Reclaiming the Joy of Ministry

Transcript of the episode “Reclaiming the Joy of Ministry” from The Basin and Towel podcast, January 28 2021

It’s no secret that this year-long pandemic has taken a toll on all sorts of people and vocations.   With the shut-downs of restaurants, food service workers have faced unemployment by the tens of thousands.  Some folks can work from home, and even supervise their children’s online education at the same time, but that’s stressful for parents and children alike.  Then there are others whose work can’t be done from home, like grocery store employees, bus drivers, and sanitation workers.  They’re out in the public, often facing resentment and challenges that have nothing to do with them personally but are not what they signed up for.  First responders and medical personal are under incredible stress; funeral directors and their staff in some areas are exhausted and at the brink of burn-out with the inability to keep up with the mounting death toll.

And then there are pastors and church workers.  They face unique challenges in their vocations, too, and like lots of other folks a lot of them are taking things one step at a time.  But the emergency needs that come out of left field, the desire to minister with prayer and Word and Sacrament to people who have long relied on the comforting presence of a pastor, the adjustments to progamming and conducting everything from a worship service to a church board meeting – all of these things are enough to make a pastor’s head spin and his stomach to clench.

And now I seem to come along to say, “But you’re no use to anybody else if you don’t take care of yourself first.”  I know how that sounds, because others have said it to me and I kind of growl at them (internally, at least).  They’re right, of course – it’s like the flight attendant who says “when the oxygen mask falls out of the ceiling, put your own on first before you offer to help someone else with theirs.”  But where and how do we find the time and energy to do that?

For years Grace Place Wellness Ministries of Saint Louis, a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, has provided a ministry to pastors, workers, and their wives to give them opportunities to care for themselves retreat settings.  Hundreds of ministry couples have participated in Grace Place retreats, and come away from them refreshed, renewed, and with hope-filled plans to continue to address their own well-being in a variety of ways.  Many others have seen the Grace Place promotional material, or seen one of their one-hour, bare-bones video, or even attended a one-day or weekend mini-retreat – but either could not make the time or didn’t have the money to attend a full-out, week-long retreat.  With the pandemic upon us, Grace Place Wellness Ministries realized that, for the time being at least, the retreat format is not an option.  So they reformatted their model, retooled their offerings, and are once again doing what they do best – teaching pastors how to think about their own well-being.

The Grace Place wellness model centers around a simple diagram called the Lutheran Wellness Wheel (you can Google that for a picture – it’s also called a Wholeness Wheel).  The hub of the Wellness Wheel is Holy Baptism, where you and I received our new identity as a New Creation in Christ.  The rim of the Wellness Wheel is our Spiritual Wellbeing, that holds the whole thing together.  It’s also at the rim because as Christians, that’s where “the rubber hits the road” for our lives – we live our lives the way we do because we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ – not because we’re intellectuals, financial wizards, fitness junkies, or something else – but because the Holy Spirit is daily and richly at work in us all our lives.

Between the hub and the rim the wheel has six segments, for the other six aspects of our well-being.  There’s one for Intellectual well-being – that’s what are you learning?  How are you learning it?  What keeps your mind sharp and active and aware?

Another one is for Vocational well-being – how are you doing in your various vocations?  As a pastor?  As a father?  As a son?  As a spouse?  As a man?

A third is for Relational well-being – how are your relationships with other people?  How are things between you and your wife and family?  How do you get along with the people you serve?  How about the people you do business with?  Other people in the community?

Then there’s Financial well-being – do you have “enough” money – and what does “enough money” mean, anyway?  Are there some aspects of your finances that you don’t have to worry about?  Are there some that you are worried about?  Do you have a plan to address the worries?

There’s also Physical well-being – this one is about diet, exercise, whether you walk the dog every day (even if you don’t have a dog!), what kinds of medications and supplements you’re on, what underlying health conditions you have.  Whether you go to the doctor when appropriate, or say (like my grandfather would have said), “Aww!  What does he know, anyway!”

And there’s one about Emotional well-being.  Are you aware of the effects the stresses and strains of the current crisis are having on you, or do you just tell everybody, including yourself, “I’m doing fine”?  What do you do to keep yourself emotionally balanced and upright, if you couldn’t take a vacation this year and are isolated from the people you love to serve?

