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Khadeeja Yasser / Unsplash

In the busyness of serving congregations, attending to the needs of parishioners and navigating the challenges of day-to-day ministry, the well-being of those who serve as ministers too often takes a back seat. Yet if there is one lesson to be learned in ministry, it is this: caring for your soul is paramount to caring for others.

The pressures of pastoral ministry, coupled with the expectations and demands placed upon clergy, create a perfect storm for mental health struggles. Long hours, emotional labor and the weight of leadership responsibility can exact a toll on even the most resilient of souls.

The journey toward mental wellness begins with recognizing the unique stresses and strains inherent in pastoral ministry. This requires a shift in mindset — from viewing self-care as selfish to understanding it as essential for effective ministry. Just as Jesus withdrew to solitary places to pray and recharge, so too must clergy carve out space for rest, reflection and renewal. 

Perhaps the most powerful antidote to emotional exhaustion is the practice of self-compassion: the radical act of extending grace to ourselves. We give grace to others. Why not extend grace to ourselves? We are kind to others. Why not be kind to ourselves?

Self-compassion is not merely a personal concern; it is a matter of faithful stewardship and responsible leadership. As the apostle Paul reminds us, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and we are called to honor God with our minds as well as our hearts and souls. By prioritizing our mental wellness, we not only honor the sacred trust placed in those who serve as ministers but also bear witness to the transforming power of God’s love in our lives.

Resources

Thema Bryant headshot

Thema Bryant: Bridging Theology and Psychology

In this episode of “Leading and Thriving in the Church,” Prince talks with Dr. Thema Bryant, the 2023 president of the American Psychological Association (APA): the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology with more than 120,000 members.

An illustration of faces in profile, in different colors and with different drawings inside their heads: flowers, suns, spirals, etc.

Understanding wellness and mental health among pastors in 2024

Research reveals positive trends but several complexities that contribute to a sense of clergy well-being.

By Shari Finnell

An overhead photo of two circles of paper figures with joined hands, one inside the other

Mindful mentoring can help develop leaders

Studies show that while mentoring can make a difference, especially for women and people of color, mentoring alone is not enough. A white male administrator shares his ideas about ways leaders can leverage their roles to support and advocate for women and people from marginalized groups.

By Todd Maberry

A black and white photo of a man standing in fog, a backpack over his shoulder

Ministers cannot thrive if they neglect themselves

Clergy must honor all aspects of their lives to be healthy in ministry, writes a clinical psychologist who focuses on faith and mental health.

By Jessica Young Brown


Before you go…

The first time someone encouraged me to be compassionate towards myself, I must confess it caught me by surprise. I had come to this person for wise counsel and wanted to make sure I was being considerate of someone else’s feelings. He said, “Don’t forget to show yourself compassion.” Hearing those words changed the way I think about self-care.

While ministry is always going to be demanding, self-compassion gives me permission to pay attention to my well-being as I do the work. Self-compassion allows me to forgive myself for my mistakes. So as you seek to faithfully demonstrate God’s love to others, I encourage you to incorporate self-compassion. As it is written in Colossians 3:12, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” These are virtues we should demonstrate outwardly, but we can also practice them inwardly, too.

You can always reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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