Pastor and Team Health Part 1: Taking Care of Your Soul
Over the last few months, we’ve taken a deep dive into a lot of strategic how conversations… how to connect new people to faith and church, how to lead your church through significant change, how to build a digital engagement strategy, how to make organizational pivots… and lots more.
These conversations are extremely important. The shifts that have taken place have over the last 8 months have been significant, and as leaders, we still bear the burden of leading people forward during uncertain times.
But one important question I’m noticing is getting neglected in this season is this:
How are YOU doing, leader?
I’ve talked with many, many pastors about feeling overwhelmed in this season. And while I hope you’re beginning to adjust to our new normal and the shifts that have taken place, I know many leaders who are still questioning if they’re the right leader for this season, feeling exhausted and like they can’t catch their breath.
You’re under greater pressure than ever, and being criticized more than ever. How do pastors stay emotionally healthy right now?
In Part 1 of this two-part series on pastor and team health, we invited Lance Witt from our team to share some wisdom around how pastors can take care of themselves, their souls and take care of their teams in this season.
You might have heard Lance on the podcast before, and if you have, you know it’s always a fantastic conversation.
In this episode, Amy and Lance dive into:
- The #1 thing Lance would tell you over a cup of coffee
- How to take care of yourself in a season like this (despite your tendency not to)
- The importance of embracing your limits, and why doing so is actually a gift from God
- The greatest gift that you can give your people as a leader
- How to stay emotionally healthy with the pressure and criticism
- The questions you should ask yourself when you are triggered by something
- How to take back your calendar and schedule in life-giving activities
- How to keep your family emotionally healthy
- A few “don’ts” that help us a be a better version of ourselves
Leader Conversation Guide
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Replenish by Lance Witt
- High Impact Teams by Lance Witt
- Unstuck Leadership Coaching
- Unstuck Teams Process
- Unstuck Process – Staffing & Structure
- Part 2: How COVID-19 Changed What Your Team Needs from You as the Leader | Episode 168
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. It’s been said that you can’t build a healthy church without a healthy leader. And with pastors currently leading through so much change, it can be hard to stay focused on our mental and spiritual health. On this week’s podcast, Amy begins a two-part series with fellow Unstuck teammate, Lance Witt, on how pastors can protect their personal health in this season. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. Every week you’re going to get one email with all of the resources to go along with that week’s content, including the leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Amy and Lance for this week’s conversation.
Well, today we’re shifting the conversation from the strategy and performance conversations we’ve been having these past few months to a fresh conversation on health, both personal health and team health. And that’s because we’ve been sensing, with the pastors that we’re serving, that this issue of health is something that needs some time and attention too. And it’s a great day for me and the podcast listeners, because we have the pleasure of hearing from Lance Witt today. While he has a great resume serving nearly 30 years as a senior pastor or executive pastor, what we love about having Lance on our Unstuck team is his passion and excitement for healthy leadership. He’s the founder of Replenish Ministries and the author of a couple of books that everyone should read, the book, “Replenish” and “High-Impact Teams.” And there is no one I look forward to having a conversation with more than my friend, Lance Witt. So Lance, welcome back to the podcast.
Thank you, Amy. That is a very kind introduction, and I’m grateful for that. And as you know, I love talking about healthy leadership. A lot of that just flows out of my own story and what God has been up to in my life over the last 15+ years. And the last eight months of everything that pastors have been going through makes this topic even more important. So I’m excited to dive into the podcast today.
Yeah. And you know, next week we’re going to talk about team health. But today I want to focus our conversation on pastor health. You know, our listeners have been leading their churches through a lot of change and a lot of unknown this past year. And as leaders in general, we don’t always do a great job of caring for ourselves. So what would you say, Lance, to a pastor about self-care during a time like this?
You know, as you ask that question, the first thing that comes to my mind is just like, just relax and take a breath. It’s going to be okay. And I would just say, if I could sit down with a pastor and have a cup of coffee, like just embrace your humanity. You’re going through this as a person, not just as a pastor, and so I often have to remind pastors that before God made you a pastor, he made you a person. Before he made you a shepherd, he actually just made you a sheep, and all the same things that your people in your congregation and your staff team need, you need. And so for you to just kind of embrace that and acknowledge that this is a hard season, not just for your church, not just for your congregation, but for you as a person. And I think part of really leading with a good sense of self-care right now means that you have to embrace your limits and realize that Jesus even had human limits on himself when he was here. He could only be in one place at one time. And as a person, as a leader, you have limits. And for so many years, Amy, I just tried to live as though I didn’t have limits, and that as a pastor, I shouldn’t have limits. And part of what I think has been making me healthier in recent years is understanding I have limited energy, limited time, limited gifting, limited perspective. All of those limits are actually a gift from God. And so to sort of live within that, I think, is really crucial. But I would say also to a pastor, if I could sit with him today, is you’ve got to own your own health. You’re not a victim. Like the abundant life of John 10 and what Jesus promised us, it really is available and accessible to me no matter what season of life I’m in, no matter what the size of my church or what COVID has done to our attendance or giving. That I actually can do that. So here’s a principle I’ve been working on a lot in recent years and it’s just this, that self-care is not selfish. Can you just sit with that one for a moment? Self care is not selfish. The greatest gift you give those you lead is your own healthy soul. And so embrace that and make some time to care for your own soul during these days.
