In what way can a congregation be supportive of the emotional health of their staff? I want to suggest an approach that an official board could take that would allow them to be attentive to their staff’s emotional health. I will use the example of a pastor but it could be applied to any staff member. I also think there could be great value in allowing the members of the board to also have the same experience from time to time.
The exercise is simple. At least once a quarter ask the pastor to reflect on two to three satisfying movements in the congregation and/or in his or her pastorate. Then ask him or her to also identify at least one area which troubles them. This is not a time for debate but simply of listening to the satisfactions and concerns of your spiritual leader.
Once the concern and satisfactions have been shared, the session might expand the discussion in the following manner. Without debating whether the described experience looks the same from someone else’s perspective, explore what effect it might have on the life of the church if either the positive or negative movement would increase at least ten fold. What you are doing is exagerating the trend before it has happened in order to look at its implications.
What you are doing for the pastor is allowing him or her to share the beginnings of movements within the congregation that affect him or her emotional satisfaction within their ministry. If this happened quarterly, the church would have a sense of the pulse of the leadership of their church and maybe be able to address both the positive and negative before they became too large to handle.
In looking at how you can care for your emotions, do not neglect to recognize the healing power of underused gifts. I recently asked my staff to identify some gifts that they had but have not had an opportunity to develop lately. Each of them reflected on either gifts that they once used and had lately neglected or ones that because of forks in their journey of life had been left behind.
Either talking to a friend or using a piece of paper, I would invite you to take a moment to reflect on gifts you have that are not being used. I discovered in trying this with a session in my church that it is important to do this without thinking that it will produce more work. Assume that you had some more free time, what are some of your gifts that you might enjoy developing.
Now think creatiively how such gifts might contribute to your life even if they were only used in small ways. Sometimes you can develop tasks at work or home that draw upon those gifts. At other times they are an interruption on the otherwise demanding life. What I do think you will discover is that in even contemplating how they might be developed and used in a new way you will discover a lift to your spirits.
As we develop and use our gifts, we discover an affirmation of our life. Too often we find ourselves being ground down by the constant demands of our life and fail to open ourselves to our creative side. God gave us our gifts for a purpose. Drawing upon them can nurture and heal us from the wounds of our life.
You are more than you have dreamed of, so dream a little and discover some new sides of yourself.
Anyone who thinks about it recognizes that church professions place pastors and educators (P/E) under a lot of emotional stress. The problem is that we don’t think about it very much. Those who don’t think about it include the pastors and educators.
Stress comes in many forms. It can certainly come from crisis in our lives or in our churches. It can also come from good experiences, successes, and opportunities. More often than we realize, it comes from the little pressures and irritations that are a regular part of our day and continually gnaw at our nerves. I learned a long time ago that nerve endings that are rubbed raw take longer to heal than what can be accomplished by a good night’s sleep or even an occasional extra day off.
It is important that we develop strategies by which we take care of ourselves emotionally. A key strategy is finding a way to name and own the emotional responses generated by our daily experiences. A simple way of taking your emotional blood pressure is to get a small notepad that you can carry around with you. At least for a couple of weeks, make it a practice of keeping record of how you are feeling at a variety of moments in your day. Don’t over analyze it. Simply record it and if possible what was the incident that generated that feeling. Record both positive and negative, strong and mild responses.
After a couple of weeks, go back and graph your flow of feelings. On the vertical side of the graph put numbers to represent intensity and along the horizontal line list the hours of the day at least from the time you get up till the time you go to bed. Using two colors of pens, graph both your good feelings and your negative feelings.
Now look at the graph and see what occurrs to you. It may be helpful to do this with a friend and let them also reflect on what it looks like. The first thing you are looking for is reocurring patterns. Are their particular times of day or types of incidents that repeatedly stimulate similar responses?
Now take those patterns to God in prayer. Ask what God would like you to do with respect to what you have identified. Whether it is a negative or a positive response that is stimulated, each holds possibilities for redemptive actions. You might want to ask whether there are any bibilical images that are prompted by specific types of response. Feel free to play with possibilities. It may be helpful to write about your responses. Sometimes that can surface new possibilities.
The third part of our grid on the physical health of pastors and educators involves the presbytery’s responsibilities. While it is obvious that the physical health of the pastors and educators in our judicatory benefits the whole church, we often do not bring a focus to this aspect of ministry.
A simple act that most presbyteries could do would be to have a presbytery nurse at a meeting to take blood pressures and perhaps other easily administered health evaluations.
The Board of Pensions, through their connection with the Mayo Clinic Embody Health program offers a Preventive Incentive program. It can be accessed at www.presbyterianwellness.com. Perhaps the presbytery could have a quick version of that wellness check list available at a presbytery meeting.
They could also invite the Board of Pensions to present some of their other wellness programs, including stress management, Tobacco quitline, and weight management programs.
If such programs were spread out over several meetings, it would also create a cultural awareness of the importance of physical health that could benefit the whole presbytery. This might lead to other discussions and other programs that would assist in maintaining a healthy church. To paraphrase Paul, “If one suffers, all suffer together.” (I Corinthians 12:26)
If you look at the grid shared on Friday, June 19 for care of pastors and educators (P/E), you will notice that there are three entities involved, one of which is the congregation. Today I would like to explore one dimension of the congregational attention to the physical health of the P/E staff at their church.
I’m aware that the first response might be that their physical health should be their own concern. My suggestion is that a congregation can benefit from supporting their staff to maintain their physical health. Many corporations are learning this lesson and our Board of Pensions is making this a major focus of some of their efforts.
The first thing that a congregation could do is to become familiar with the programs offered by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (www.pensions.org) in their wellness program. Here is an example of the value of the connectional church.
The second thing would be to express support for the P/E in maintaining their physical health and make sure they are aware of these resources. For example, if they are having trouble with their weight, are they aware of the Weight Management Program that they can access at 1-866-640-2772.
A third thing that a congregation can do is to support their staff in taking time to make physical exercise a part of their regular routine. I know one congregation that had a member that offered use of his weight machines for the pastor’s use. Several congregations have tried to help provide membership at a Y or sports club. In some cases the health insurance will even help with the cost of such a membership.
Since people are often reluctant to intrude on a person’s personal physical life, an entry point might be to invite the pastor and educator to lead the whole congregation in the spiritual dimensions of physical health. As I mentioned yesterday, according to Paul (1 Corinthians 19) this is a spiritual issue for the whole Body of Christ.