Let’s Be Well

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Fads come and go. They seemingly spring up out of nowhere, are all the rage for a period of time, and then one day they’re gone.

The keto diet is a current weight loss fad. However, I’ve just read that it will soon be “so 2018.” The new diet for 2019 will be pegan. Apparently, “California cool” is this year’s fashion look. Time to bring out your tie-dyed t-shirts and beat-up sneakers. And, 2019 could be the year when the four-day work week becomes the norm. We’ll see about that.

Trends have more staying power than fads as they can continue for a number years. A couple current examples include fewer full-time jobs and more “just-in-time hirings” and workplace wellbeing. Workplace wellbeing—now that’s something that needs to move from a trend to a given.

I think we can all agree that focusing on wellbeing at work is of great importance, and benefit, to both the employee and the employer. Have you ever wondered how that looks for pastors?

“Being a pastor is a tough, demanding job, one that is not always very well understood or appreciated. Pastoral work is more complex than that which transpires in the hour-or-so a week that many lay people see the pastor in action, as she or he leads worship and preaches. What happens during this time is surely of central importance to clergy and their parishioners, but it is not the only important thing clergy do. It is a job in flux. . . and it is made increasingly difficult by rapid changes in the pastor’s work environment, including the broader culture in which pastoral work is done.”[i]

If you’re a pastor, you can relate at some level to this quote.

When we talk about wellbeing, what exactly are we talking about? According to Notre Dames’ Flourishing in Ministry Study, there are two core components: daily wellbeing (our capacity to be resilient in the face of challenges and stressors, our experiences of burnout, and the quality of our daily lives) and flourishing (which includes at least these four elements: purpose in life, positive connectedness, a meaning system, and positive identity and authenticity).

How is a pastor to know what their state of wellbeing is? Too often pastors self-assess which unfortunately can lead to, “I’m fine. This is just how it is for pastors.” Pastors (like most people) generally aren’t the best ones to gauge their wellbeing—unless they’re very self-aware. Often others are able to see telltale signs before a pastor realizes something needs attention. Spouses and children are perhaps the first to notice that something isn’t quite right.

So what’s a pastor to do? Pastor Church Resources (PCR) has eight resources that focus on wellbeing.

  1. Refreshed for the Call: This September 2019 conference will focus on pastoral wellbeing. Plenary speaker, Dr. Rev. Chris Adams is a pastor, clinical psychologist specializing in research and counseling with pastors and their families, and part of the Flourishing in Ministry research team. 
  2. Vocational Ministry Assessments: Participating in an assessment can be life giving in a number of ways. Helping pastors find their vocational sweet spot—the place where their heart sings—is  Rev. Sam DeJong McCarron’s calling.
  3. Flourishing in Ministry StudyIn the summer of 2017, just over 340 CRC pastors participated in this study. The report  told us a lot about pastors’ wellbeing. (More on this below.) In May 2019, pastors will again be able to participate in the study. After taking the survey, participants will receive an immediate and confidential report on their personal wellbeing. Engaging in the survey more than once will track a pastor’s wellbeing over time.
  4. Peer Learning Groups: Gathering with colleagues who “get it” is good for the soul. In the last 16 years, almost 900 CRC pastors have been part of a grant funded peer group. Comments like this are common: “The peer group has encouraged me through some very tough times; not sure where I’d be without it.” If needed, Lis Van Harten is here to help you write a proposal.
  5. Thriving Together Program: Pastors experience a number of transitions during their years in ministry. Three invisible, and therefore challenging, ones are exploring a transition, early in the second call, and later career. Gatherings, resources, mentoring, and mentoring groups are some of the available programming.  Program director Rev. Al Postma is available to answer any questions you may have.
  6. Mentoring: Pastors in their first five years of ministry are enriched by engaging in a mentoring relationship with a seasoned pastor. Sharing experiences and situations with someone who’s been there fosters wellbeing.  Rev. Dave Den Haan oversees the CRCNA’s mentoring program and welcomes your queries.
  7. Continuing Education Grants: Have you considered meeting with a coach or a spiritual director? How about attending a conference that will refresh you and your ministry? Spending time focusing on you is time well spent. Funds are available to help cover such expenses. Lis Van Harten looks forward to connecting with you about this.
  8. Pastors’ Spiritual Vitality Toolkit: This toolkit explores topics such as strengthening self-awareness, meeting with a spiritual companion, and finding an ongoing rhythm. It’s full of practical how to’s and resources. While title indicates it’s for pastors, anyone will find it nourishing and nurturing.

What shouldn’t a pastor do? Assume all is fine. No matter where you think you are on the wellbeing continuum, be aware. Talk with someone whom you trust deeply and will be honest with you. If things aren’t as they should be, take active steps to increase your wellbeing. You, who cares for so many, need to be sure to care for yourself.

A few snippets from the 2017 CRCNA Flourishing in Ministry Report.

  • Overall, participating CRC clergy appear to be experiencing moderate to high-moderate levels of well-being. However, participating CRC clergy appear to be experiencing slightly lower levels of well-being than the average pastor in our study (diverse sample of 10,000+ clergy in North America) in most key dimensions of wellbeing.
  • Participating CRC clergy appear to be experiencing higher levels of well-being than the average pastor in our study in these two specific areas: person/job fit and spiritual wellbeing.
  • Emotional exhaustion appears to be a significant difficulty for participating CRC clergy.
  • Emotional regulation, self-control, proactivity, and self-efficacy may be underdeveloped competencies for a large percentage of participating CRC clergy.
  • Many pastors who responded to the survey reported having suffered from financial strain or stress.
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I am not a pastor but I hang out with a lot of them. I've served as stated clerk of classis for six years, and I occasionally speak at ecumenical ministerial gatherings.

A pastor who is 'well' is one who is in great shape: emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

- It's important to get out to the gym at least two or three times a week. Sound body and sound mind, and all that. That's a great way to stay physically active while listening to your favorite podcast or musical group.

- It's important to have at least one or two days of 'sabbath rest' from one's work. But that also applies to sabbath rest from your technology. Make a point of regularly turning off your computer, phone or other digital gadgets. Seek solitude, even if that involves quietly sitting in your office. Set aside regular time when you will be unplugged; whether that's during dinner time, on weekends or on your formal day off.

- Be accountable for the websites that you go to. Excellent software exists where you can work with an accountability partner who 'sees' the websites you visit or the questionable emails you receive. Pornography is rampant across our church membership, and the church office isn't immune to those temptations.

- There isn't a better spiritual exercise than spending time in the Bible. That should be a given. I have often heard pastors in conversation with each other who invariably ask: "Read any good books lately?" Sure, read devotionals, novels, commentaries but be grounded in the Word of God.

- Pastors, like all of us, worry ... about everything. Worry only about things that are under your control; then fix it. Anything that isn't under your control is in God's hands. He'll handle it.

 

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Thanks for these additional important ways to tend to wellbeing. All are good practices!