NOT GOOD TO BE ALONE
In his study of centenarians across the world, Dan Buettner discovered that a common factor was that these people had found their tribe. Each of them had become a part of a small group of friends who cared about them and held then accountable for being part of the living.
Genesis View of Humanity
When the Genesis story speaks of the creation of humanity, it suggests that it was grounded on God´s recognition that it is not good for the human to be alone. From the beginning, the health of humans involved relationships. As the story unfolds in the rest of the journey of faith, it is clear that God is talking about more than just the relationship between men and women. All of faith is built on relationships. For Christians, that is summarized in the Great Commandment.
The suggestion in the story is that the relationships that give us health are more that just physical proximity. Pastors are surrounded by people. Many of those relationships involve both physical and emotional interaction. Yet, as most pastors are fully aware, the profession of ministry is often a lonely profession. You respond to and interact with others, often on an emotional and even intense level, but the assumption is that the pastor is responding to the other person or group´s emotions. Pastors always feels on stage and rarely are free to let their guard down.
In a survey of presbytery executives, almost all of them mentioned some version of loneliness and isolation as a chief issue for clergy. To paraphrase Genesis, it is not good for clergy to be alone. If the experience of centenarians can be applied to clergy, it is not good for their longevity as well. The challenge is that it is not easy for clergy to break through their isolation.
BEING INTENTIONAL AND PLAYFUL
The truth is that a pastor has to be intentional but also playful about his or her need for companionship.
The first step is to recognize that taking time for healthy companionship can be a witness to others about the importance of friendship for everyone who seeks to have a healthy life. While one can seek a relationship in a selfish, self’centered way, good relationships are also part of a healthy ministry. Showing others how to balance productive efforts with re-creative relationships is vital to a healthy life.
The second step is to build a theological and preachable understanding of this balance. Your sermons can help your congregation to understand both yours and their need to nurture good relationships. In publicly interpreting your intentionality to develop good relationships outside of professional responsibility, you are inviting the congregation to hold you accountable as well as to see it as important for themselves. This is part of your ministry,
The third step is to seek playful ways to be with others. What is the type of experience that would be enjoyable, involve two or more people, and nurture the fruit of the Spirit within you. (Galatians 5:22-23) Believe me that can be done while playing golf, hiking, knitting, dancing, or going to a play.
Buettner found that people who live longest surround themselves with people who support healthy behaviors. My suggestion is that clergy deliberately seek a cadre of friends that help them have a healthy perspective on life and ministry. Ministry can be a complex quagmire that sucks you under. It is important to have some friends who both understand the challenges and the higher purpose to which you are called. It also helps if they can help you see the comedy of life. (More on this in a future blog.)
This will be explored further in future blogs. In the meantime, with whom can you play and be yourself?