Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 3

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.



Clergy Health and Well-being: Perceived Barriers, Part 3
–by The Reverend Heidi Haverkamp, Vicar and Priest, Episcopal Church of St. Benedict, Bolingbrook, IL, M. Div., 2006, The University of Chicago Divinity School

In seminary, one of my classmates told me that her pastor had instructed her to figure out whether she was an “apostolic” pastor or an “academic” pastor. In other words, would her ministry be mostly out in the community or mostly in her study? Both kinds of ministry are valuable, this pastor said, but she urged my classmate to be able to honestly describe herself to prospective congregations.

What kind of pastor are you?

There are probably more choices than “apostolic” or “academic.” Maybe also “evangelist,” “pastor to modern families,” “contemplative,” “administrator,” “visionary,” “rabble-rouser,” and “peacemaker.” But I see many pastors trying to be good at everything, or trying to be a kind of pastor other than who God created them to be.

When I started out as the vicar (or solo pastor) of my small, suburban church, I tried to do all the things I’d watched my very successful mentor do in his ministry. For instance, he invited parishioners over to dinner at his home on a rotating but regular basis. He’s a gregarious extrovert and I’m friendly, but deeply introverted. I enjoy my parishioners, but having so many dinner dates with them in those first few years of ministry exhausted me! I had to learn that I could build relationships with my people without imitating what my mentor did.

I’ve learned to focus on the pastoral gifts that make my heart sing: adult education, preaching, leadership development, and prayer. That doesn’t mean I ignore pastoral responsibilities I don’t like, but I’ve let go of activities that aren’t essential in my context, like local clergy meetings or being in the office at 9am. And I’ve let go of things that I know others do better, like leading youth group and church communications. These were all things I’d tried to do in the past, but doing it all was too much for me!

It will be different for every pastor, but knowing what to hold onto and what to let go of is essential to our health and well-being.

This is a stressful time to be in ministry in the mainline church. There are many pressures on us. But we make it more stressful when we try to be SuperPastor or a pastor we’re not. A flourishing, grounded, Spirit-filled pastor is what every healthy congregation wants. We must listen for what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to be, rather than what a culture of anxiety is demanding of us. Certainly, we must be in conversation with what experienced leaders have to teach and with the needs of our particular communities. But our congregations and communities will only know God’s love in Christ through us if we know it ourselves, and treasure who God has created and called us to be.