Every pastor needs a plan to ensure they aren’t overwhelmed by ministry. The stress of ministry can lead to health problems, burnout, or depression if we aren’t engaging in soul care. One of the most important parts of soul care for solo pastors is to develop relationships that bring energy. Here are a few suggestions that will keep you safe.
Note to non-pastors: If your pastor doesn’t have these relationships, he’s at great risk. You can use these suggestions to be a support to your pastor.
Prioritize your personal energy.
Dave Jacobs, a coach for small-church pastors, says that a pastor must make personal energy a top priority. If we don’t have energy, we won’t accomplish what needs to be done. Start looking at time management as energy management. Schedule time with God, adequate rest, days off, exercise, and fun with friends. These are necessary to be at your peak energy.
How is your pastor’s energy level? Does he look or sound tired? Is he rushed in his work or is he always busy? Protect your pastor’s energy level and the church will benefit.
Take all your vacation time.
Don’t leave any time for refreshment and restoration on the table. Take time away with your family to ensure your relationship with them stays strong. Go to conferences to connect with colleagues.
If your pastor doesn’t get vacation time of at least two weeks each year (four weeks would be better), fight for him to be given this opportunity for rest and then make sure he take is. It’s essential to long-term ministry. If you have a bi-vocational pastor, your church may need to take up an extra collection to pay for his vacation. Just make sure that your pastor gets time away to refresh his spirit, or he will be in danger of serious health problems or mental health issues due to stress.
Develop safe friendships.
If you can find a true friend in the church, that’s a rare gift! Every pastor needs someone who will allow him to be himself – with all his flaws and struggles. But many church members are not comfortable seeing their pastor’s sins and faults. So find a safe friend outside the church. It may be another pastor or even a non-Christian friend. Just find someone who accepts you as you are and doesn’t pressure you to be better than others.
Is your pastor safe with you? Does your relationship with your pastor allow room for him to struggle? You can give your pastor a precious gift of grace if you create a friendship where he can be open and honest without fear of judgment. Break this even once, though, and he may have trusting anyone in the church again.
Find a mentor and be a mentor.
Brian Croft encourages every pastor to find a mentor and be a mentor. Developing relationships with older and younger pastors is a great way to defeat the loneliness of ministry. These relationships will often stand the test of time because they are safe spaces to struggle.
Start an internship.
If your church doesn’t have enough money to hire another staff member, why not offer an internship? Young people need experience, and future pastors will benefit greatly from learning some of the administrative duties of the pastor. Who knows? Maybe your intern will be so successful the role will grow into a paid position.
Become a Refuge Church
Pastors in Residence is a ministry to pastors who have burned out or who have been forced out of their church. With their help, you can embrace a hurting pastor and their family and give them space heal while they work part-time at your church (at very low cost to the church). These “refuge churches” are doing important work in the kingdom of God. And in the process, your church will learn how to care for a pastor.
Cultivate partners in ministry.
Are there parachurch ministries, other local churches, or secular organizations that are trying to help your community in the same way as your church? Partnering with them can be a great way to connect with your community and find friendships that will sustain your ministry. These partnerships can even provide resources or funds for ministry.
Look outside your denomination.
Are there other small churches in your area? You probably have more in common with the pastors of these churches than you realize. Form a local ministerial association or a mastermind group for prayer, encouragement, support, and help solving problems. Stay away from the things that divide and focus on the essentials in ministry. Learn to appreciate the differences between your churches. It’s amazing what a group of small churches can accomplish when they team up instead of competing against one another.
These suggestions are just a few ways a solo pastor can feel like he’s part of a team. When a pastor has a team, he’s far less likely to burn out, get depressed, or suffer stress-related health problems.
What are some other ways you can help your pastor feel like he’s not all alone?