6 Ways to Care for Yourself while Caring for Others

Ministry to Parents is passionate about helping church leaders connect with parents, but at the core of that passion lies the belief, “To give away, we must draw from within.” We hear stories of how you serve the Church, which brings great joy and, at other times, leaves you weary. We asked Jeff Helton, of Wellspring, to encourage you for this month’s topic on Care for the Soul. He offers you 6 ways to care for yourself while caring for others.


6 Ways to Care for Yourself While Caring for Others

By Jeff Helton

There is a lot of discussion in today’s world about work-life balance. How do you give time and focus to your work without sacrificing your family and personal life? In ministry, the balance discussion often centers around shepherding and care. But how do you balance care for yourself while caring for others?

The truth is that there is no balance. It’s a myth. Self-care must be the priority to do ministry in a healthy way. Care for others must flow out of the abundance of who you are and how you’ve cared for yourself. Essentially, the care you give yourself is what you are giving to others. You may be spending time with others and providing words of wisdom, but you’re not really shepherding or leading them well if you’re not leading yourself.

Self-care is rooted in self-compassion. People love the passage that tells the story of the great commandment. The Pharisees corner Jesus and ask him, “Teacher, what’s the greatest commandment?” He responds, “Love the Lord, your God, with your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” He could have dropped the mic right there. That was everything He needed to say. Instead, He continues and says, “and the second is likened to it.”

In other words, the second one is almost its identical twin. Love your neighbor. Then Jesus adds those two words that we always skip over. “As yourself.” In other words, the way you love your neighbor is going to be the same way you love yourself. When you are not tending well to your soul and practicing self-compassion, you can fall into compulsive people-pleasing instead of true shepherding and caregiving. 

That’s actually part of my story.

I spent a lot of years compulsively showing up for any need, because if I was doing a good job caring for others, then I must be okay with me. Do you notice the codependency and sickness in that thinking? 

But that’s what a lot of people in ministry tend to do. They’ll just keep doing more for others and receive the kudos. They assume that if others are giving kudos, then what they are doing must be good and okay. Directors and Ministers spend all their time doing and never take time just to sit and reflect. They never stop to ask, “how am I doing?” 

Jesus did not operate this way, and I think a lot of ministers forget that. There’s a great story in the New Testament in Mark chapter one that we don’t tell enough. If you or I were to finish this story, this is probably how it would go.

Jesus is in town, and he’s doing a bunch of healing and working with people. Crazy good things are happening. At the end of the day, He leaves town and goes out with the disciples. They cook dinner, camp out and do whatever else they did in the evening. Early the next morning, Jesus gets up and goes away by Himself to a quiet place to pray. It’s fascinating because Peter runs up and wants to know where He’s been. The people are lined up all around town, and they need Him to care for them.  

If we were writing the Bible, the next verse would say something like this:

“So Jesus thanked Peter, got on his donkey, rode back into town, and started healing and caring for more people.”

But that’s not the way the story goes. The Biblical text says that Jesus looks at Peter and says, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake…because I came to do my Father’s will.”

I will not claim to understand fully what that means, but here’s what I do know. Jesus said no to needs. Did you catch that? Jesus said no to legitimate needs. The one who could heal, redeem, and restore brokenness said no. There was something else at that time He was called to do. 

Saying no is an essential part of what it means to find balance in caring for yourself and caring for others. How does this translate into everyday ministry? Let me share some practical applications!

Know Your Limits

 One of the best ways to practice self-compassion and implement healthy boundaries in your care for others is to acknowledge that you have limits. There was a season in my life when I was in a church with a congregation of 300 people. I was the pastor that did most of the care.

If something happened, for instance, a child was sent to the hospital or a family was going through a crisis, I provided the care. I loved doing it, and it was a full-time job. Over three short years, that church grew from a few hundred to a church of 4,000. I learned rather quickly that I could not respond every time the phone rang. It was mathematically impossible. 

