Caring for Those who Serve

Published on July 18th, 2017

The health and well-being of church workers are vitally important to the health and well-being of the congregation, school or agency in which they serve. Healthy workers increase the likelihood that the ministry will be healthy too. The healthier the ministry is, the more energy that ministry (congregation, school or agency) has to make a difference in the world around it.

Church workers experience several major threats that the Rev. Dr. Bruce Hartung describes in his excellent book, Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand (Concordia Publishing House, 2011).

These threats are:

  • Spiritual attacks (Satan hates God’s Word and those who proclaim it and teach it);
  • Burnout (chronic disappointment with oneself and one’s ministry due to unrealistic or unclear expectations);
  • Excessive stress (too many things to do, too much pressure to do them); and
  • Secondary traumatic stress (the “compassion fatigue” that results from the cumulative pressures of ministry).

Ministers and lay leaders need to recognize these threats and take action that is strategic, proactive and ongoing. Don’t wait until “it’s broke” to “fix it.” Prevention is much less costly than treatment.

One important question for leaders to ask themselves is this: Do we honor and encourage self-care as much as we honor and encourage hard work? If we honor hard work but pay no attention to self care, it won’t be long before the hard work will decrease in both quantity and quality, and a high price will be paid. The price may be as high as the end of a ministry, the end of a marriage, even the end of a life.

Pray for your workers. Support their efforts to take good care of themselves and their families. Ask questions like:

  • “How are you?”
  • “What’s bringing you joy these days?”
  • “What’s not going so well?”
  • “What is helping your well-being?”
  • “What is threatening your well-being?”
  • “How is your family?”

Asking these questions will tell your workers that you care. Listen closely to the answers.

Written by Rev. Richard Koehneke, Holy Cross, Fort Wayne
First published in the June / July 2017 edition of the Lutheran Witness