Stories & Commentaries

Pastoral Self-Care in Isolating Times

Just as church members are dealing with difficult and uncertain times and need care, there is need for dedicated pastoral self-care.

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Congregational care during this coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is essential, however, traditional congregational care is, at best, now very strained. Ministry is quite different than it was a few weeks ago. We cannot meet or gather as congregations. Caregiving for bereaving families unable to attend funeral services, members who may not be digitally connected, and those losing employment while working from home are just some examples of how ministry has shifted.

The uncertainty, anxiety, and the expressed unknown of an odorless, colorless, tasteless, and sightless contagion has caused enormous pressure on health care and stress on economic systems globally and as a result, has brought ministry pressure to the church. Because we are ministering in unprecedented times, it requires a particular ministry.

Intentional pastoral care to families, which includes seniors who may be more isolated, parents working from home, youth and children home every day out of school, requires more creativity and strategic vision. The congregational need for dedicated pastoral care is self-evident.

In many ways, ministry served out of the pastor's house for days or weeks using technology requires more intentionality, time, and planning. Coaching married couples, planning worship services, verifying congregational news, meeting with ministry leaders, and providing spiritual care can defy the clock and deplete all energy. However, deliberate self-care will yield effectiveness over the long haul of ministry for the pastor.

To care for others consistently necessitates the need to care for oneself. If a person is not well, it is pretty hard to care for others. Quite frankly, a person cannot give what they do not have.

Airlines figured this out long ago in a depleted oxygen environment, establishing the guidelines for parents to take care of themselves first when donning their oxygen masks before taking care of their children. Self-care is not selfish although, in years past, the mere mention of self-care evoked misunderstanding and the label of not giving all. Early on in pastoral ministry, I remember hearing senior leaders brag about the last time they had a vacation as if it were a badge of honor. But I wonder today how their family's felt about it.

Self-care is not selfish. It is wise. Even our Lord Jesus encouraged His disciples to get away to a quiet place to rest awhile when the ministry was so busy that they didn't even take time to eat (see Mark 6:31). Self-care is the practical means for ministry staying power, a balanced approach to a vibrant, sustainable ministry.

Self-care can bring clarity to help nurture a spiritual discipline that establishes a relationship with God. We may feel that we have had so much theology educationally that we do not need to study, pray, or take it seriously anymore. But this goes beyond theology. Intimacy with Christ can only be faked for a season. The secret to any authentic, viable ministry is to know the living Lord personally and intimately.

Self-care can also be experienced by a change of pace, resting, meditating, praying, and taking time out for physical exercise. Self-care is the replenishing of the depleted resources exhausted mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially in ministry. Amazingly, these were the exact attributes of our Lord Jesus as He grew into a man (see Luke 2:52). Understanding the complex role of contemporary pastors gives insight into the necessity for spiritual connection, emotional care, and physical awareness. All are essential and important to life balance in the professional journey of Adventist pastors.

Finally, because of the rise in the need for congregational care during these times, more attention should be given to self-care in pastoral ministry. In fact, "to pastor is to care." Caring is more about who we are as persons, and that caring yields through what we do. Caring through feeding, equipping, leading, and serving are all a part of the biblical role and calling of a pastor. The higher the demand from the congregation and community, the more focus should be given to the question, "How am I doing?"

During the COVID-19 pandemic, faithful, caregiving pastors are needed more than ever. If you fail at self-care, you certainly won't be effective while caring for others. I pray you will take care of yourself along the journey of pastoral ministry, to be the best caregivers, especially during this pandemic.

— Ivan L. Williams, Sr. is director for the North American Division Ministerial Association. This article is adapted from the original article featured on the NAD Ministerial Association’s website.