Ignoring Self Care – A Leadership Epidemic
Many pastors and ministerial leaders often ignore psychological findings whose resultant outcome would request that the individual admit faults, shortcomings, and failures. This unhealthy approach to leadership requires the person to become somewhat of a superhero among their peers and constituents, embodying all the characteristics of perfection as they expect their followers to embrace. The senior pastor may use the full armor of God
as described in Ephesians 6:10-18 as a model of Christian perfection, requesting that all continually strive to perfect this identity; however, their constituents will assume that the pastor already wears and perfects the full armor.
Truthfully though, in the privacy of their quiet moments, the pastor knows this is far from the truth. To admit this, however, would be self-disclosure. It would admit fallibility. The danger of self-disclosure is that it can negatively affect the pastor as well as the constituencies. There is a very finite line between over-disclosure and under- disclosure. That is why it is an important leadership characteristic to embrace our need for peers and accountability partners. Ones who provide a safe place for us to be real. Admitting to faulty characteristics can lead to an imbalance in relational connections and this can only lead to one place: burn out. Proceed with caution.
Ministerial leaders, pastors specifically, occupy an important space in the community of faith that leaves little to no room for flexibility, especially when it comes to the full range that self-disclosure would demand. A pastors’ spiritual well-being is the foundation upon which their personal and vocational identities are built but they are not infallible. The truth is that sharing and disclosing these apparent weaknesses will cause a pastor to struggle with their own spiritual health.
If the existential as well as faith-based variables of spiritual wellness are not sufficiently present and inextricably linked in the life of a pastor, the dissonance experienced in his or her role will quickly prompt a need for help.
Simply put, if we fail to recognize that the full armor of God is extremely heavy and cumbersome and something that is impossible for us to carry in its fullness all the time, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our leaders, our constituents, and to the Kingdom of God. The full armor of God is a goal to which we should all strive. The truth is, the followers of religious leaders believe in their hearts that the leader does, indeed, wear the full armor, have the ability to quickly maneuver while wearing it, and that they wear it 24/7. THAT is the disservice we do our leaders and, as leaders, we do to ourselves. We believe that we need to top off the armor of God with our super-hero cape and, to coin an old commercial, never let them see you sweat.
Current State of Leadership and Moments to Watch
Leadership, in any organization, requires the individual to set the tone and reflect back to all who see and listen, the mission, purpose, ethics, and values of the organization or community. They are the embodiment of the mission and purpose statements; and when cracks appear in the armor, their future positioning is at stake.
As leaders, we need to care for ourselves and we need to care for other leaders regardless of hierarchy. The small group leader is just as important in the sphere of influence and support of the senior pastor as is the associate pastor.
Remember: a true pastor will want and desire the knowledge of God’s word and its proper application in the lives of their congregations. There will be challenges, issues, and setbacks; but although the calling is great and the reward is eternal, expecting ones’ self or expecting one’s leader to have arrived at some great spiritual plane of awareness and effectively and continually offer up themselves as the holy and living embodiment is bordering on heresy.
The Shepherd of any flock is Jesus Christ. Jesus has called the pastors to be the sheepdogs. They are to keep the flock together, catch the strays, alert and pray for the sick and dying – but they are not to pick up the staff and take up a position on the shepherd’s perch – because THAT spot is occupied.
A Positive Direction and Solution
Embracing our faults is important and over-sharing can lead to a quick ending. There is a fine balance and that is why it is vital for pastors and leaders to connect themselves with accountability partners – with people who won’t be carrying their baggage for them because they have their OWN baggage, but with people who ‘get it’.
Partnering with others who know the burden of wearing the full armor and who will help you to remove yours, dress your wounds, wipe your brow, and let you breath and re-group. Pastor and leaders need to align themselves with people who say, “it is ok if you want to cry, its ok if you want to scream right now because I have been there and I will arrive there again and when I do I’ll need you to tell ME it is ok”. Leaders cannot rely on those they lead to pick them up, support them, nurture them, and heal them. They turn to LEADERSHIP for those gifts. A leader’s sphere of influence must be a place to go to pull out the arrows that the armor did not deflect, to patch the wounds that the helmet did not save them from, and to catch their breath when not even the breastplate was strong enough to prevent the wind from being knocked out of them. All people need their pastors – and all pastors are people who also needs pastors.