On Rejuvenating

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 summer, the series will offer reflections from five ordained Disciples pastors on how it is that they stay alive in ministry. These pastors have been at it a while, and they serve varying ministry contexts.



Clergy Health and Well-being: On Rejuvenating

–by Derek Penwell, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church, Louisville, KY, M. Div., LTS, 1993, D. Min., LTS, 2000, Ph. D., Univeristy of Louisville, 2010

If you’re in ministry and you haven’t woken up in a hotel room on vacation with your heart racing and a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach, trying desperately to remember whether or not you asked sister Evangeline to cover for you tomorrow at the communion table, you’re better at this than most of us.

Ministry, because we often deal with such profoundly personal and important matters, induces its own special brand of stress:

I agreed to call this meeting to start this new thing, but I don’t like meetings, and I don’t like calling, and so I sit here swallowing the acid that seems perched just beyond the door of my esophagus.

This person who is a real pain in my butt is giving the office administrator problems, and if it were just me, I might be tempted to suck it up, but because it’s someone for whom I’m responsible, I can’t let it go. I’m going to have confront somebody who could easily make my life miserable … well, more miserable now.

I haven’t really had a day off in weeks. It’s mostly stuff I like, but my spouse and kids continue to remind me of my failings as a family member—so I feel torn between stuff I like to do at work and stuff I like to do at home, like no matter what I do, I can think of five reasons why I should be doing something else.

Sound familiar? Take all that and sprinkle the ever-present pressure to know more and more stuff (which you’re supposed to write down, then stand up in public and talk about once a week), and you’ve got a recipe for crazy-making.

How do I deal with that stuff? Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I ignore it until something threatens to pop—until my wife threatens to have me knee-capped, or the church’s operations manager threatens to beat me about the head and neck until I get done what I said I’d get done, or until I just can’t stand the pressure anymore, and I start doing the productivity stuff that helps me get done what needs to get done.

But here are a few of things I do when stress is the tail wagging this particular dog:

  1. I stop letting all these amorphous demands that have commenced a full frontal assault on my sanity spend anymore time in my consciousness by getting them out of my head and onto a computer screen. I do a mind dump of my responsibilities (from setting up a meeting with the woman who wants to start a new skateboard ministry to the article I promised to write to the appointment to have the oil changed in my wife’s car). I dump it all out, and I then start making a list of the first action I’d have to do to get it done. I try to let the stress of demands live somewhere physical outside my head.
  2. I actively start looking for things to say “no” to. Much of the stress in my life stems from having said “yes” to too many people, committing to too many things. So, I let go of what I can let go of, and I say “no” to just about everything else until the coast is clear. (Then, usually, I start the whole process of over-committing anew. But, at least, I’m more aware of the cause of my stress, and I’m a little less apt to let it get so out of hand next time.)
  3. I try to spend more time with people who help me be the man/husband/pastor I want to be, and less time (and energy) with people who suck my soul. I have to be careful here: Sometimes, the people who distract me from being who I want to be are the nicest and most impressed by me, and the ones who help me become who I need to be are the ones who challenge me most.
  4. I try to spend my time doing things I think are interesting and important. Look, I know there are some things that are boring and awkward. But often the story I tell myself about what I’m doing as a pastor allows me to frame those things I like to do least as necessary for the larger work, which allows me to do them with less mental anguish. But if there’s no way for me to fit something into the narrative of my work as significant, I find out a way to quit doing it.
  5. I read and write a lot. If you work with your head, you need to find a way to have something interesting up there, and a way to get it out.

These are the things I (try to) do. I encourage you to find a list that works for you.