When I’m at church on a Sunday morning, I’m usually up front welcoming everyone to worship, leading prayer, or preaching. But one Sunday morning, as our youth led worship, I actually sat in the balcony with my husband. “How does it feel to have a week off?” one of our church members asked me. “Just great,” I said with a smile, “And our youth did an amazing job leading us this morning.”
I wondered later though, did he really think I had a week off because I wasn’t up front? I’m pretty sure he had been joking, but our exchange made me think, what is it that I actually do during the week?
For example, this week I led our staff team meeting; had separate conversations with different staff members; met with our Vietnamese ministry support team; prayed through our church prayer list; made a number of phone calls; talked with several members who stopped by the church; prepared for a wedding this Saturday; worked on my sermon; and sent 41 emails related to worship planning, personnel, the start of the Sunday school year, and other ministry matters–and that’s just what I did Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
That’s why I just had to read this blog post written by another pastor: We Only Work One Day a Week. Sure enough, her title was tongue-in-cheek, and she also had a long list of pastoral responsibilities that take place during the week. Only her list included one surprise: self-care.
Wait a minute, you mean self-care is actually part of a pastor’s job?
In the midst of everything else this week, I think I took pretty good care of myself. I did the New York Times crossword every morning. I took breaks in the middle of the day to have lunch with my husband. I tried to eat healthy and get my 10,000 steps each day. I wrote in my journal. I indulged in freshly made apple crisp with ice cream at our staff meeting. I had lunch with a friend last Saturday, and with a group of friends on Monday. We visited with family this summer, and travelled to New York earlier this year.
But none of this made it on to my church time sheet as work time–well, except for the apple crisp at our staff meeting. I’ve always thought of self-care as my own time and responsibility. While I might take a long nap on a Sunday afternoon, I wouldn’t dream of doing that on a Tuesday and counting it as church time. I’ve always thought of self-care as part of my life, not part of my job.
Yet in the face of increasing challenges in the workplace, some argue for self-care in the workplace, and that would apply when you work for the church too. According to clinical psychologist Dana Gionta:
Many of us associate self-care with getting adequate exercise and proper nutrition. Self-care practices are often done either before or after work, but not during. Being at work, however, does not negate the need for continued self-care. Considering the total number of hours we spend weekly at work, it is actually more important to our well-being and for our relationships, to practice good professional self-care while at work.
By “good professional self-care” Gionta doesn’t mean taking that afternoon nap, or idly scrolling through Facebook for an hour, or playing a video game and calling it self-care. Instead, she lists:
- creating a healthy work space for yourself;
- developing a short list of priorities for each day;
- minimizing procrastination;
- taking intermittent breaks like a lunch break or talking with co-workers;
- setting and maintaining professional boundaries.
I’ve never thought of these things as self-care. In my mind, planning my day has always been squarely in the work category as part of my paid employment. But now I see how workplace planning contributes to self-care too. For more, see Dana Gionta’s articles on Avoid Job Burnout: Practice Self-Care and Stress Management and 7 Steps to Better Employee Self-Care in the Workplace.
So what do you think? Is it self-indulgent to include self-care as part of church employment? Or is self-care actually part of the job? What are our expectations as employees and employers? I welcome your response to the following poll question, or leave a comment at the end of this article. This is an anonymous, interactive poll, and I would love to have your response. [If you’re viewing this on your email and do not see the poll, or would like to leave a comment, please click here to view in your web browser.]
Next Up: The most recent issue of the Canadian Mennonite features the cover story, When Your Services are No Longer Required, along with a sidebar which is an edited version of one of my blog articles, How to Get Over a Painful Termination–Or Can You? Managing editor Ross Muir contacted me for permission, and I was glad to contribute in this way. I continue the dialogue in Is There a Better Way to Terminate an Employee?
Thank you for your interest. If you’re concerned about the good, the bad, and the ugly of church employment and how we can all do better, please share this article and consider signing up for my free updates. I’m praying and working for positive change, and hope you’ll join me.