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Healthy balance vital for those in leadership rolescomment (0)

February 28, 2013

By Grace Thornton and Joseph Rhea

Healthy balance  vital for those in leadership roles

It was a sobering phone call for Dale Huff — a conversation with a pastor in his 50s “who normally could have another 20 years of ministry but is on disability right now,” Huff said. “His ministry’s cut short because of physical disability.”

It’s not always a pastor’s fault when this happens, but in many cases it can be helped, he said.

These issues also reach beyond the ministry and are concerns of anyone in high-stress and/or leadership positions. Many leaders would benefit more from losing 50 pounds than by getting a doctorate, said Huff, director of the office of LeaderCare and church administration of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “We’re always scrambling for degrees to pack our resumé full, but when people see us, they get turned off because we’re 100 pounds overweight,” Huff said.

Being a pastor, he said, is often a sedentary lifestyle. “We’re not out building fences and doing physical labor,” Huff said.

So ministers have to work extra hard to stay healthy and keep a healthy balance in life, he said. Pastors might not be able to start running, but walking for 30 minutes four times a week is a good place to start, he said.

The physical stuff affects the spiritual, Huff explained. So does the emotional.

“We talk about the different aspects — spiritual, physical, mental, emotional — as if they’re separate components, but you can’t separate them from each other. They flow together,” he said. “It’s all bound up together within the skin.”

Huff said if he were a “Baptist bishop” and had the power, he’d make every minister get a “checkup from the neck up” from a trained Christian counselor.

Because of frequent criticism and disappointment, many pastors stay on “a slippery slope” and carry around low-grade depression, he said. 

And, he explained, it’s possible for ministers to become so emotionally depressed that they fall into spiritual depression too.

“He should make sure that on a weekly and daily basis, he has some (time to) pull away,” he said. “He must strive to protect, and churches must insist on, taking a day off.”

Often churches don’t actively help their pastor take care of himself, Huff said. And even nice gestures from church members, like providing meals or fellowships, can hurt sometimes — “they can make it hard to help a pastor keep his weight down,” Huff said.

Most church members don’t understand the stress a person in leadership is under, Huff said. “They have no idea what it means to live in the ‘head shed,’ the amount of pressure and stress that comes with being in ultimate responsibility.”

For instance, a pastor may not be out building fences, but it’s been said that 20 minutes of public speaking is as exhausting as eight hours of physical labor, he said.

“Most preachers will say that we’re exhausted after preaching, worn flat out after that with our desire to bring some word from the Lord that has some kind of effect,” Huff said.

Pastors need rest. They need days in their pajamas. They need hobbies and they need friends, Huff said.

But oftentimes pastors think that taking time to care for themselves isn’t compatible with serving others — that self-care means “self-ish,” said Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, research director for the Duke University Clergy Health Initiative, according to Faith & Leadership.

“Clergy recognize the importance of caring for themselves, but doing so takes a back seat to fulfilling their vocational responsibilities, which are tantamount to caring for an entire community,” Proeschold-Bell said. “They feel they need permission to take the time to attend to their health.”

They should consider that permission granted, Huff said — it’s vital to their ministry.

For more information, contact Huff at dhuff@alsbom.org or 1-800-264-1225, ext. 263.

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