Editor’s note: This article was transcribed and edited from a webinar hosted by Ministry Spark. You can watch the full video here.
As we talk about the Importance of caring for our souls in the midst of everything else, my question to us is what is the everything else? Fatigue? Anxiety? Stress? Is it still the pandemic hanging onto you? Family issues? Health issues? Is it doubting your calling in ministry? Is it churches? Is your church sideways or stuck?
God is with us on this. I am inviting you. Whatever that everything else is, would you lay it down? Would you just lay it down at the foot of the cross and let God does what He does best?
Maybe some of you need to rest. Resting is more than just sleeping or taking a nap. It’s being still. And I think you’re going to hear that from the panel today.
Consider using the information in this article with your volunteers, with your families, and certainly with your staff. Huddle up over a cup of coffee or a chai latte, hot or cold, and spend some time guiding them to care for their souls.
Entering into Soul Care
We at Ministry Spark really believe this is where God is wanting us to go. We gathered a wonderful group of leaders together to share their thoughts on soul care.
The three leaders joining me today are Paula Mazza, Alex Douglas, and Courtney Weaver.
Paula Maza is the Director of Children and Preteen Ministries at Long Beach Presbyterian Church, which is a sleepy little beach town in southern California. She’s been at this church since she was 10 years old and has been on staff for almost 19 years. Paula is a big preteen advocate with a heart for mental health in the church and preteen mental health. She’s also in a doctorate program. Finally, Paula does some work with Bethel Seminary.
Alex Douglas is from outside of Ontario, Canada. He is the lead pastor and co-planter of a church called Family Church. A parent of four, Alex would say his voice within his community is to be an advocate for families within the family of God.
Courtney Weaver is the worship leader at her church and works at David C Cook on Ministry Spark and Wonder Ink. She has two little boys, one and four, and has a big heart for kids. Courtney is excited to be able to pour into our readers and hopefully encourage them in the things that are true and in the things that God has for them. She loves Jesus and Courtney leans into the heart of God.
How would you define, describe, and/or illustrate this thing called soul care?
I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately. In Deuteronomy, we learn to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Then pass it on, right? And then Jesus reframes that into the New Testament in several different places, adding the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself. And I keep thinking two things.
One, how can you love your neighbor if you don’t know how to love yourself? And two, the importance of when Jesus is saying, love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and all your soul. And in some places, it also says in all your strength.
What they’re really saying is love the Lord your God with your all—all you are. And specifically listing out these key parts of who we are.
The soul is kind of our identity. Every time somebody is born, God introduces something brand new to the world. It’s someone completely unique, and yet we’re all created in His image.
I have to believe that part of that image is just an endless number of unique beings to show glimpses of these different aspects of who God is. This picture of God is incomplete without them. Part of my stewardship is trying to learn who God has created me to be authentically. And trusting that God is in that.
I am a gift. And if I believe that for me, I also must believe that for you. For me, soul care is the daily practice of leaning into Jesus. And remembering and choosing to believe again and again that He does indeed love me.
And continuing to learn what that means, and then learning what that means for my role in the world. What does that imply when it comes to bringing myself to authentic community? It also involves removing barriers that block that.
The only piece I would add to it is that it’s a unique piece of who we are. And as such, our soul requires its own unique care. As leaders in the church, it’s easy to say I pray all week when I’m praying with/for other people. Or we’re studying Scripture all week when prepping materials. This is not soul care.
Soul care needs to be its own unique thing because the soul is its own unique, important piece of us. It’s also the eternal piece of us. It’s the only piece of us that will remain in the new heaven and new earth. Our soul is the eternal piece, the piece that goes on. Therefore our souls require specific and intentional care.
Our soul is the eternal piece of us, yes! I recognize within myself that if my soul is not okay, my words are not okay, my mind is not okay, my body is not okay. I notice physical things. Because if I am not tending to the most precious thing God has gifted me, which is the eternal piece of me, then I am not tending to any other part of myself.
As a result, I am not tending to those who have been given to me, whether it’s in my church community or in my home, in my relationships, in my work. I can sense it when I have failed to care for my soul, when I have failed to sit in my relationship with Jesus, when I have failed to just be with Him.
When we care for our soul, when we actually sit in relationship with Jesus, we are pouring into what actually fits and what actually works. We can try to fill it with things, people, and more stuff to do; but it never fits. And we all feel that tension.
But when we sit and care for our souls in the way of relationship with Jesus, we’re allowing Jesus to fill the hole that only He can fill.
