Lutheran bishops in Asia discuss caring for themselves and one another
(LWI) - “I need to use the settings on my phone to silence those little pings that come up every time an email or a message comes in. I check my emails periodically but not every time they come in and this greatly reduces my stress levels,” said Bishop John Henderson of the Lutheran Church of Australia to small group of leaders from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in the Asia region in an online gathering about self-care and wellness on 25 November.
Henderson was invited by Rev. Dr Philip Lok, LWF regional secretary for Asia, to share some of his personal tips on maintaining health and wellbeing as a leader, especially during a pandemic in which normal stressors are magnified. Henderson, in turn, invited the leaders to talk about how they help one another reduce stress.
The Australian bishop emphasized that he is not a mental health expert but that a previous health crisis led him to take action with his own self-care.
Citing statistics from a Duke Clergy Health Initiative that provides wellness intervention for clergy, Lok said the initiative found that pastors suffer health issues more than the general population, and that clergy are not immune to depression and anxiety.
Stating that the study can be an indicator of health issues for all denominations, Lok said that leaders are impacted by the responsibility to respond to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in their communities, but may struggle to make time for personal self-care practices.
Reinforcing that ministry begins in Christ, Henderson said that Christ should also be the beginning when developing a self-care plan, “we don’t merely believe in Christ, we are immersed in Christ.”
Faith life as self-care
Safeguarding a personal faith life should be priority for leaders, advised Henderson. “Your spiritual life, your belief in Jesus as your Savior becomes part of your professional life,” he said, because it is not something you can go home and separate yourself from.
“The danger is that we start to read the Bible because we are preparing for our next sermon, but our personal, devotional faith life can become just an extension of our calling as ministers, and we become official Christians rather than heartfelt Christians.”
A committed prayer life, rather than the public prayer life often necessary for church leaders, can be a time “to pause and give thanks to God” which can also lower stress.
Helping each other
Some expressed the benefit of individual support from peers. “We need to stand by each other, to walk with each other, to give to support each other. We, as leaders do have problems, and at times we need other bishops from other churches to stand by us and give us words of encouragement,” said Rev. Antonio Del Rio Reyes president of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines.
Often the stress levels of leaders can affect families, said Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, so the practice of self-care can be beneficial to spouses and children.
When the opportunity to gather again in churches becomes possible in the various countries, Henderson suggests releasing the expectation that only bishops should lead services or deliver the benediction. Allowing others to take on those duties can lessen the pressure on leaders by “becoming a receiving member of your churches.”
Practical organizational tips for church leaders
“There is simply too much to do and not enough hours to do it,” is a statement felt by many but Henderson offered practical tips on how to organize those hours in order to promote health and wellbeing.
- Limit the temptation to work day and night. Step away and say, “I have finished for now, I have done what I can with the time God has given me, today.”
- Block out spaces on your calendar without any appointments. “It shows to others that I am busy, but this is time when I do self-care or sometimes organizational things.”
- Give yourself permission to fail and start again. The “task list can be depressing if it doesn’t get done.”
- Do medical checkups and tests, moderate exercise, go to bed on time and avoid take away food.
- Laugh. “A sense of humor is good for self-care.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Lok said, “I believe all of us know that we need to care for ourselves, but sometimes many of us think self-care means, ‘I can do it all by myself.’ But we need partners, we need community, we need friends and we desperately need a community of pastors, even from other churches, who can speak truth when you need it, and this is an important part of self-care.”