These aspects of wellness are just the beginning – they’re just a framework for what comes next.  In Grace Place wellness retreats, each segment of the wheel gets it’s own segment of the retreat for learning, contemplating, planning, and practicing.  The learning and contemplating are correlated with several aspects of the story of Elijah the prophet as he was running from Queen Jezebel and King Ahab in 1 Kings 19; the planning and practicing are correlated with the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.  And in the retreat setting there are plenty of opportunities to relax and unwind.

But as I said before, the folks at Grace PLace Wellness MInistries realized that the retreat format would not be a viable option for them right now, so they reformatted their offerings.  Now Executive Director Darrell Zimmerman has pulled the retreat teaching segments, the story of Elijah, and the correlations with the Fruits of the Spirit that Grace Place has been focusing on into one book, titled “Reclaiming the Joy of MInistry:  The Grace Place Way to Church Worker Wellness.”  Pastor Zimmermann not only gives the reader the didactic content of a retreat in convenient and well-written book format, he also pauses periodically to ask “How well does (or doesn’t) this section describe your current circumstances,” and asks some reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help you explore a little deeper.  

By the way, if you read the chapter titles together in sequence, leaving out the numbers, you get a pretty clear expression of the theme of the book:  “Ministry is great, but hard, because ministry is the way of the cross and overwhelmed is a way of life.  So don’t try this alone.  Joy is fuel for ministry, but ministry threatens the joy of life with God, and ministry threatens the joy of life in community, and ministry threatens the joy of ministry, which makes daily healing essential.  Therefore, self-care has to be intentional.”

This book is just the first step for Grace Place.  There is also a new online community for training and support, which you can access from their website.  You can also order a copy of the book there, too. Next to come will be several “Reclaiming the Joy of Ministry” Workbooks, each one to focus on a different aspect of well-being.  And finally, when things begin to look a little more like they used to, maybe, there will be time for Grace Place conferences and retreats once again.

To learn more about Grace Place Wellness Ministries, go to their website here at https://graceplacewellness.org/.  You can order a copy of Darrell Zimmerman’s book here, read articles from his blog in the “Health and Joy” section, subscribe for updates, and find out more about the Grace Place online community.  You can also follow Grace Place on Facebook @www.graceplacewellness.org.

Keep on Learning!

Transcript of the episode “Keep on Learning” from The Basin and Towel podcast, January 27 2021

In the last episode of The Basin and Towel podcast I asked you to think about a Pastor’s Self-Evaluation Tool that you might be expected to complete for your church body, District, Presbytery, or other governing body.  I suggested that our experiences during this past year of the COVID pandemic might give us the opportunity to address in those self-evaluations some of the changes and adjustmentes we’ve made.  I used some questions from the form I’m expected to fill out to nudge you to think about new strengths in ministry that might have been revealed in you.  I asked you to reflect on some changes you’ve made in the way you do ministry.  I talked about changes you might have made in the way you engage with your community; and I wondered about how the circumstances of your extended family have affected you.

I also said that there is one area on my own Self-Evaluation Tool that I would leave to this episode, and that’s Continuing Education – and maybe it’s on your list, too.  So let’s get to it!
I hope that your learning didn’t end when you graduated from the seminary!  I once heard about a pastor who thought that all he needed to do was to re-read some seminal seminary texts each year, and he’d be fine.  I don’t know how long he kept that up, but I don’t think that was a good idea.  But in my particular church body, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the entry-level degree for serving as a pastor in most cases is the Master of Divinity degree. 

We’re also one of the few vocations that has that entry-level requirement, but no requirement for continuing licensure.  Doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, lawyers – in most states these vocations and professions require a set number of continuing education units to renew a license to practice; but it seems that’s not so in many ministry settings.  I don’t know how you’d feel about going to a doctor that hasn’t done anything to renew his license in years, but we often let pastors slide on their continuing education.

I know that some pastors don’t want to keep a of list their continuing education courses for the same reason they don’t want their seminary diploma on their office wall – sometimes they call that humilty, and they say that pastors shouldn’t try to pad their resume.  But if your Self Evaluation Tool for your District or church body asks for your Continuing Education coursework, to be accurate and up-to-date on that list is definitely a way to tell others what you’ve been focusing on (like, counseling or evangelism) as opposed to what you haven’t been fodusing on (like, youth ministry or prison ministry).  That way, if your district supervisor is looking to fill a ministry position with someone with an evangelism background, he might look at you; but if he’s looking for a youth pastor he’ll know to look at someone else.