Good word, Lance. You know, it seems like pastors are under greater pressure, I think, than ever and being criticized more than ever. It’s like, we can’t make a right call. I talk to pastors and it doesn’t matter which decision they’re making, they’ve got people criticizing them on either front, whether they’re regathering, not regathering. How do, Lance, how do pastor stay emotionally healthy in the midst of all that?
Well, that might be tougher than ever. Because I think it’s more complex and complicated to be a pastor than at any time, at least in my lifetime. And they’ve never been more scrutinized and criticized. And so, I think, what seasons like this do is it begins to expose maybe those places where we’re not healthy, where we suffer from approval addiction or people pleasing. And so I think one of the biggest game changers in my own life, Amy, has been to become a student of my own soul and become more self-aware of the stuff that’s going on inside of me, stuff that was informed by my family of origin or experiences or painful situations in my past, and to understand what are those internal scripts that drive me, to understand what triggers me, why do I get so uptight and angry when I see that email. And so to sometimes just sit with those things and try to understand like, what’s really going on inside of you. I love this quote. I wish it was original with me, but it’s not. It says, “self-awareness is your best defense against self-deceit.” And I think the more I can lean in, become a student of my soul, understand how I’m wired, why I get triggered by things. Then that really helps me, I think, in being emotionally healthy.
You know, Lance, you said internal scripts and that brought me back to last year, right before COVID, when our whole team gathered. And we asked you to lead us through some of the exercises from our Unstuck Teams process. And you walked us through the internal scripts and shared a little bit. Just to kind of bring it to life, so make sure our listeners understand what you’re talking about, can you give us an example of one of your internal scripts that you identified and how you’ve worked with that?
Yeah, for sure. And I think sometimes it’s helpful, Amy, to think of the internal script is it’s the story that you’re constantly telling yourself. All of us engage in self-talk all throughout every day. Right? And so we have a story that we tell ourselves. And so I’ve been able to go back and probably the primary script that has informed my leadership in life and the story that I tell myself constantly is a script I picked up from my dad, who by the way is a great guy, but the script I got from him was work hard, be responsible, achieve. And that’s how you succeed. And that’s how you get loved. Well, when that’s the story you’re constantly telling yourself, you’re only as good as your latest accomplishment or achievement. And you end up putting all of your eggs in the basket of finding significance in what other people think of you or how well they think you have succeeded in life. And so it puts all the focus on the externals. Well, that has been a powerful script in my life. And one that as I’ve come to understand it more, has helped me to be more emotionally healthy, to understand how I respond in certain situations. So I’ll often find myself sitting with a leader, and when they get triggered in a situation, I will just kind of grin and say to them, you know, you should be curious about that. Like you should explore why that created that response in you. There’s probably something going on that’s deeper than just at the surface level. And you should take some time to reflect on that and create some space so that you can understand what’s really going on inside of you.
Well, let’s get really practical then. What are some concrete steps that pastors can take right after the podcast to be healthy or to stay healthy?
Well, I think the first thing I would say is you’ve got to have a mindset. It makes me think of what Henry Cloud says that you are ridiculously in charge of your life. So I am responsible for my own health. So the first practical step I can take is to go, you know what? I have to own this for me. It’s not my elders’ job. It’s not my spouse’s job. It is my job to stay healthy. And then I think, Amy, right after this podcast, you could sit down and write out a list of what are the things that are life-giving to you. I just did this with a pastor, and I challenged him because he was so stressed out. And I said, would you spend some time answering this question? What do you need right now in this weird, crazy season to stay healthy and to lead well? And so we identified some things that put life in him, some things that he needed to create space in his week for so that he could actually stay healthy. And I think that one of the biggest things you can do is begin to calendar in some stuff that replenishes you, that refreshes you. And I think especially in a season that has been so leadership intensive, most of us have been delight deficient. Like there haven’t been enough things in our life that really fill us up. And it makes me think of sitting in a room with a couple of hundred pastors and Martin Miller, who’s a vice-president of Chick-fil-A, and he says, you know, when God created you, he gave you a palette of colors with which to paint this amazing, beautiful life. And he said, my problem with most of you in ministry is you only paint with the ministry color. And I just remember sitting there going ouch, cause I knew he was so right on. And I think, you know, I would say to a pastor, you need some things in your life outside of ministry that put some life in you. And if you’re not doing this, you need to practice Sabbath. You need to put some boundaries around your technology, and then you need to find some stuff that when you do it, it makes you a better person.
