We’ve probably all heard, and even been challenged by, one of those quotes about a spiritual giant who prayed more the busier they were. So Martin Luther: In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Or St Francis de Sales: Everyone of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.” In the final blog in this series about self-care I’m exploring how spiritual practices and ‘spirituality’ affect well-being in the ministry-work environment.
Personal resources are aspects of character and personality that enhance resilience and control over our environment. Research into what has been called ‘spiritual resources’ as a subset of personal resources has looked in particular at beliefs, practices and experiences that enhance resilience and impact on environment, and increase motivation for work or ministry. In particular our sense of secure intimacy and connectedness to God, and our sense of calling, act in increasing our well-being in ministry.
A connectedness with God and a sense of working with God or for God’s purposes are associated with greater satisfaction and motivation in ministry. Ministry is shown to be different to other occupations in the ways that spiritual resources enhance work engagement, that is there is an additional factor that strengthens our ability to fulfil our work. Spiritual connectedness is linked to clergy having more energy, efficacy, and absorption in our ministry work environments. For example in missional church work we talk about finding what God is already doing in the neighbourhood. In chaplaincy it is often finding where God is already at work in a person’s life. In all our ministries we have a core understanding of being part of a larger plan and the mystery and privilege it is to be part of God’s greater plans and purposes. Our sense of control may be enhanced in respect to a larger understanding of God’s purpose. The meaningfulness of our work is not about ourselves but comes from beyond us and is yet strengthened through our spiritual practices. It seems our resilience increases because of the meaningfulness of ministry due to the spiritual connectedness of our work. It may be that times of fallowness in our spiritual life may also lessen our resilience.
A second aspect of ministry that affects self-care is the idea of calling, that is a divine or sacred summons to our work. Calling has been investigated whether a call to ministry is affirmed as being of God individually, and/ or the church or community confirms that call through her own processes of discernment. When there is a sense of call there is a correlation with greater self-esteem and purpose through a kind of ‘divine endorsement’ helping to provide transcendent sources of meaning to ministry. The effects of calling have also been linked to lowered depression, sustained effort and resilience.
Some of these findings seem to be at odds with other research that points to high levels of stress and burnout among clergy. Bickerton’s research among ministers in Australia also showed that spiritual resources do not protect from exhaustion or the effects of toxic work environments. So while spirituality in terms of connectedness to God and a sense of calling contribute positively to our health and well-being they do not act as a kind of armour or magic bullet against highly demanding work schedules or difficult work environments.
What this all means for us as a church and individuals is that we do need to pay attention to our spirituality, and our sense of meaning and purpose within our broader understanding of God’s action in the world. We are stressed whether dealing with a pandemic, other natural disasters, systemic economic and administrative issues, interpersonal tensions, or any of the myriad stresses of ministry. We do not hold naïve faithfulness, but manage our self-care within a mindfulness of God’s presence and purpose.
Rev Dr Christine Sorensen
Presbytery Minister (Formation and Discipleship)
Bickerton, Grant R. , Maureen H. Miner, Martin Dowson, and Barbara Griffin. “Spiritual Resources as Antecedents of Clergy Well-Being: The Importance of Occupationally Specific Variables.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 87 (2015): 11.
Bickerton, Grant R. , Maureen H. Miner, Martin Dowson, and Barbara Griffin. “Spiritual Resources in the Job Demands-Resources Model.” Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, (08 March 2014a): 1-24.
Miner, Maureen, Grant Bickerton, Martin Dowson, and Sam Sterland. “Spirituality and Work Engagement among Church Leaders.” Mental Health, Religion