There are a number of practical attitudes and behaviours that significantly contribute to pastoral health. They include the following.
For the Kingdom’s sake, have a clear picture of who you are in Christ. Two major assignments are given to us as Christians:
- To know God as revealed in Christ. You do this by knowing the bible and interacting with the Spirit of God as a teacher, interpreter of truth and empowering companion. Keep working on that relationship for the whole journey. Interacting as a learner of Christ (Matthew 11: 28-29), being Scripture soaked and prayer bathed is all part of this.
- Couple this with a desire to understand who you are. This comes as you understand your personal story, giftedness, loves, dreams and strengths; along with your fears, hates, obsessions and angers, vulnerabilities and weaknesses. To foreknow is to be forewarned. It is wise to pray and walk away from that which is unhealthy, ungodly and distracting. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3).
Boundaries around marriage and family
Establishing boundaries about one’s marriage and family does not mean that you become obsessive, rather you communicate with your spouse vigorously and constantly about everything. You listen to them carefully, thoughtfully, and with love. Together you learn the way to do conflict and you stick to the rules, respectfully working through differences.
As we do this within marriage, so we are to do it within family. Preciousness about children can verge on idolatry and ought to be watched. However, our children need our priority, love, patience, modeling of life with Christ and our time. Affirmation of their value through verbal expressions of love and physical demonstrations of affection that are respectful, generous and frequent are important. Discipline that is consistent, firm and always directed toward enabling children to come back on track with family rules and thus learn how to live with each other, parents and within a large community. Talk during television shows, during drives, whenever and wherever your children open up, maximize the possibility of their doing so.
Boundaries are to be like pores in ones skin, they are to have holes so the skin can breath. Spouses each need friends and companions of the same gender. Children need friends that are welcome in our homes. Practice person to person hospitality and hospitality in the home within the family’s financial limitations. Preserve family private times and spaces but include others in that often.
Exercise, play sport and have fun
A comparative sedentary lifestyle is to be balanced by regular exercise, regular participation in sports, so some of this needs to be team sports. Encourage your family to do the same and be with them in the midst of that. Make the most of connecting with people in community at your kids games. Date nights and dates with one’s children on a one-to-one basis are something I did not necessarily do, but I watch my children do this with great wisdom as they relate to their children.
Be proactive about good work practices. Spend mornings in the study, with the possible exception of staff meetings and scripture classes, and afternoons for meeting with people and visitation are good practices. Work at least eight hours a day. Take Sabbaths or days off for recreation and days of in lieu when required i.e. after family camps or particularly stressful periods. One day in seven or an equivalency is good practice. Do not expect volunteers to do more than time allows for them. Do not deliberately or unwittingly suggest that your role is more significant in God’s design that that of others in the congregation. Remember you are not necessarily the hardest working person in your congregation and do not go into victim mode about that.
What do you do for fun as a family and as an individual? Having worked out what it is, get into it or find a cheaper alternative if you must. For example, you can walk, jog, or ride a bike instead of joining a gym. Holiday regularly with your own family and include others on occasion. There is nothing like a campfire for relaxed story telling or gathering around a gas lamp and reading together as a family.
Read and listen to music
Keep up your reading of journals like ‘The Week’ or ‘Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care’. Read about preaching, theology, church history, cultural and societal trends, as well as leadership practicability. Do so using electronic material or paper books. Have mercy on your people, read and keep writing sermons out in full, using gender inclusive illustrations and language. Read good novels rather than watch TV if your time is short. Historical, well researched novels may enrich you. Travel if it is possible for you and broaden your worldview and your understanding of other cultures. Tackle language study if you have an opportunity or the slightest reason for doing so.
Watch out for ‘withdrawal symptoms’
Many Australian pastors, as opposed to US pastors, are introverts. If you are an introvert then make sure that that you get time on your own to renew your soul and energy to speak with people. Plan your use of time accordingly, but whatever you do, engage with people at depth and learn their stories, sins and see God working in them.
Be careful of high maintenance people
Know who pushes your buttons, and what about them causes this to be the case. Part of healthy self-awareness knows those people who frustrate you and what it is about them that does so. Set up healthy patterns in life Set these patterns while you and your family are relatively young and it will stand you in good stead. Yes, you will as a result, still be interacting with your children when they are adults, and with their children and you will realise that you can do it all over again. The second time around, with grandchildren, there is a relationship distance that makes it more relaxed and enjoyable but it will still cost.
Know your doctor
Keep in touch with your medical practitioner, for other members of your family, for yourself. Regular medical check and paying attention to healthy tendencies you have in your family or origin and within your nuclear family. Eat healthily at all times.
As a final Charge, believe Paul’s directive – Keep watch over your own yourselves and over all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own son. Your own souls, and those of the people you serve. (Acts 20: 28)