When serving the people of God, it can be easy to put yourself last. You don’t think about how the stress and demands of ministry might be impacting you until it is too late. Over the past couple of years, we have seen many leave the ministry. Ministers have simply become so tired and exhausted they feel unable to continue on. Pastors and ministry workers have had to make decisions since March 2020 they never thought they would have to make and now they are tired. It may be decision fatigue or simply the weight of caring for a people during such a tumultuous time. Unfortunately, pandemics and self-care were never really stressed in Bible college and seminary.
While pandemics were totally off our radar, the idea of self-care shouldn’t have been. Self-care is not selfishness. It really falls under that same idea of airplane oxygen masks. You are encouraged to put yours on before you take care of the child or others around you. Without oxygen, you might pass out before being able to help others. Self-care for ministry workers is much like that. If we don’t look into areas of physical, mental and spiritual self-care, we will lose the capacity to love and minister to those God has placed in our lives.
This week, I want us to think about the area of physical self-care. As a minister, I’m not sure how many potluck meals I have eaten over the years. I really haven’t tried to add it up and don’t plan to. I love them. Give me the best dishes from the best cooks in our churches and there is a likelihood that I might have overindulged a time or 20. That is just one of many ways that we can slide into unhealthy habits as ministers.
There are three major areas that we need to consider if we want to stay physically healthy:
• It starts with what we eat. The quantity and quality of what we put into our bodies is important. We have to evaluate our diet.
• Second, we have to get active. Walking, running, martial arts, pickleball, cycling and hiking are just a few of the ways that we can get moving in the right direction. Simply taking your dog(s) for a walk in the evenings helps. Find something that you can do with someone you care about, and it will be easier to keep doing it.
• The third component in dealing with a healthy lifestyle is your sleep patterns. This is an area that I often struggle with. If I don’t allow my body time to recover, eating right and moving more won’t be enough.
So, if a pastor or student ministry worker understands the value of working toward a physically healthier lifestyle, how can we help them as church members. Let me offer a few suggestions for your consideration:
• Allow them time to exercise. When a pastor is on call 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, it can be difficult to plan times to exercise. Ministry obligations strike at unusual times. If your pastor/student ministry worker is full-time, consider allowing them a portion of their day to be active. God can and will speak to them during moments of physical activity. In addition, they may be able to meet more of the community as they work out at a gym, CrossFit box or martial arts studio.
• Add a gym membership to their benefits. I’m not saying deduct their pay for the amount or provide it in place of a raise. Talk with your staff and see what might be a good fit for them and then offer to pay for it. Maybe your church can’t provide it. Consider making it your gift to the team at your church. Just like conferences and learning opportunities are an investment in the minister and the ministry of your church, a gym membership can provide a boost to the servant.
• Consider healthier dishes for church gatherings. This one is a little more difficult but can help provide a culture shift in your congregation. Look for healthy alternatives for church fellowships as well as snacks for your children and student ministries.
• Get the whole church active. There is nothing like taking the families of the church on a hike or physical outing. While many of our churches have set the Walk for Lifeword aside in lieu of simply taking an offering, get your church out and moving. It gets the church outside of the immediate walls of your building and into your community.
We only have one body, and if we take the time to care for it we will be able to better fulfill the ministry that God has called us to. Ministers, take care of your body! Church members, help your staff as they seek to invest in this area. It is an area that we don’t spend enough time thinking about. And, if we aren’t intentional, nothing will ever change.