others, some more on mental health issues than others and some more on spiritual health issues than others. At any given time, the balance of our focus can change. Knowing ourselves if vital in our well-being. Be willing to seek help if it is a difficult task. Our clergy assistance program has people who can help us do that. Yet we need to take responsibility for caring for ourselves and seeing that the aspects of our lives are in proper balance.
People may have their own talking mirrors inside. When we look into the mirror, maybe we are looking towards the depths of the unconscious. When you see your mirror each morning, what kind of reflection do you see? When you think of your flaws and blemishes in your life, what kind of voice do you hear?
Many factors can cause the “holiday blues”: stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one’s family and friends. The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests also contribute to feelings of tension. People who do not become depressed may develop other stress responses, such as: headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating, and difficulty sleeping. Even more people experience post-holiday let down after Jan. 1. This can result from disappointments during the preceding months compounded with the excess fatigue and stress.
Understanding our emotions, what causes them, what purpose they have, how they function and how to use them can benefit our relationships and help us navigate through them more successfully with fewer problems.
The Pastor /Staff Relations committee is a critical ministry for us to be a vibrant connectional church of Jesus Christ transforming the world. The committee members are the lifeline linking the pastor, church staff, the congregation, and the Conference through the District Superintendent. As pastor, your discernment of who serves on this committee and providing training and information for them is crucial to your ministry.
This committee can be of such great assistance to a new pastor! I suggest that the committee meet at least four times in the first six months. Meeting regularly will allow members to get to know each other and to build trust – two vital elements when working and serving together. One of these meetings could be an informal picnic or ice cream social where family members get to meet and form closer connections.
Repeatedly the response I hear when I encourage people to consider creativity as part of spirituality is: “I have no talent or gifts to be creative.” Much of this belief arises from the times we’ve been told to “stay in the lines,” or “you can't do it that way” or the old “it's never been done that way before.” Well, think about this; God created 350,000 species of beetles and God created the platypus. Evidently God likes variety and uniqueness! I invite you to embrace your God given creative spirit. Today. Now. You can pick up a colored pen, pencil or crayon when you’re finished reading and draw a prayer, or write out your prayer in different colors, or copy a favorite scripture and illustrate it. Start small, let go of any judging of what unfolds and trust in the spiritual power of human creativity.
Did you know that the average person has 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day? The difficulty isn’t that we have negative thoughts but rather we often believe that our thoughts are true.
Do you ever feel like you need a break? How would you like to take two or three days just to relax, refresh or do what you really want to do? You can. We had a chance to do just that recently, thanks to a new ministry available to all of our IGRC clergy and spouses.
Pastoral Care and Counseling would like to initiate a conversation about how can we can best support ministry spouses and how clergy and their spouses can best help each other. Research reliably demonstrates that talking with others who face similar challenges can make us feel less alone, more supported, and understood without judgment. Only when we feel “safe” will we share our deepest hurts and scariest challenge.
Christian Yoga class at Wesley UMC provides a safe atmosphere to do yoga in Christian faith. This class is intended to help people practice yoga that is centered onto Christ. It encourages people to be calm, focused, and renewed in the presence of God. Through conscious breathing, movement, and meditation, people can appreciate that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This ministry may reach more people and diverse people that we could not reach without it. I pray this ministry may help people to set aside the time for self-care, to be away from daily busyness, to be calm, to be relaxed, and to feel God’s presence and His Spirit.
In ministry, it seems that there are a myriad of people to make happy. Not only does one have an entire congregation, but then there are the supervising administrators. And it is important to have a good relationship with members of your community. We also need to have family and friends who are pleased with us and our decisions. It seems there are a so many people to keep happy. How do you please all these people and still attend to your own needs? Balance.
I learned that with some people, I can take a difficult situation and help facilitate a different outcome. I first became defensive, but when I had time to quiet my emotions, I was able to better see what had happened and communicate in an empathetic, fair manner. How we react to these situations influences if not determines the outcome of the situation. We will all deal with difficult people, or people in difficult situations. It is important to improve our abilities so we can handle these effectively.
It is inevitable that we will encounter difficult people; even in our Christian walk. However, it is empowering to know that in many situations, we have the ability to influence what happens next. Our perceptions of the encounter, our response or non-response, as well as the way in which we doggedly hold to healthy patterns of behavior and model Christian love, can change how the encounter moves forward. We should enter into prayer, asking God to help us see more clearly and work toward healthy outcomes. We should also remember that we are not alone. Help is available.
We all have problems as pastors, from sickness and death in our families, to divorce, tragedies, etc. It is good for us not to go alone during these events. The problems we face as pastors occurs in addition to caring for the churches we serve. Having Jesus go with us through other disciples sure makes the journey easier.
I will admit that I was quite cynical when the leadership of the conference began emphasizing the importance of clergy covenant groups. I thought that this was just another attempt at forced collegiality. I feared that we would be randomly assigned to a covenant group and required to meet with each other.
Even with all the challenges, I feel like ministry is the greatest job in the world. I really do. As I talk with my friends and parishioners about the struggles they face at work, I haven’t found one yet that I would really trade places with.
Procrastinators are not alone. We are not helpless. We can benefit from caring support and encouragement (different from nagging). It is possible to learn and follow a new pattern for meeting deadlines.
Finding lists of natural stress reducers is not very hard. We can do a search for them on the internet. (I am not talking about dietary supplements or anything we would eat or drink.) Much of this has to do with brain chemicals and producing good ones while reducing negative ones. And as you seek out what are natural stress relievers, you must think about what you would actually be willing to do and keep doing.
These strategies were what helped me find balance between life and pastoral ministry. Some of them may work for you and some of them may not. Either way it’s important to find those practices that help you and to make those things a part of your life. When you are able to find balance, it makes a world of difference. Life is more enjoyable and a lot less stressful!
With all the changes in the health insurance environment, this is a good time to remember other resources that are available to us. For example, our Conference Pastoral Care and Counseling (and Preacher’s Aid) have made a Clergy Assistance Program available to our active and retired clergy families. This could be a helpful resource during this time of transition. The Clergy Assistance Program includes some important benefits for clergy, spouses and dependents.
A reality of life is that very few people have become adults and gone through college without having developed some ways naturally to deal with stress. Most often we have developed some behaviors that helped us deal with problems of life that helped us. As we grow we have a tendency to move away from what helped us in the past because our live situations change and our life patterns change. Then when stress builds we may be at a loss on what to do to deal with it.