Denominational staff members who work for the larger church need to deliberately identify ways that they take care of their own spiritual life. That will usually include identifying a worshiping community to which they will belong. As frequently happens to pastors, so staff members can get so caught up in “running the church” that they can allow their spirits to be shaped by their successes and failures in their immediate ministry. They need to be part of a community of faith that reminds them that they are a part of something larger than their immediate tasks.
Because of the emotional price paid by their work, occasionally a staff person may need to participate in a worshiping community that is part of another tradition. When I first retired, I recognized that a detrimental factor in my being part of another worshiping community in my denomination was that after 23 years in the community, I knew too much about those communities. Sometimes for a Presbyterian to worship in an Episcopal or Quaker service might be enough different to awaken new aspects of feed their spiritual hunger.
A staff member would also do well to intentionally develop a spiritual discipline that they engage in during the week. For some people that may involve one or more prayer partners but in some cases it is better to engage in a personal discipline. A key factor to overworked staff is that it be scheduled to regularly interrupt their work-week tasks. In my ministry, I found it personally valuable to schedule my own silent meal at least once a week. I would go by myself to a fast food restaurant, order a simple meal, find a place in a corner, and enter in to a prayer time for 30 to 40 minutes. I found it a very centering experience.
Each person needs to find the practice that works for them, but it does need to be part of their weekly calendar or it will easily get lost in the rush of events.
I will speak of the body that meets regularly with a staff person as a council. You can adapt that to whatever body that regularly meets with a staff person to help that person exercise his or her ministry. In some cases it may be more than one body and then each need to take responsibility for reflecting on the well-being of that staff person. In other posts, I will also suggest activities and strategies that the individual staff person consider. For many of the devoted staff people in our church, that is the person who most neglects his or her own health. Therefore, the accountable body should occasionally ask the person what they are doing to care for his or her own health.
As a first step, and to be repeated at regular intervals, the council should step aside from their business agenda and engage in a version of what can be called appreciative inquiry. You can do this in one of two ways. You can simply place the person in your midst and members of the board begin to speak spontaneously of attitudes, activities, demeanor, accomplishments that they appreciate in that person. These should be done in short declarative sentences. Long stories and meandering reflections should be avoided. Conclude with a prayer of thanksgiving for his or her ministry.
Another way to do this would be more intentionally liturgical. Where available, by doing this in a chapel or sanctuary you are drawing upon the physical setting that speaks of our faith community. Have the person placed in your midst (physical placement of the person in the center of the circle can be powerful), enter a time of verbal prayer in which members of the council offer prayers of thanks for the positive aspects of this person’s ministry and conclude by laying hands upon the person and have a prayer for healing and strength.
While it may be very frustrating and stressful to be a pastor of a congregation, at least you have a congregation to relate to, a session to respond to, and some form of gathering of many of them once a week. As you enter the field of denominational staff, the context and accountability of your ministry becomes a lot more complex and cloudy. If you think being pastor of a church is a lonely position, and it is, try being part of a presbytery, synod, or GA staff. I have had some experience in being an interim General Presbyter but no experience with positions at synod and GA. I would think that being part of a synod staff might be the most difficult but as more staff is cut at the GA level and expectations continue to rise, that has got to be very stressful. What I will be discussing for the next several days will draw on my experience as a General Presbyter but hopefully apply to the other levels of denominational staff as well. I welcome feedback as to how to tweak this in ways that are helpful.
As before, I am drawing upon the 6 fold dimension of health that I have developed in the ToolBox at www.pastoralcarenetwork.org. When we think about caring for our health, we need to think about our physical, emotional, financial, family, spiritual, and vocational health. At a judicatory level, there needs to be some body to whom we relate that can contribute to the nurture of staff health. Like with clergy of churches, Healthy Clergy Make Health Churches, HCMHC) Too often boards and constituencies have expectations of those staff but do not step back to ask “How are you doing?” Even asking that question and sincerely wanting to know can contribute to the care of the staff that works for our greater church.
So the first question is who is it that asks that question and in what way and with what frequency does the question get asked?
If you talk to many people within our denomination, one overpowering reality is that economics are necessitating cutting staff. As we emerged out of WWII and entered a period marked both by increasing prosperity as a nation, and through the 60s a growth in size of churches and denominations, we began to professionalize variety of aspects of our church’s ministry. This ranged from multi-staffs in large churches to increase in presbytery, synod, and GA staff. As we recognized the scope of ministry before us, we sought out professionals that could enable the church to carry out that ministry. Regardless of the choice of reasons for the decline in church membership, that, together with our recent economic collapse has forced the church to pare back considerably.
Like corporations, the first attitude is to trim staff but not expectations for ministry. The result is an increasingly stressed and exhausted staff in our upper judicatories of our church. It is important to realistically examine our expectations of these servants of the Lord while at the same time looking for ways to care for them in their ministry.
That will be the topic at least for a few days.
At least in the Presbyterian church, and I suspect in most other denominations as well, those involved in specialized ministry often see the main connection with their judicatory as being one of filling out the yearly report that helps them maintain their ordination vows. At times, they are asked to serve on committees but only infrequently, do they experience the care of their judicatory.
There would be value in the COM or someone forming a list serve by which there could be some regular communication among those involved in these unique ministries. As a beginning, if they are part of the Board of Pensions program, there would be value in explaining some of the special services available to members through the EAP program. Few would probably be aware that they can access addiction counseling, weight loss programs, nurse consultations, and even legal advice.
If the communication was set up in something similar to a facebook sharing, they might also be enriched by sharing with each other as to the challenges they have in their ministry. You could also look in the ToolBox at www.pastoralcarenetwork.org for particular ways that they can address their own spiritual and vocational health.
By engaging in such communication, you are affirming the various gifts in the larger church and strengthening the bonds among the many servants of God.