Socially Acceptable Ways that Church Leaders Self-Medicate

Socially Acceptable Ways that Church Leaders Self-Medicate

Mar 23, 2017

by John J. Pethtel

Director Church Development & Pastoral Services

Let me guess. You’re so busy caring for others (people in your church, your kids, your family, your friends) that you haven’t really taken great care of yourself lately, have you?

Welcome to leadership. Especially church leadership. You run hard. You work long hours. And you’re so busy caring for others you forgot to care for yourself.

When I ask church leaders how they’re doing personally, they usually admit they don’t take great care of themselves. And when you don’t take great care of yourself, guess what you end up doing in almost every single case. You end up self-medicating.

Every leader has a choice between self-care and self-medication, and subconsciously, many choose the “polite” version of self-medication. Do you? And how would you know if you did?

What is Self-Medication?

A health care professional describes it as what people do to cope with the stress, anxiety, and difficulty in life. When stress and life overwhelm you, you will either choose to respond to it in a healthy way (self-care) or an unhealthy way (self-medication). When you think of self-medication, don’t just think of pills or alcohol. As we’ll see below, there are some very “socially-acceptable” ways even for Christians to self-medicate. But the results are still numbing. The choice is yours. But the first reality is this: Self-care is so much healthier than self-medicating. The second reality is just as important: If you don’t intentionally choose self-care as a leader, you’ll end up self-medicating.

1. Overeating.

Being overweight or even obese is almost normal in some Christian circles. As someone who is self-conscious about my weight (and who does not understand how anyone can be a natural bean pole), I empathize. I also know I often eat when I’m not hungry, but when I’m upset or just bored. Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.

2. Working More

Again, working too many hours is socially acceptable, even rewardable in some circles. But all work and no play doesn’t just make you dull, it makes you disobedient. It’s ironic, but the way some leaders cope with the stress associated with work is by working more. It numbs the pain.

3. Gossip

It’s just a theory, but I think when we feel bad about ourselves, sometimes we say bad things about other people. Often church leaders who have failed to care for themselves end up with enough toxin inside that they want to take down others. In many churches, prayer requests are thinly disguised gossip sessions. And too often Christians would rather talk about someone and their terrible misfortunes than help them. That’s just sinful.

4. Spending

Whether it’s retail therapy at the mall, ordering more online, or the constant climb into a bigger house, a better car, the latest tech or the latest trend — Christians can easily numb their pain by endlessly accumulating things that end up in a landfill site one day.

5. Under-the-Radar Substance Abuse

Whether it’s a drink every day when you get home or an overuse or misuse of your legitimate prescription, Christian leaders can fall into the classic pattern of turning to a substance rather than turning to God for relief.

So if you don’t want to end up self-medicating, what do you do?

Ten Healthy Options for Self-Care

The best thing you can do as a leader is take good care of yourself. When you carve out time to take care of yourself, you’ll always be in a better position to take care of others. There’s nothing truly new in these ten options, but when you do them they have a staggeringly positive impact on your personal health and well-being, spiritual and otherwise.

1. Daily time with God.

Whatever method you use, time with God matters. Your

personal walk with God is often a casualty of ministry.

2. Exercise

Being out of shape physically means you will never be in

top shape mentally or emotionally.

3. A better diet

You are what you eat. Taking some time to think about what you eat regularly might pay dividends.

4. Proper sleep

If I don’t get six hours semi-regularly, I feel it. Sadly, sometimes others do too. I really think sleep is one of the most-underrated leadership secret weapons there is.

5. Intentional time off in your calendar

You can schedule time off and downtime in the same way

you schedule meetings. Time for thinking, praying, planning,

and dreaming daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly is good.

6. Healthy friendships

Ministry can be draining. When was the last time you hung out with a friend you didn’t need to “minister to?” Who makes you laugh until you cry? Go hang out with them — regular doses of life-giving relationships can make such a difference.

7. Margin

I am kindest when I have the most margin. This is true in terms of my calendar, but also true of finances. How can you be generous with your heart, time, money, and attitude if you have nothing left to give?

8. Hobbies

Reading, sports, and helping others are some of the things I enjoy most these days. Spend some time on things you enjoy.

9. Family Time

I get recharged by my family. Intentionally carve out time for them so that they don’t get the last parts of your day and week.

10. Coaching and counseling.

For many years I’ve had coaches and counselors who have helped me get through road bumps and life issues. Invaluable. Yes, I pay them money, but it’s an investment in my family, my church, and my life. I’m different and better for it.

Better Than The Alternative

Eventually leaders who don’t care for themselves but still avoid self-medication end up burning out. If you are leading one of our churches and need to talk to someone about how to work towards self-care, please contact the Director of Pastoral Services.

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