Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 2

The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.

The MLCI blog series, launched January 15, 2014, is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.

This week’s post invites us to think about how the blessings of social media and instant connection might, sometimes, work against us as we seek to establish, maintain, and encourage boundaries meant to help us stay well and healthy.

Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 1
–by Jamie L. Haskins, M. Div., Chaplain, Director of Spiritual Life and Instructor of Religious Studies, Westminster College, Fulton, MO (Vanderbilt Divinity School)

My cell phone number is on the top of each of my syllabi, with the gentle though firm reminder to my students that they should never call or text before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m.  I’m not too worried about the 7a.m. guideline; these are college students after all.  More than once though, the 10 p.m. boundary has been breached.   More often than not, it’s not a classroom-oriented crisis that calls for this late night communication.  No, it’s the broken heart; the sibling struggling with depression; the loss of a grandparent—these are the reasons my phone sometimes rings well into the night.  I’m their chaplain; it is my job to journey with these young men and women through break-ups, grief, joy, celebration and sorrow.   It’s my call and it’s what I love to do.

This past week, however, when my phone chirped well past midnight with a text message from a student, I found myself wondering just how this expectation of around-the-clock pastoral support had become an unwritten line in my job description. The student was troubled and needed to talk, that much was true. But, it was a conversation that would keep until the morning.  It wasn’t urgent.  When did managing this desire for instant connection, care and feedback become such a large part of the pastoral task?

My hunch is that it has something to do with social media. In our world of rapid Facebook communication, fast paced status updates, “retweeting,” “sharing” and “liking,” it seems as though instant communication is an expectation held by many. I have a colleague in congregational ministry whose email signature line apologizes for any delay in response and promises that all emails will be answered within 24 hours.  A 24-hour response time and still he feels the need to apologize? How did we come to adopt this expectation for ourselves?

As I strive toward a healthy and whole understanding of ministry, it is these expectations surrounding constant and fast-paced communication that loom as a significant barrier between me and the intentional, thoughtful, prayerful, pastor I seek to be.  I find myself in search of a middle-way, a balance that somehow allows me to remain accessible as a caregiver without succumbing to the around-the-clock expectation for communication fostered by our larger culture.  I trust that there is a way forward, a space that allows for accessibility and stillness, connection and prayerful silence, the task before me now, then, is figuring out just how to find it….