Self-care is an act of love and one that identifies hobbies and people who bring us peace and joy. Self-care involves prioritizing all sides of ourselves—the physical, the emotional, the mental, the social, and the vocational. Pastors and leaders who are unable to care well for themselves will find it extremely hard to model and prioritize self-care among their staff.
Second, recognize and honor each person as an individual.
In our desire to want to do the most good and get the gospel into the hands of the most people, it can be easy to see our churches as vehicles or machines. “We are like a well-oiled machine,” we may hear. The problem is that the Church is not a vehicle at all. The Church is a family made of individual, unique persons. Today, there is an emphasis on personality tests like the Enneagram and others. Although these provide a good starting point to understand the different perspectives and personalities of others, they are also severely limiting. Joe is more than a 3w4. Vicky is more than an 8w7.
The best leaders are ones that are curious and desire to better know those around them for the sake of them, not just for what they can give our institutions. Caring well for our staff means spending time with our staff to hear about what they dream about, and what they dread. We lean into finding the unique imprint of God on each person.
Third, ask good questions often.
We can begin to do this well by following in the model of Jesus—by asking good questions. Harvard Business Review published a list of questions that managers need to be asking their direct reports. These questions touch upon growth, vision, opportunity, and purpose to name just a few. In the church context, we can go a step deeper with questions that reach into the hearts of those we care about: What’s going on in your soul? Why are you afraid? What kind of support do you need?
For leaders, asking these types of personal questions may be scary. We believe these may open up a can of worms or that it’s someone else’s job to care in this way for others. What we may miss is that is by not asking these types of questions we may be oblivious to important concerns and issues that lay at the heart of our staff.
The church never has been, and never will be, a place where surface-level conversation is expected. Pastors and leaders must model what it means to ask the hard questions that will allow staff to feel seen and heard.
Finally, create a safe, communal culture.
We must assume that our staff are processing some hard things unless we know the opposite to be true. We cannot afford not to. Once we start with this assumption and begin to ask the important questions we need to be asking, we will arrive at one simple conclusion: we need to be a place of safety. This may look like building out counseling resources or offering opportunities for our staff to work through hard issues. This may also look like engaging in empathetic listening and other skills that will help us deepen our compassion and care.
Creating a communal culture where staff can share their pain and fears without feeling criticized and judged is critical today. Pastors and leaders can begin by building in regular meetings with staff, elders, and others to simply ask, “What’s on your heart and how are you doing?”
We can also create safe cultures by recognizing that when our staff share openly, we will not only support them during work hours, but give them space outside of work as well. This may look like giving people time to grieve in hard seasons like a miscarriage, illness, or the loss of a loved one.
Caring for our staff even as we seek to care for ourselves can feel overwhelming. However, something strange often happens when we begin to do this—the more we are surrounded by those who feel cared for and who are seeking a healthy lifestyle, the more we feel compelled to do the same. This is the mystery of love. The more we give, the more we often receive in return.
As we prepare for our new normal of church (whatever this may look like), my hope is that at the core of our planning and implementation is a new normal of compassionate care for our church staff who have gone unnoticed for too long.