By: Rev. Dr. Samuel E. Pérez Rivera
Diplomate Supervisor (CPE)
The main objective of this text is to motivate all pastoral agents to identify harmful ideas and practices about self-care and change them for ideas and strategies that promote an ecosystem of overall wellbeing.
We wish for each reader to design, develop, and implement a strategic self-care plan that promotes their personal, family, and ministerial wellbeing.
We will start by describe what we understand by "self-care" for the purposes of this text. Put simply, “self-care” is described as "the care and cultivation of oneself in a holistic sense." According to Reasoner, "self-care" means assuming responsibility for your wellbeing in all important areas in your life (La receta del autocuidado, 2021).
According to Dr. Chambo, General Superintendent of Iglesia del Nazareno, "Self-care is not a selfish act, but, instead, an act of love, both for oneself as well as for others. It acknowledges that we are God's holy people, blessed and called to participate with God in his redemptive mission for the world. A spiritual leader recognizes their call to influence on the lives of others (individuals and corporations) with God's agenda, the world's redemptive agenda" (Liderándonos a nosotros mismos).
All pastoral agents need to learn to take care of themselves. While self-care is a great necessity, a myth that some pastoral agents may believe is that we must be available to serve and care for others 24/7, 365 days a year.
Evidently, there is an important question that requires a response. Who is mainly responsible for the holistic care of pastoral agents, ministers, and ecclesiastic leaders? Unfortunately, the reality that we still live in our congregational contexts is that there is an exaggerated and irrational expectation that pastoral agents will be available all the time under any situation and circumstance. This requires all pastoral agents to answer the previously posed question. It is evident that responsibility for safeguarding holistic health falls mainly on each individual pastoral agent. The biggest risk to being trapped in the toxic notion that we must be available 24/7 is that pastoral agents believe it themselves.
Contrary to the idea that pastors are tireless and foolproof, I would like to share some statistics that reveal the human side of these professionals and their risk of burnout. Seventy-five percent report that they feel stressed. Ninety percent work 55-75 hours per week. Ninety-one percent indicate that they have experienced some form of ministerial burnout. Seventy percent does not have a close friend (“Pastor Statistics” Fuller Institute, George Barna, Lifeway and Pastoral Care Inc., 2021, allpropastors-portal/pastors-statistics/).
However, there is still a question that requires a response. Why are pastors particularly prone to burnout? Here I share with you some reasons:
- They have not been taught how to care for others correctly.
- They worry too much because they feel responsible.
- They worry too much and feel impotent to provide adequate solutions.
- They worry too much all the time.
- They do not worry enough about their own recovery.
- They have idealist ideas about ministering.
- They compete for ministerial "success."
Burnout is a clear, overwhelming signal that each pastor needs to develop a self-care strategy to prevent ministerial burnout or, at least, minimize it.
I allow myself to finish this text by providing some suggested strategies for facing and preventing pastoral burnout. First, we must recognize that we are vulnerable. We must recognize that we are all susceptible to burnout. It is necessary that we recognize and accept our own limitations. We must avoid becoming victims of the "messiah complex," believing that we can "save others." All pastoral agents will need to have people to accompany them since they need others. Planning time for fun with our families is vital. Finally, taking care of spiritual practices and maintaining an attitude of adoration will be vital for recovering physical, emotional, and spiritual energy.
On the other hand, we must remember and recognize that a fundamental part of self-care is spiritual self-care. This consists of activities that focus our attention on what is inside us and allow us to connect with God and our internal beings.
Finally, we must remember that all pastoral agents must educate the congregation on the need to watch out for and seek self-care. I leave you with three final questions to apply what was discussed in this text.
How can we care for others if we do not take care of ourselves? Do you remember the observations of flight attendants when they give instructions on what to do when there is a lack of oxygen in the flight cabin? Do you remember what to do with the oxygen mask?
Chambo, Filemao. (2021). Liderarnos a nosotros mismos [Leading ourselves]. Impact mentoring conference. Unpublished manuscript.
Reasoner, Peter. (2021). La receta del autocuidado [The Recipe to Self-Care]. Independent publication. Amazon USA.
Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash