Monday, October 16, 2017

Running on Fumes

While driving home the other day my car alert sounded.  I looked at the dashboard, and to my surprise the gas gauge was blinking. Yikes! My mind was on a million other things, in input from the day.  I had started out that morning with a partial tank of gas, enough to fulfill my duties of the day, but was I going to get home?  I had preached at Allegan that morning, then drove to Jackson for an area gathering for our strategic visioning.  I immediately slowed down to squeeze as many miles as I could out of the remaining drops of gas in my tank, because I knew I had a few miles to go before the next service station.  A prayer of gratitude was on my heart as I pulled into the station!  I pumped more gas into my tank than it is supposed to hold.  Whew! I was running on fumes.  I suspect you've been there and done that as well.

I also was pretty well spent.  That night, I was achy tired.  Fortunately, my calendar was open the next morning, so I slept in, lost myself in a good book the Kalamazoo area clergy group was reading.  The weekend accumulation of emails waited until that afternoon.  I filled my tank first.  Last fall, I didn't do that so well and ended up in the ER.  After multiple tests which showed only that I was healthy, my conclusion was fatigue and dehydration after a stressful fall and a strenuous day of fall yard work.

Our calendars fill to overflowing with meetings, events, activities. The fall start up can be exhausting!  Church calendars are not immune!  Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are marathons for pastors.  January is always a bear with annual reports, congregational meetings, training of new officers.  Add to this the emotional stressors when members are anxious.  It is a recipe for burnout, depression, and worse.  Other professions have their own rhythms and challenges as well.  But we Americans tend to go and go and go, until our bodies say, "No, you don't!" And we must rest, refuel, replenish the store of joy, enthusiasm, and energy.  I was introduced to chronic fatigue syndrome years back when a church member, who was a beloved medical doctor, was forced by her body to take a medical leave for a season.

Self care and work life balance national issues.  They are a crisis identified by the Board of Pensions confronting many pastors.  We pastors are lolled into over functioning because we are called to ministry and service.  It feeds our egos.  "Look at how hard I am serving the Lord! I worked 85 hours this week!  See how wonderful I am?"  At the expense of our families!  Congregations love it, but at their expense, too.  Over functioning pastors lead to underfunctioning lay leaders.  And bless the poor minister who follows them.  Rather, dynamic leaders don't work harder.  They work smarter!  They regularly step out of the emotional system in which they work, to gain perspective.  They live interesting lives, which gives them more of themselves to share, instead of losing themselves in ministry.  They are dynamic because when they are present, they're attention is with us, and not elsewhere.  They have gas, dynamo, power, in their tank.

How do you fill your tank?  That will be different for each of us.  Church members hopefully are refreshed at corporate worship.  When we are feeling poorly, and life has squeezed the faith out of us, we need to stand with the community of faith and have them profess the faith when we can't.  Pastors, as worship leaders, get some of this while leading worship, but also need to find such communities which feed their souls when they are not responsible for leading.  Presbyteries were created to fill this need.  Who pastors the pastor?  Where do pastors go to refresh their spirits?

October is Pastor Appreciation Month!  Some suggestions:  write your pastor a letter expressing what you appreciate about his or her ministry.   Support a healthy work life balance for yourself and your church staff.  If it's not that way for you in the corporate world...well, the church is a hospital for sinners...we can live a more healthy way.  Frankly, the most successful corporations recognize the benefits of a healthy work life balance and that their people are their greatest asset.  Make sure your church provides your pastor opportunities to regularly step outside your congregation's emotional field for prospective.

If we want dynamic leaders and healthy congregations, pastors and members alike must fill their tanks and witness to a healthy work life balance.  We can do so, because in Jesus Christ we are given  "space for grace!"