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Effective ministry requires healthy self-care, experts say

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Judy Johnston
July 20, 2006

By Deborah White*

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (UMNS) — Taking care of yourself is essential for effective ministry, professionals in health and wholeness told leaders of the United Methodist Church.

“Your ability to serve others is totally dependent on your ability to function and be healthy,” said Suzanne Hawley, site director in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

She was co-leader of the Healthy Leadership Training Event July 12-15, along with Judy Johnston, research instructor at the school.

“If we don’t engage in effective self care we can burn out,” Hawley cautioned. “Some of us feel guilty that we’re not doing enough — even if we are burned out. We are not meant to be in a continuous state of guilt.”

Hawley and Johnston guided leaders in the United Methodist Church’s South Central Jurisdiction during a servant leadership self-care covenant workshop intended to help them take steps to improve their own health.

“We are here to put tools in your hands so you feel you can move forward in this pursuit of life,” said Johnston, who wrote the curriculum for the workshop. Johnston and Hawley have presented the same self-care workshop to many clergy in Kansas and have trained leaders to give the workshop to church members.

“Self-care ties directly to servant leadership,” Johnston said. “Servant leadership
is taking time to listen to your own inner voice and others around you.”

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A UMNS photo by Debbie White

Morning exercise starts the day for those attending the Healthy Conference Leadership Training Event.

Hawley gave tips about time management, emphasizing the art of delegating. “Every time you say yes, you have to say no to something else.”

Johnston, a registered dietitian, emphasized taking small steps to improve diet.
For example, healthy steps could include adding fruit to breakfast, storing cut-up fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, reducing the size of portions or using low-fat cooking methods.

She urged participants to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day and to put money in a jar every time they refrain from drinking a can of soda. “You need tangible evidence. You won’t creep back to old habits.”

Johnston also recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity and seven to eight hours of sleep. She warned participants to stay away from second-hand smoke.

She told participants to think of one aspect of physical, mental/emotional, social and spiritual health and choose one specific step they could make to improve. Participants broke up into groups of people with similar goals and worked with a partner to develop plans for self-care covenants. They wrote the names of people who could hold them accountable, including other participants in the workshop.

Keys to success in self-care, Johnston said, include taking one step at a time, setting a specific and measurable goal, writing down the plan and getting social support. “Concentrate on the positive,” she said.

“We have taught this to clergy in Kansas to amazing response. This is something we all need,” she said. “This forces you to take the time for you.”

*White is associate editor of Interpreter magazine, published by United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Debbie White or Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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