the emotionally and spiritually healthy pastor (part 3)

In the previous two posts, I looked at the importance of self-awareness within the Christian tradition and shared some of the contemporary issues and alarming statistics.

A number of you asked, “Well, then, what do we do?”

In this post I’ll share two thoughts, with more to come in later posts.

First, the “what do we do?” is ordinarily asked after a pastor announces a resignation, or confesses to an affair, or blows up in rage at a meeting, or takes his or her life.  Too often, we’ve missed the signs along the way.  This happens for all sorts of reasons:

Often, we’re all just too busy forwarding the mission to stop and ask the question, “How am I really doing?” – or to ask that to another.  Does busyness keep you from honest self-reflection.

There are often unreasonable expectations that the pastor is emotionally and spiritually mature (read: stable, unbending, always consistent).  Do you have this expectation of yourself?  Do others have unreasonable expectations for you?  Who?

Sometimes, the mission is often pitted against the practice of self-care. In other words, we’ve not adequately connected our soul’s health with the health and even success of the mission, as Scripture does.  Does this dichotomy show up in your church?

Too often, ministry itself becomes another worthiness game that we’re all caught up in.  Competing and comparing is a sure sign of a quiet battle with shame, unworthiness and insecurity.  We don’t want to be that pastor – the weak one, the unsuccessful one, the goofy one, the anxious one.  Does playing the worthiness game keep you from an honest examination of your own soul?  Does it hinder your church’s intentional practice of soul care?

I see a consistent theme in these – pastors who are busy, restless, striving often at break-neck speed for the sake of the mission.  And amidst these realities and many more, we’re often left dealing with the messy aftermath.  How we (graciously and compassionately) respond in these times is important, but I want to move to a more core concern.

The second thought I have is that we need a new generation of St. Augustine’s and Theresa of Avila’s and Charles Spurgeon’s – men and women who are engaged in the mission and honestly self-aware.  As I said before, historians report that Spurgeon missed significant amounts of time in the pulpit on Sunday morning because of his struggle with depression.  Most pastors couldn’t keep their jobs if they called in sick on Sundays as often as he did.  And yet, he’d detail his struggles in letters to congregants, not afraid to integrate every aspect of himself into healthy relationship with God and others.    

We need living embodiments of Teresa of Avila, the Reformation-era Carmelite reformer whose monastery-planting and discipling/forming of others was coupled with her profound commitment to tending her “interior castle.”

Who are these men and women?  And which congregations are showing the kind of leadership support among elders and deacons which allow health + mission to thrive?

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In more recent times, I think of Henri Nouwen and Frederick Buechner, Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Lamott as men and women trying to break through into this new kind of missional spirituality.  Who do you recognize doing this?

I think we need to ask ourselves if we’re so committed to the mission that we’d see ourselves – our own pastoral well-being and soul-health – as vital to it.  Is this something you want for yourself?  For your church?

2 comments

  1. This is an excellent series. I’m struck by the fact that none of your modern day examples of men and women speaking about this “new kind of missional spirituality” are currently in formal pastoral roles. Sadly, that’s telling.

    I know from personal experience that the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Talbot Seminary is giving leadership in this arena. Their unique degree program gives priority to developing leaders who are both committed to the mission and courageously self-aware. I encourage you to check it out . Also, the Evangelical Center for Spiritual Wisdom lead by one of my former classmates is doing some great work in this arena. You might find some new allies in both of these ministries. 🙂 Blessings to you in your endeavors. Looking forward to following more posts in this series.

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