Thursday, December 3, 2009

Book Review: "Feed The Fire: Avoiding Clergy Burnout"

Pastors are busy people, navigating a complex vocation. Sometimes they barely have time to spend with their families, let alone get "everything" done. The continual stream of commitments is daunting: evening meetings, vacation Bible school, Lent, weekly sermons, and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the pastoral care emergencies. The blessing and curse is that most pastors want to be a faithful presence through it all. But being a faithful presence at “everything” usually means committing 50-80 hours each week. Such a busy pace can wear the best of us down over time. And that can lead to burnout, anger, frustration, etc. The fact is that vocational ministry can attract and create workaholics. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In Feed the Fire, Katherine and Bruce Epperly seek to help pastors mindfully choose life-giving transformation over life-denying burnout. This obviously isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime choice. It’s a continual process of choosing transformation through daily intentionality. In their words, “Healthy, vital, and effective ministry is a matter of choice as well as grace” (20). The way they suggest engaging in this process is through practices that can feed the fire of healthy ministry.
The book is divided into seven main sections that include user-friendly examples of specific practices, affirmations, and covenants.

The sections include: (1) Honoring the body as a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (e.g. mindful breathing, grateful eating, meditative exercise). (2) Transforming the mind through attentiveness to our changing God and world (e.g. cultivating stature, open-mindedness, lectio divina). (3) Transforming the spirit through receptiveness to God’s ongoing presence and callings (e.g. spiritual formation, mindful prayer, theological humility). (4) Transforming time by finding a healthy faith-family-ministry balance (e.g. self-differentiation, fidelity to Sabbath, saying “yes” and “no”). (5) Transforming relationships by engaging in relational wholeness (e.g. healthy friendships, intentional colleague groups, living by a relational vision). (6) Creating stillness in the storm through prayerful and creative response (e.g. spiritual direction, professional mentoring, reacting pastorally). (7) Celebrating oneself in ministry through self-awareness (e.g. individuation, continuing education, mindfulness of the personality dynamics explored in the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator).

The list above is limited and is only meant to whet the appetite. Feed the Fire is filled with practical application. So, if you want to spend more time with your clergy friends – and you want them to be in a better mood when you see them – this book is an excellent resource. The only thing missing is more details on how to break already-established patterns of over-working. Change is difficult. But perhaps that would need to be another book entirely! Despite that, this book deserves to be commended. The Epperlys have written an important book in the canon of self-care literature.

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