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Conference teaches seminarians the importance of self-care


The message: Make sure you take care of yourself as you minister to God’s people

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Gloria Mencer, interim associate pastor for pastoral care and outreach at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, Tennessee, teaches seminarians about the importance of self-care. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

CLINTON, Tennessee — In a session titled Caring for your Soul, the Rev. Gloria Mencer, interim associate pastor for pastoral care and outreach at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, Tennessee, reminded participants during last month’s Seminarians of Color Conference that it is important that as pastors they learn to care for their own souls.

“We are broken in many ways and in need of healing,” she said. “Our historical journey has been a tragic one. We place other people and things above our needs. We need to examine what our own rejection wounds feel like and learn the beautiful word ‘no.’”

Mencer says clergy wear “too many hats. We need to practice slowing down and being present and look for what brings you joy and your rhythms of worship, work and rest.”

“There are people in your congregation with very important and dire issues,” she said. “But the important issues in your life need to be worked on as well as the issues of those you are counseling. Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.”

Mencer says that on average, seminary-trained pastors last only five years in church ministry and deal with a great deal of stress. Mencer shared some statistics with conference participants on ministry stress. Among them:

  • 75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed”
  • 90% work 55 to 75 hours per week
  • 90% feel fatigued and worn out every week
  • 70% say they’re grossly underpaid
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

“But ministry stress alone does not explain why pastors burn out emotionally or blow out morally,” she said. Other statistics suggest that many pastors “struggle with ‘professionalizing’ their spiritual lives and failing to care for their own souls under God. Pastors are struggling with emotional pain, family problems, loving well and moral failures.”

Statistics on pastors’ emotional health, family, and morality include:

  • 70% of pastors say they have a lower self-esteem now than when they entered ministry
  • 50% feel so discouraged that they would leave their ministry if they could, but can’t find another job
  • 80% believe their pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families and 33% said it was an outright hazard
  • 80% of ministry spouses feel left out and unappreciated in their church.

Mencer says further studies show that most pastors do not believe that seminary adequately trained them for self-care. Ninety percent of pastors say they have not received adequate training to meet the demands of ministry.

As many as 44% of pastors do not take a regular day off, and 31% don’t exercise at all. Thirty-seven percent of pastors exercise at least three days each week as recommended.

“These statistics on pastor stress may make it seem like all pastors are burned out, unhealthy, failing morally or unhappy. That’s not true — I know pastors who are flourishing in their life, marriage, family and ministry,” she said.

Some recent research, as the Rev. Gloria Mencer explained, indicates that pastors who practice self-care can feel more fulfilled in their ministry. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

In fact, recent research on pastor stress conducted in 2016 by Richard Krejcir, director of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development, showed encouraging signs for many pastors. That research showed that 78% of pastors say if they had to do it over again would still choose to be a pastor. Fifty-seven percent are happy and fulfilled as a pastor, 65% do not battle depression and 88% say their current church is treating them positively.

Mencer reminded the seminarians that it is important for them to identify the sources of stress in their lives. She offered five ways to avoid stress: avoid unnecessary stress, alter the situation, adapt to the stressor, accept the things that you cannot change and make time for fun and relaxation.

She pointed out examples in Scripture that showed self-care is biblical and then gave some of the benefits of self-care, such as better productivity, improved resistance to disease, better physical health, enhanced self-esteem and spiritual healing.

In closing the pastor walked the seminarians through a meditation exercise that they can use to make sure they’re able to relax and focus on themselves when needed. After helping them release their tension, Mencer had the seminarians dance to the 1979 Sister Sledge hit, “We are Family.”

If the seminarians’ smiles and giggles were any indication of self-care, relaxation and fun, it was apparent they truly understood the importance of self-care to their well-being.


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