You know, I work with a lot of pastors when it comes to the staffing and structure portion of the Unstuck process. And I would say during COVID this question has been really popular. I’ll ask a pastor, just did it last week. You know, if you could redo your schedule, you know, putting in your big rocks first, what would that look like? And so I’ll say, when would you love to be done with your message, the content for the weekend? And they’re always like, oh, if I could get that done by say, Thursday, or whatever their schedule is, but I find them in a place where everyone else is owning their schedule, and they don’t know how to get it back. And so for all of the lead pastors that are listening, man, you’ve got to do that, go through and rework out your schedule, working those things in that Lance talked about, and have your staff adapt. Meetings can move. But if you don’t get the big things done that you need to get done, then it’s like the tail wagging the dog.
You know, often I’ll say to pastors, you would never leave your wallet out on the table and just tell people to take whatever money they wanted. But we do that all the time with our calendars. And I think, again, I’ve got to be a good steward of my calendar and put in the things that are going to make my life and ministry work, even if it disappoints a few people who maybe think I should be more accessible than I am.
Yeah. Well talking about calendaring things makes me think of the family side of our pastor’s life. What do you say to pastors about keeping their families healthy during the season?
Gosh, again, this sounds simple and it’s kind of like, you know, 101 here, but don’t forget to have your own family on your radar when you think about shepherding. You know, we’ve had to pivot so quickly, make so many adjustments. You know, we’re all suffering from decision fatigue. And one of the things that, I think, just unintentionally falls off the radar is like paying attention to what does my family need from me right now? And so I would just say things like, hey, you know, be a good listener. Ask good questions. Successfully transition from your work day into your family evening. I used to have a friend that he talks, you know, when a plane lands, it doesn’t land going 500 miles an hour. It has to put its flaps down so that it can land at an appropriate speed, right? And I think a lot of us, we’re in leadership mode. And so what we need to do is put our flaps down so that we can actually come into our family in the evenings and actually be able to be present, slow down, create some moments that we shepherd our family. And I remember early on in this, our kids were putting their daughter to sleep one night, and she was seven, and she just started to cry as they were kind of saying their evening prayers and reading a little bit. And they were trying to figure out like what’s going on. And she couldn’t really articulate it, but what was happening was she was just feeling the stress of this crazy season we’re in. And they just took a moment to shepherd her and love her in that. And so I just think it’s got to get more on our radar and just be a little more attentive to maybe what’s going on with our family. And then I would also say, don’t miss the chance to create some good family memories, you know, to play some games around the table that maybe you normally wouldn’t do. Maybe you were planning to take some exotic vacation, and now you’ve had to do a staycation. Well, what can you do to put some fun and create a memory that your kids and your family will talk about five years from now? Be intentional about that.
That’s great advice. All right. Well, Lance, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yes, I do. I have one thought and that is don’t skimp on your time with God. I mean, it can feel so counterintuitive right now because I think, you know, every pastor has felt the need to really step up as a leader. And so we have firmly put on our leadership hat, but I just would say to you, man, if there’s ever a time where you need kind of fresh, you know, fresh connection with Jesus, it’s right now. Don’t live on yesterday’s manna. And gosh, I have to remind myself of this over and over, Amy, that God has called me to do life with him, not just life for him, and in ministry is so easy to get in that mode of just man, I’m serving God. I’m serving my congregation. I’m shepherding people. And God says, you know what? I want communion with you as a leader. I don’t want you to just serve me. I want you to actually know me and love me. And so I’ll just kind of leave pastors with this final thought from the book of Numbers. When, you know, they’re parceling out the land of Canaan to all the tribes, the Levites didn’t get any property. And God would say to the Levites, I am your share and your inheritance. And so while everybody else got property, the Levites got presence, God’s presence. And it wasn’t that the presence of God and the spirit of God wasn’t available to everybody in Israel, but there should be something different about those of us who ministry is our profession. That there ought to be the aroma of Christ presence on our life. And so I would just say to you slow down, take some time to have unhurried time with your heavenly father and just be with him, and let that be enough.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s conversation. If you’re listening today and sensing that you could use some help with managing your health as a leader, as well as the health of your team, take a few minutes right now and go to theunstuckgroup.com/coaching. Our Unstuck leadership coaches provide practical tools, coaching and accountability that’s contextualized to your unique ministry context. If you’re feeling stuck, unsure or unhealthy as a leader, we would love to help. Find out more at theunstuckgroup.com/coaching. Next week, Amy and Lance will be back with an episode focused on team health. Until then, have a great week.