Is there some sort of barometer in our lives that tells us when our souls are getting empty?
I would say our discipleship, our worship, our community is a whole-body experience. It’s offering our whole selves. For me, when any part of me feels sideways, I’m examining and thinking: what’s happening here?
I’m pretty open about the fact that part of my unique wiring is that I battle clinical anxiety. I recently discovered that depression is a piece of that. And, I also have ADHD. So I have this mixed bag of unique wiring that I need tools to help me be a good steward of all these different parts of who I am.
I notice it personally with my small children, and how I respond to them. Because if I’ve not taken that time with my soul, they can feel that. I always want my responses to my children to be those that lead them closer to Jesus and that don’t make them question Him.
Right now, my husband and I are the only comparison they have as to what a father looks like, or what a figure who loves you looks like. I notice I’m not okay when my humanness comes out more than Jesus, who I want to share with them.
But I think what scares me the most is when I recognize a lack of desire to be closer to Jesus. That to me is a giant red flag for my soul. It’s typically because I have slacked and not spent time with Him.
I had lived on a surplus of a full tank. All of a sudden stuff started happening and I didn’t check my gauges quick enough. To check in and say I’m feeling anxious, I’m depressed, I’m discouraged. I am not hopeful. I’m really not being me. I had people call it out me.
They said, “We want you back, where have you gone?” I was living on the surplus, and it just drained. I wasn’t quick enough to go back to the source and say, God, fill me. I need to sit with You and be in Your presence.
If we want our souls to be nurtured, we have to sit with God. We have to spend time with Him, we have to get in His lap. We have to shut everything else down.
There’s nothing more important.
A number of our readers are on staff around the world leading ministries. Alex is leading a church in Canada and perhaps was not paying attention to some of his gauges. He took a leave and he had to step away and have his soul refreshed. Alex, what can you share about that time?
One of the biggest indicators I notice for myself as I get depleted is the lack of satisfaction in joy. For example, when I’m with God, I am able to sit in the tiniest of things and experience joy. Sometimes they feel insignificant to people around me. To me, the simple things in life really bring me joy.
My favorite example is the design of an ice cream cone. It hasn’t been improved in years. What a cool thing!
In May I took a three month leave from my ministry. And one of the biggest indicators for me was when my son changed my profile picture on my Disney Plus account, um, to the grumpy old man from Up. And my son is my biggest fan in the whole world.
I think that is also one of the greatest indicators of our mental health is how the people around us are seeing us. We might think that we are doing a good job of hiding things, but people around us will see what is really happening. I bottomed out, and I realized my family was absolutely getting the scraps.
You see, I have four kids and a wife who’s a social worker and has been in the thick of it for the last three years. I realized they weren’t getting even close to what God called me to give to them when He made me a husband and made me a father times four.
Then when I turned around, I was able to also see that wasn’t giving my church even close to my best either. And the reality was that I had forgotten what was supposed to come first in the story. I’d like to reference one of the first Bible stories I remember learning at camp. It’s Jesus calling His first disciples.
It’s Mark 1 verse 17, when Jesus says, “Come and follow me. I will send you out to fish for people.” And when I was a 14-year-old, the part I underlined was the come and follow me part, because first we’re disciples.
Years later, when I was transitioning from being a camper to a leader, I started to discover what it means to share the gospel with other people more intentionally. What does it mean to use your gifts for God’s glory?
And then I underlined the second part, “I will send you out to fish for people,” and that became a mission for my life. We can’t pass on what we don’t have. If you’re playing disciple, it’s not even close to the same as being a disciple.
I’m not for one second pretending that the pandemic didn’t affect things because it did tremendously. Do I think I would’ve bottomed out otherwise? Maybe not at that same time, but I was still heading in that direction.
And crisis amplifies what’s already there. The pandemic didn’t introduce new things. It exacerbated and fast-forwarded stuff that was already there.
For somebody whose whole approach to my faith is grounded in service, it’s easy to think that we don’t need to serve ourselves.
What would you say to the children’s pastor in Omaha, Nebraska, the children’s pastor in St. Charles, Illinois, the children’s pastor in Dallas, Texas? How would you frame it? What should they consider?
I think one of the first things to consider is that sometimes the way in which we’re serving God makes it impossible for people to actually see God. Because what we’re showing them is not real. As a result, you might be doing more harm than good. Because, as you know, your kids are going to watch you closer that anyone. Most of us know this.