So where can you find continuing education coursework?  The most obvious place for people in ministry to look is at seminaries themselves.  Whether you take classes online or in-person, if you’re interested in in-depth theological reflection,seminary coursework offers the depth of theological reflection that isn’t available elsewhere.  It really wouldn’t hurt to take a seminary course periodically because part of your pastoral call is to bring a theological and spiritual understanding to the issues and questions your congregation is facing.  If you take enough seminary courses, you could also earn a certificate in a certain focus area, or even another degree like the Doctor of Ministry.

There are other non-seminary options, of course.  If you lean toward counseling, for instance, sometimes coursework and maybe even a degree is offered by a seminary.  Often, though, coursework in counseling is offered by a university, or even an agency.  Try connecting with a local agency or county coalition of counselors and social workers.  They sometimes offer seminars that meet CEU requirements for their licensees, but they might not turn away anyone else that wants to learn.  Community-based courses like Mental Health First Aid or Bridges Out of Poverty are usually open to anyone in the community.  And if you’ve logged any hours in Clinical Pastoral Education, don’t forget to add those in also.

Let’s talk about less formal Continuing Education opportunities that you might consider.  Even though I’m not a licensed Counselor or Social Worker, I’m on an email list in my county to receive notifications of one-or-two day seminars and conferences coming to our area.  These seminars have helped me over the years to keep up with current thought and practice in these parallel professions, and given me a broader understanding of some of the critical issues many people face every day.  I’ve attended several multi-day conferences and continuing education modules where I’m the only ministry person in attendance, but that hasn’t prevented me from learning a lot or from being welcomed.

Of course, there’s a lot of Internet-based learning out there, too, from 10-minute YouTube videos to webinars on a variety of subjects.  Especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, the webinar format has taken off like wildfire!  You can contact your denomination’s or district’s office to find out what webinars are available to your specific denomination, but you can also just wander around the internet in areas that seem of interest.  Be sure to check out good quality programming from reputable sources, though – not everything you read on the internet is true, but not everything is garbage, either.

There’s also the old-school standby of reading books.  If you graduated from the seminary more than a few years ago, you might be surprised at what scholarly work has occurred since then.  New books in all theological areas are being published all the time!  If you have a particular area of interest, try going to the website of your favorite seminary, look through their course catalog, and see if you can download a syllabus of a course that interests you – then order one or more of the books that are required reading and get started.

I’m also a strong believer that since we Christians believe, teach and confess that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, we owe it to our growth as persons and people in ministry to be as curious as possible about the whole range of human activity.  That means that whether you take a community education course in conversational Russian, welding, beginning watercolor, ice fishing – or whatever tickles your fancy – you’ll be a better pastor and person for it!

One last thing – the format of the required Self-Evaluation Tool that’s used in my church body doesn’t permit me to add all the possibilities I’ve mentioned here – it only asks for the ones that are offered by our own denomination or its colleges and seminaries.  Here’s my work-around (that I borrowed from my son, who teaches at a university) – make your own personal website that functions as an easily-updateable resume and Continuing Education tracker, then paste the website address into an appropriate place somewhere else in your Self-Evaluation Tool.  I’ve included a link to my personal website in the show notes, and there are also links to some of the other resources I’ve mentioned here.

  1.  To see what a personal website that tracks Continuing Education might look like, here’s mine: https://chris-cahill.mystrikingly.com/
  2. Here are some websites for continuing education courses mentioned in this episode:  Mental Health First Aid; Bridges Out of Poverty; Look Up Indiana; Institute for Clinical Pastoral Training

Self-Evaluation Time

  • Transcript of the episode “Evaluating Yourself – What’s New?” from The Basin and Towel podcast, January 25 2021

Ministry is not all fun and games, uplifting worship, or times of intense prayer.  Sometimes pastors and church workers have to do paperwork, too – the annual report to the Presbytery, District, or church body with your congregation’s statistics, for instance.  You might be asked to do an annual self-evaluation of your ministry.  If you’re a pastor in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, every year you’ll get a request from your district office to fill out a self-evaluation tool (called the SET).  It’s a standardized form, and if you fill it out once, you’re set for life, right?  Well, not really.  That’s kind of like saying, “I changed the oil filter in my car ten years ago; why do I need to do it again?”  Well, maybe you don’t – but you really can’t tell unless you take a look at it, right?  That’s also true with any self-evaluation tool.  There are some responses that you’ll probably never change, but why not take a look at them anyway – not because you have a requirement to meet, but maybe to give you the chance to think about where God has shed his grace in different ways in your ministry since the last time you looked.


