Leaders must practice self-care as part of stewardship

March 30, 2021 by Erin Dunigan

What do leadership and self-care have to do with stewardship?

Everything, according to the Foundation’s Ministry Relations Officers Maggie Harmon and Rob Hagan.

In the first of a three-part webinar exploration of foundational stewardship principles, Hagan and Harmon suggested that stewarding self is a prerequisite for stewarding everything else in creation.

Maggie Harmon

“You can’t take care of anyone else if you are not taking care of yourself,” said Maggie Harmon, the Foundation’s Ministry Relations Officer for the Southwest Region.

“When I started my meditation practice many years ago, I thought I would start with an hour a day,” Harmon said, laughing. She quickly learned that her desire was not as easily practiced as intended. “My guide said, why don’t you start with a minute a day?”

It was an important lesson for her in starting where you are, and one which she has continued to put into practice as she invited the participants gathered online to simply breathe for one minute.

“What does it feel like to just breathe for one minute?” Harmon asked. “Does it feel like you are wasting time?”

If pastors and church leaders themselves cannot indulge in simply a minute of silence, how can those leaders encourage that in their congregations?

This season of pandemic has in many ways made the practice of self-care more challenging. With less stability in daily life and in the life of the world at large, less connection with friends and family due to the need to isolate and social distance, and less sense of belonging, it can be difficult for those in leadership to make sure they are meeting their own needs in order to try to help meet those needs in their congregations.

Rob Hagan

But, as Rob Hagan, Ministry Relations Officer for the Pacific Northwest, reminded those gathered virtually, even Jesus himself went away from the crowds and went up to the mountain to prepare, renew, process and learn. “This season we are in is a liminal season – a time between – and it can serve as an important season,” Hagan said.

It can be easy, he admitted, to use being busy as a validation of self-worth. “Especially in this time, where we can see that so many people are having a more difficult time, it can feel as though we have an obligation to do more,” Hagan said.

“We have a tendency to think that to be good stewards, we have to ‘do’ all the time, but it is also okay to just ‘be’ and be human,” Harmon suggested. “The pandemic for me has been difficult, but it has been so much easier for me than it has for so many people that I almost feel as though I am not allowed to have a great day because so many others are suffering.”

But, if, as church leaders, we are not allowing ourselves to experience joy in the midst of suffering, are we then denying that experience to others?

“This pandemic is going to change the church, and it is changing us,” Hagan said. But it is also providing an opportunity to cross through the ‘liminal space’ going over the threshold into what is yet to be.

“We are used to being people who know – we think we know what it means to lead, but how do we lead when we don’t know where we are going?” Harmon asked.

It is in the midst of this unknowing, this liminal space, that taking the time to be, to breathe, to sit in prayer is more than ever an essential activity.

The Bible tells us that God rested. Jesus rested. As pastors and church leaders, we also need to make sure that we give ourselves that rest. Sabbath is also an essential activity.

“In order for us to be fully effective, loving, caring neighbors in this world, we have to do the work to make sure that we are caring for ourselves,” Harmon concluded.

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” asks 1 Corinthians.

“We are vessels carrying the divine – we need to be doing some delicate care of this vessel,” Harmon said.

The next webinar in this series, Best Stewardship Practices, will be on April 21. Register here: https://www.presbyterianfoundation.org/best-stewardship-practices/

Erin Dunigan is an ordained evangelist and teaching elder in the PC(USA). She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary. She serves as a photographer, writer and communications consultant and lives near the border in Baja California, Mexico.