We’ve all done the ping-pong ball illustrations, that balance that shows the impact we can have as parents and caregivers on our kids’ lives compared to the influence of church. If my kids fall away from the Lord, the first people that need to be holding up their heads are my wife and me. I don’t get to blame the institutional church for how I am at home.
It’s On Me
I don’t get to blame society or a pandemic. I don’t get to blame anything because that’s our first place. And I am cognizant of whether we are drawing them closer to Jesus or not. Sometimes what we need to do is get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit actually meet that person.
When we are running on fumes, we’re not passing on the Holy Spirit. Clearly, we’re not passing on what service looks like in a healthy way. We’re not passing on satisfaction or joy or worship. None of those things are being passed on in a clear way.
Friends, give yourself a break. Know that your ministry is not supposed to be perfect.
I get to come alongside children’s ministry leaders quite a bit. It’s very common talk to people who are in church systems that don’t sound very healthy in terms of boundaries and what the expectations are. And that seems particularly true in terms of the expectations of what a children’s minister does.
For those of you out there who feel trapped—that nobody sees you, hears you, or understands what it is you’re navigating—I just want you to know that you’re not alone.
My prayer is that you would just be emboldened to do an honest assessment with Jesus. The Holy Spirit is your guide, so create some holy discernment there.
I would echo what Alex and Paula are saying in that recently, even in my own life, I have felt in my spirit, a small voice. A still, small voice saying, “Are you more concerned with doing for me than being with me?” I just want to encourage you to rest in who God is.
Think about how, what, and why we are doing the things that we’re doing for Him. Because a lot of us are running with things that we’re doing for Him that He’s actually not even asked us to do.
I believe there are things that we could lay down because God never asked us to carry them to begin with. In all of this, something that has really encouraged me is about the exodus of the Israelites. It’s such a beautiful parallel to what Jesus did for us and how God is with us.
After they crossed the Red Sea and were in the desert for three months. Then Moses went up to Mount Sinai. God said in Exodus, “You have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to me.” Another version says, “I brought you to myself.”
God continues to speak, blessing His people. He guarded them through the immense wilderness for 40 years and we see Him say this in Deuteronomy. They didn’t lack one thing. The Israelites are wanting water and food and felt that God brought them out there to die. They wondered where God was.
I feel like a lot of us feel that in our hearts. We might think something like, “I’m doing your work. Have you brought me out here to die?” And I feel like God’s saying that we are looking for all the wrong things. He carried us through and has brought us to Himself. He is personal, He is with us.
He saved us and has given you this because He wants to bring you to Himself. Every day. I just love this. In the midst of whatever it is you’re facing, remember how God continues to show up.
Friends, our lives and our ministries and everything we face, in the trials we encounter, the barriers we have, and the situations and circumstances we go through, God is working to bring us to Himself. When we recognize that He is with us, we lack nothing. Psalm 63 says that His love is better than life.
Sit in silence and just listen to what God has to say to you. My prayer closet right now is my kitchen island in the morning, while my kids are running around just making a mess in the living room, because it’s not perfect.
It’s just real. And it’s the only time I have right now to spend sitting with God, although yes, He is with me always. And if my kids have to see me do it, so be it. All the better.
And I want to encourage you that no matter what it is you’re facing, no matter where you are, if it’s a wilderness, a circumstance, or just life itself, God is there. He is there. Look up. And He will hold you, and He will guide you. He will be there with you no matter what.
God loves you so much, He has not left you to die.
One of the things that I was reminded of by my counselor during my leave was that I tended to think that I could only take care of myself after I’ve taken care of everyone else. I wouldn’t start to do self-care until like 11:30, 12 o’clock at night. That wasn’t working because I was drained.
My therapist suggested I do my quiet time in the same room as my kids.
My favorite name for Jesus is Prince of Peace. The Prince of Peace that stands with you while the storm is full blowing. We wouldn’t need peace if there wasn’t chaos. So please, be kind to yourself.
Our souls will live on eternally. Our souls matter a whole lot to God. And if they matter a whole lot to Him, they should matter a lot to us. And as I do my best to take care of my yard and to fertilize it properly, what I found before the grass started going dormant was in the middle of my yard.
It was lush and green because the fertilizer, keeping the weeds at bay, but on the edges near the sidewalks, enough fertilizer didn’t fall in there to choke out the creeping weeds. So this stuff starts creeping in. We need to sit with God to keep the weeds at bay and our souls healthy.