I’m in the process of looking at my own Self-Evaluation Tool, or SET, right now, and I’ve discovered that I wanted to tweak the wording on several of my responses, and in some cases redo them completely, especially because they bring up adjustments or changes I’ve had to make in my ministry because of the pandemic we’re all enduring.  Here are five of them:


Question 7  is “What do you consider to be your strengths in ministry?”  I don’t know about you, but I have had to take the lead in making most of the adjustments in ministry in the past year here at the church I serve.  I’ve had a lot of sleepless nghts, and been under considerable stress.  But as I think back over the last year I realize that one of my ministry strengths has been curiosity, and a willingness to learn new skills.  For me, that’s been in learning to use the technology needed to live stream worship services.  But what about you?  What has your pastoral response in the last year revealed about ministry strengths you hadn’t thought about before?


Questions 9 and 10 are about “your preferred practices” regarding the use of worship materials produced by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and other sources, and about so-called “alternate forms of worship.”  If you’ve had to move from permanent hymnals to disposable handouts, from in-person worship to live-streaming, from including liturgical music in the worship service to limiting the singing to only one or two hymns, this is your opportunity to say so, even if none of this is your preference – and please feel free to say that, too.


Question 20 is about your “preferred practice” regarding the use of common or individual cups for Communion.”  At the church I’ve served we’ve used both, on alternating Sundays, for years.  However, early last year I determined to use only the individual cups, to distribute them and the wafers by myself without the help of elders or Communion assistance, and to wear medical gloves and a facemask while I’m distributing communion.  If you’ve made any modifications to the way you distribute Holy Communion, here’s the place to say so.


Question 27 is about “community or extra-congregational activities in which you have participated.”  Whatever has been on your list here in previous years, what could or should be added because of this past year?  Did your church have more food drives?  Did you personally volunteer at distribution centers?  Did you find yourself working more closely with community leaders or groups outside your church to help the people in your community?  Here’s the place to tell about that.


Question 35 is about special health or personal needs that “would enter into your consideration of a call.”  Since I last filled out the SET a couple years ago, my dad has died and my father-in-law entered an assisted living facility and is now in a hospice program.  My wife and I live less an hour from my mom and father-in-law, while my brother and sister live more than 3 hours away, so we’d be hard pressed to move out of the area for a while.  What about you?  What has changed in your immediate family, or your extended family, that might indicate a change in the way you responded to this question the last time?


There’s one more area that I want to deal with in a separate episode of the Basin and Towel podcast, and that’s the area of Continuing Education.  But this is enough for today.  Please take a look at the Self-Evaluation Tool, and at least give some thought to the areas I’ve mentioned here.  And don’t hesitate to get in touch with me through the Basin and Towel website if you have any questions or comments!

Resources

Centers for Disease Control Vital Signs report / June 2018
Suicide Rising Across US

Here’s a book for pastors and counselors worth reading, from one of the speakers at the Fort Wayne conference
Karen Mason:  Preventing Suicide

Another suicide prevention organization with lots of good resources and trainings
LivingWorks

Here’s a link to the Eventbrite website (with more information) for the Summit County (Ohio) Prosecutor’s workshop on Responding to the Needs of Victims

Domestic Violence and Pastoral Care

At Christ the King Lutheran Church in Lodi, Ohio, we have a page on our website devoted to resources about Domestic Violence.  Here it is.  I’ll grant you, it’s a little outdated – editing it is on my to-do list.  For instance, I need to add a video I did this summer discussing the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the so-called “Power and Control” wheel.  But I’ll wait until after I attend a workshop by the Office of the Prosecutor in a neighboring county on “Responding to the Needs of Victims” so I can have the latest on what the law enforcement professionals are thinking and telling victims of domestic violence and other crimes.

SOME OF THESE FOLKS MAY BE OUR CHURCH MEMBERS.  Not only law enforcement professionals, but also victims and/or perpetrators of domestic violence.  As pastors and church workers, I think we have a duty to learn what the criminal justice system and victims’ advocates are doing and saying in our communities so that we can exercise our pastoral care for such souls in a responsible way.  If such a workshop shows up in your community, take a Continuing Education Day to learn what you can do to help.