You shouldn’t wait until there’s too much to do to realize you have limits. You need to acknowledge and establish your limits in advance. Decide how many situations you can handle in a week.

Develop Hobbies

An often overlooked aspect of a healthy personal life is the presence of a hobby. It is especially true in ministry. Hobbies restore the soul in a way that nothing else can. 

I confess that I neglected this area for too long. However, in the last few years, I’ve started dabbling in woodworking, I and I’ve done more cooking. Just having a space for that has done something for my soul that can’t adequately express in words. But, I know it’s necessary if I’m going to leave a margin to care for others.

Schedule Off Time

An important discipline to implement in ministry life is to block out time on your calendar to be off. That means you do not respond to anything during that time. Hopefully, you belong to a staff where someone else can be in charge of the emergencies or situations that can arise. Whether you call it a vacation, spiritual formation days, or a fast day, you need to stop. 

To take this one step further, I think it is healthy to unplug completely. I realize you may need a phone for your kids or family to reach you, but maybe you could tag-team with your spouse. Walk away from your phone and let your spouse monitor it for any important calls or messages. 

Define A Crisis

One way to establish healthy boundaries in ministry is to define what constitutes a crisis. In pastoral work, very few things meet the definition of an emergency. For me, a crisis involves death, the police, or a significant amount of blood. Now, that may sound extreme, but most things that people consider a crisis can be addressed the following day. 

I remember once in ministry, I received a call in the wee hours of the night. I got up and went to someone’s house and sat there until 2:30 am. As I was leaving, I remember thinking, “Wow, why did I do this? It could have waited until tomorrow.” As caregivers, there’s a compulsivity in our soul that we have to watch.

Please don’t misunderstand me. If a child is injured in a bad accident in the middle of the night and the family’s going to the hospital not sure of the outcome, that is a crisis. It is a family emergency of immense proportions. However, those situations are generally the exception.

Prepare A Response

Despite your best efforts to define a crisis, ministers will still get calls that do not meet the criteria. And that’s okay. It’s essential to have some constructive, helpful responses and strategies prepared in advance. 

Consider these phrases and responses: 

  • I’m so sorry to hear about this. Your church family is here for you, and I will notify the _____ to let them know.
  • I want to help you through this situation, but I think everyone needs to get some rest. Let’s touch base tomorrow at 9:00 am. 
  • Thank you so much for calling to let me know. Can I pray for you right now?

You should also employ some basic strategies to diffuse situations. I’m sure many ministers have received a call from a couple in crisis. They get in a big fight at 10:30 pm and call the pastor’s cell phone. Rather than rushing over to mediate a late-night counseling session, instruct them to go into separate rooms, stop fighting, and get some sleep. Then, schedule a counseling appointment for the following day. The marital situation needs to be addressed, but in most cases, it does not qualify as a crisis. 

Create An Emergency Hotline

An emergency hotline is a wonderful option for ministries who struggle to enforce boundaries, but desire to care for their members. Create a schedule or a process for checking the hotline and sharing the information appropriately. This hotline not only helps create boundaries, but it helps reshape the culture. 

In our digitally connected society, everyone is so accessible. Most people answer phones and respond to texts after hours that could wait until the following workday. That’s part of the boundary setting discussion, but remember Jesus in Mark, chapter one. He didn’t go back to the village, but instead sought a quiet place to pray. 

In order to care for others, you must take time to care for yourself. 

Jeff Helton has been married to Lora for over thirty-two years and is a dad to four adult children, two daughters-in-law, and Papa to three grandchildren.  He served as a pastor for over 25 years. Currently, he is a life coach and consultant who works with individuals, couples, and teams in churches and the business world. You can contact Jeff at www.wellspringtn.com.

To other posts on Care for the Soul, check out:

How to Care for Your Wounds and Hurts in Ministry

How to Set Boundaries in Ministry

My Moments of Summer: A Reflection Guide for Ministers and Directors

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