The Revd Jackie Johnson, Diocesan Wellbeing and Continuing Ministerial Development Officer, writes...

In the last year since arriving in post I have walked alongside many individuals seeking a better life balance, looking to, indeed needing to take more care of themselves. Few of us do it well, and I confess that, though I try, I don’t always practice what I preach. Romans 7.15 often comes to mind when I decide on the Wispa bar over the apple! What I desire to do (lose weight) is not what I do (eat chocolate)!      

As Christians, we often focus on the cost of discipleship, and there is indeed a price to pay as we follow God’s call. But the cost is not flogging ourselves to the point of breakdown or death, and we would do well to recognise or remember that self-care is a biblical value.  There are many examples of Jesus modelling something other than sacrificial service, and we often read of him seeking time and space for his own ‘self-nurturing’; his ministry was one of service, and retreat.

These are challenging times on so many levels and we are all often driven in the work we do of building God’s Kingdom. Sometimes those drivers to activity are positive – we are, after all, called to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28.19). But there are times when we are driven by voices other than God’s, and we can move, or be manoeuvred, into a state of burnout or breakdown all too easily. Sadly, we miss or ignore the message that God was “well pleased” (Matthew 3.17) with his beloved Son before he even began his ministry, before he had done anything. His value was, first and foremost, in his personhood, not in his work-ethic or his ability to ‘do’ or to serve. As people of faith, we need to re-balance our lives, believe that self-care is different to self-interest, that it is not a selfish act, and attend to our wellbeing – because we too are His beloved.

As a diocese, we are working to integrate a Theology of Wellbeing into our vocational and ministerial culture. Wellbeing and self-care, embodying wellbeing, and looking at the ethics of wellbeing in regard to the pastoral care of others are themes that have been included in our training programmes so we can establish their importance early in the vocational and ministerial journey. We have established a self-referral to counselling scheme for clergy and their immediate family members, and in the autumn, we will publish our ‘Flourishing in Ministry’ booklet for lay and ordained ministers, which outlines good practice, signposts support and provides checklists for ‘taking one’s wellbeing temperature’ to gauge how things stand. We also have plans for a new Wellbeing section on our website, where we can post articles and include links to sources of information and advice.

Many are already aware of the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing, which was made an Act of Synod in February this year. It recommends ways in which to bring about a change in the culture of the Church, encouraging everyone to share responsibility for the wellbeing of ministers and their households. The Diocese of Lincoln welcomes the Covenant and, building on what we have already done, will consciously articulate its principles and weave its approach into the structures and systems within which we work – and now most especially, within the Resourcing Sustainable Church process. We are currently moving towards achieving two key recommendations of the Covenant; i.e. holding a Bishops’ Study Day on the theme of wellbeing in 2021, and providing Reflective Practice groups for clergy, of which we hope to have several running by the end of this year, with an expansion of the scheme throughout next year.

But there is much more to do, and there are undoubtedly testing times ahead that will challenge our wellbeing. Currently, we live amid a pandemic that has stunned us all, and know now, better than ever before, the importance of wellbeing and self-care. Take a look at the Covenant and reflect on what wellbeing means for you, for your family, your fellow congregation members, your community, and for your ministry team. What should we as the Body of Christ model? If we are even to hint at life in all its fullness, we need to take more seriously the call to wellbeing, looking to the wellbeing of those we care for, and we do that best if we learn to care for and love ourselves.    

Now where was that apple…?

Further information on the Covenant for Clergy Care and Wellbeing may be found here.

Key documents relating to reflection and action may be found here.

A recent addition to this website is a page on Ministerial Development Review – this may be found here.

This article was originally published on Wednesday, 5th August 2020.