Our Philosophy of Self-Care

Three primary philosophies (approaches) exist for pastor self-care. While most Christian organizations offer counseling as their primary approach, we focus on a prevention oriented approach as a best-practice. When dealing with pastor self-care issues, the old addage, “Pay a little now, or pay a lot later,” by far provides the best approach. Which of the following approaches best describes the one used by your organization or agency?

The Three Primary Approaches to Pastor Self-Care

(The following parable is adapted from a Community Health Evangelism (CHE) presentation at Springfield Missouri in April 2012).

Two villages existed on opposite sides of a steep and treacherous mountain and each village engaged in commerce with the other. As individuals struggled to transport goods between the villages, every now then one of them slipped on the steep mountainside and sustained serious injury. A missionary passing through noticed the problem and suggested a solution—approach #1. He offered to purchase an ambulance to transport the injured victims to the nearest hospital, about four hours away. The villagers felt overjoyed and the missionary bought them the ambulance. The ambulance cost $40,000.

However, after a few years the ambulance needed repairs. The villagers complained that they couldn’t afford the repairs. And since the missionary had already returned to his home country, no financial help came from him. While the ambulance lingered in disrepair, several villagers fell and needed hospitalization. So the villagers asked a new missionary to help.

The new missionary suggested a new solution—approach #2. He suggested building them a clinic at the foot of the mountain. Injured villagers could obtain medical help readily without the need of an ambulance. He easily raised the construction funds and obtained a work team from his home country to build the clinic. Within a few months, they finished. A second team trained local personnel with basic medical skills to operate the clinic. The building cost $120,000. The short-term trips to build it and train the local personnel cost $35,000.

However, the villagers found that the local staff never received adequate training for the more serious injuries, and medical supplies never seemed available or affordable. Worse yet, with their new skills the staff found that they could obtain higher paying jobs in one of the larger cities.  Without any ongoing medical training for replacement staff, the medical staff gradually dwindled away. Within a few years, the clinic had to close for lack of medical staff. The villagers complained.

Tired of hearing complaints, a local villager suggested a new solution—approach #3. He had considered mentioning the approach when the first missionary arrived, but the local villagers seemed so excited about getting a free ambulance that they never seemed open to consider anything else. So the man with approach #3 had remained quiet about his proposal. However, he still believed that his approach might work—he suggested that the villagers build guard rails along the mountain pathways to prevent the falls. Without anyone else available to offer help, the villagers agreed to try his approach. With a little effort, they cut trees from their local forest, split rails and posts for the guard rails, and installed them. Since they used local labor and local resources, they could easily maintain and repair the guard rails. The guard rails cost the villagers less than $100 for cement to set the posts.

Exercise 1: Like approach #1, some church agencies routinely bring burned out pastors and missionaries to a centralized Christian-based clinic in their home country. What are some direct and indirect costs associated with this approach for just one family in your agency? If an average of 40% of pastors and missionaries suffer from burnout over their career, what are some potential direct and indirect costs associated with this approach for your agency over the next ten years?

In some countries, local churches implement a similar approach—they send their ministers to a Christian counseling clinic that serves their entire denomination. Within your denomination and setting, who represents the participants in a solution similar to approach #1?

Exercise 2: Like approach #2, some church agencies run local clinics to provide more accessible clinical services to burned out pastors. Instead of sending pastors to a clinic in a distant location, some local pastors cross-train into the counseling profession to help other pastors within their own region or area. What are some direct and indirect costs associated with this approach? If an average of 40% of pastors suffer from burnout over their career, what are some potential direct and indirect costs associated with this approach for your agency over the next ten years?

Some local churches implement a similar approach—they operate a local counseling center to help burned out ministers. Within your agency and setting, who represents the participants in a solution similar to approach #2?

Exercise 3: Some pastors tend to focus on the relative cost of approach #1, #2, and #3. Is cost the most important issue? What is the most important issue?

Our Approach

Using the above examples, this website represents approach #3. Prevention skills and preventative training serve as the guard rails in approach #3. By translating the latest research (much of it completed since 1999) into skills and training, at least 90% of pastor burnout and self-care failure now remain preventable even without any changes in a high-stress environment. And some psychologists argue that all burnout now remains preventable. By using the most recently developed technology, ministers can almost always prevent self-care problems even while increasing their productivity. And with resilience skills, those individuals affected by burnout can rebound much more quickly, usually without a need for counseling or medical help. Prevention may never look as glamorous as a new ambulance or medical clinic, but it offers the most cost-effective and most successful approach to enhance pastor longevity and productivity. This website focuses on prevention skills and training, even while addressing the needs of those already in crisis.

Counselors will always remain in demand—too often for those who fail to develop prevention skills. Prevention remains the most effective approach.

With the information and resources referenced in this website, you will be able to refine:

  • Research-proven skills that stimulate physical resilience (a margin of physical hardiness that prevents burnout and a downcast spirit).
  • Research-proven skills that stimulate emotional resilience.
  • Bible-based lifestyles that stimulate spiritual resilience.

Exercise 4: Jeren Rowell (2010) reports that nearly 40 percent (39.8%) of currently active pastors that he surveyed have considered leaving vocational ministry during the past three years. Which of the above approaches, #1, #2, or #3 best describes an approach to sustain similar pastors in your church or agency? What can your church and agency do to better promote their resilience skills?

© 2013 Nathan Davis

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