Soul Care for the Church Planter: 3 Do’s and 3 Dont’s
DO: See a Therapist and/or Spiritual Director
Whether it’s a licensed therapist or a spiritual director, the value of having an outside, objective person to listen to you and help guide you through your internal landscape cannot be overstated. Most of us are walking around with wounds from our parents, our family of origin, our previous church communities, past relationships, or all of the above, and if you do not tend to those wounds in a safe and intentional way they will crawl to the surface on their own and cause pain and damage in the process (both to you and to those around you). For many people there remains a stigma around therapy in the church world, yet more and more people in ministry report that it was only because of the work of a therapist or a spiritual director that they were able to find the emotional health they needed to survive the pressures of leading a church.
DON’T: Underestimate the Importance of Soul-Care
Yes, we know this sounds simplistic, but as anyone who’s given an honest effort toward caring for the soul can attest to, it’s anything but easy. In part, because soul care requires us to reframe what it means to be selfish. Many of us grew up with the idea that spending time, energy, and resources on your Self was “selfish,” and this makes it complicated to then prioritize caring for your own well-being. But it isn’t selfish to pursue health and wholeness and flourishing. If you don’t genuinely love your Self, then how can you ever hope to fulfill Jesus’ great command to “love your neighbor as your Self?” Too many ministry leaders (and this is especially true in the world of church-planting) hit burnout because, like the Giving Tree, they gave and gave of themselves until there was nothing left. You’re not doing your church any favors (not to mention your own family!) if you’re not tending carefully to the care of your own soul. It’s possible that the importance of Self Soul Care is something that can only be learned the hard way, but to the extent that you can practice caring for your Self before you crash and burn, we wholeheartedly cheer you on.
DO: Practice Radical Honesty with Your Staff, Leaders, and Church Community
We’ve all been a part of churches where suddenly, out of no where, we learn that one of the staff has quit or been fired because of some massive indiscretion, or maybe they just disappear in to a mandated sabbatical because they’ve burned out. The fact that this happens is one thing, but the fact that it comes out of the blue to everyone is a different matter altogether. Many of us come from systems that did not hold space for their Leaders to be human. As a result, Leaders had to constantly pretend that they were okay. As you launch your church, we strongly suggest that you practice radical honesty from the get-go: talk about when you’re not doing well, don’t be afraid to ask for help, if you’re having a hard time then talk about it (because chances are other people are too!). When you model this type of authenticity it is contagious, and over time you’ll develop a culture where people are real and genuine. And when people visit your church they can immediately tell if the people there are church-fake and wearing masks of okay-ness, or if your people are real humans that aren’t afraid to do life together.
DON’T: Try and Reinvent the Wheel
Since most progressive Christian church planters have a background in (read: lots of baggage with!) more conservative church circles, it’s common to believe that when we start our church everything is going to be different! We remember the ways we were wounded or burned out by churches from our past and so we vow to not let it happen again. We watched as people left our churches for various reasons and so we tell ourselves that if we can do it differently (and better!) than it’s ever been done before, then surely no one will ever leave! But here’s the thing: there are reasons (arguably really good ones, too) why particular ways of doing church have survived for centuries. Sometimes it’s not about abandoning everything the church has done in the past in pursuit of some brand new methodology. Sometimes we might discover that what was broken, or what harmed people, was less about the form and more about the theology. Less about the practice itself, and more about how leaders used the practices to control and confuse people. Trying to reinvent the wheel at every turn when it comes to designing/launching/running a church is a surefire way to drain life from your soul.
DO: Approach Your Soul Care Holistically
You are a trinity of being: Mind, body, and soul. And while it’s important to tend to all the parts, it’s also important to remember that all the parts are connected to the whole. In other words, caring for your body and mind is caring for the soul. How you eat and drink, how you exercise or treat your body, these things impact the well being if your inner world (and vice versa). In fact, one of the best ways we can tune in to how our soul is doing is by paying attention to how our mind and body are doing.
DON’T: Listen to the Lie that You’re All Alone
Now, it’s true that ministry and leading churches can often be a very lonely role. Part of that is the nature of the job, but here at Launch we think a larger part is because of how we’ve built and ran churches in the past (which is just one of the reasons why we are committed to helping resource progressive Christian churches). We think you don’t have to do it alone, and we also know that, the truth is, you are not alone. Because of the unique nature of post-evangelical/post-conservative progressive Christian churches, most leaders we interact with don’t have many (any?) churches like them in their area. And that sucks, no doubt about it. But through Launch, and other organizations like the With Collective, we know that there are people like you everywhere. People who have done what you’re doing and know the joys and the pains that come every week. You’re not the first person to wonder, how do we get people to give money if they’re no longer afraid of hell? You’re not the first person to ask, does being an inclusive church really mean that I have to hold space for all people and all ideas? You’re not alone in questioning traditional leadership models, traditional small group practices, or traditional ways of “doing church.” Let us help. Let us connect you with other like-minded and like-practicing leaders. You are not alone.