The Challenge of Self-Care

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

The challenge of self-care

Honesty is essential to leadership. Like most leadership, healthy modeling is necessary for effectiveness. Truthfully, it is easier to be honest with others than it is to be honest with self. Additionally, it is easier to lead others than it can be to lead self. Maybe it is just that I am one of those difficult sheep, but I suspect from conversations with other leaders, these challenges are not unique. Self-care is one area of my own leadership that is the most life-giving, challenging and in need of constant growth. I suspect many pastors and other Christian leaders struggle with self-care as well. Self-care may be the most important aspect of self-leadership, second only perhaps to self-knowledge.

There are probably many reasons we fail to adequately attend to self-care as leaders. Most reasons appear noble, even Christ-like at times. The call to Christian leadership certainly involves sacrifice, modeled most profoundly for us in the cross. Yet, Jesus also demonstrated self-care, set boundaries for ministry and took time to engage in prayer and solitude. Our failure in the area of self-care as leaders is a spiritual and theological problem, and we must take this deficiency seriously.

As I reflect on my own journey with the issue of self-care, there are many seasons of success and many seasons of failure. It is not easy and each season brings new needs, opportunities and challenges. Each Monday I stop for five minutes and go through a self-care inventory I created with some assistance from some colleagues and spiritual directors. It’s a series of questions in a variety of categories that forces personal reflection and an honest examination of areas of strength and weakness in any given season around my own self-care as a leader and Christ-follower. Besides general questions about self-care, the inventory includes questions about emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, vocational and relational health. In each season of life, I find one or more of these areas may be strong while one or more may be weak. I understand that it is hard to find time and energy for consistent self-care. However, we must recognize our ministry flows out of our own relationship with Jesus, and our own health in all of these areas has a dramatic impact on our leadership, organizations and those we lead. We cannot offer what we do not have ourselves, and our failure to attend to our own self-care is another example of not trusting our ministry to the Holy Spirit. When we fail to attend to our own self-care, our ministry becomes more about our own efforts than the movement of the Holy Spirit. Unhealthy leaders create unhealthy followers and unhealthy organizations. If I am as passionate about my own health, especially spiritually, as I am about those I lead, then I will take self-care seriously.

The good news is that we have a wonderful opportunity to model self-care to others in a society with few boundaries and little self-care. The health of others and the organizations we serve depends on it. The church has a great opportunity to offer something the culture cannot, greater self-care focused on the one who cares for us, and it is our call as leaders to create a culture of self-care that begins with us.

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