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.

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