From self-care to relationships with similar others, there are off-the-bike lessons to be learned from Peloton instructors, writes the director of the Thriving in Ministry Coordination Program at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.
A colleague recently lamented that a potential donor had expressed skepticism about the need for pastors to get away.
“Peloton instructors don’t need to get away to better take care of themselves to do their job! Why do pastors?” the donor wondered.
This conversation is the first time my personal curiosity about Peloton instructors, users and culture became professionally useful.
“WRONG!” I blurted out. “Peloton instructors see physical therapists and acupuncturists on a weekly basis. They exercise with one another and other top fitness professionals in private gyms all the time! Getting away from the camera and focusing on their well-being is part of the job.”
Plus, those instructors are fit!
The workout videos that we can stream at home are not the whole story of Peloton instructors’ well-being. I can barely breathe during one of Alex Toussaint’s rides. Meanwhile, he is dancing, joking, singing and motivating me to keep doing a ridiculously hard thing — evidence he does even more ridiculously hard things on a regular basis. Other instructors share stories of running ultramarathons and post their personal exercise routines to social media.
I am generally disinclined to look for advice on how we care for pastors from a highly polished fitness and media company, but my time as a Peloton user has surfaced a few insights that resonate with themes we are observing in the Thriving in Ministry projects.
Spiritual self-care is not selfish — it’s sacred.
During her workouts, Robin Arzón regularly says, “Self-care is not selfish — it’s sacred.” The same is true of spiritual care. For a pastor to tend to her soul away from the pressures and distractions of congregational ministry is not selfish. It’s sacred.
We don’t have to rely on Arzón’s observation, though. Jesus’ proclivity for slipping away to a quiet place to pray is a strong biblical justification for this soul care.
My hunch is that pastors struggle to find or create spiritual self-care space because there is a strong cultural assumption that they already have the spiritual resources they need. They are already “the most spiritual person in the room.” Yet just as a Peloton instructor’s most important self-care happens off camera, the deepest spiritual care for a pastor often happens in the quiet places away from the needs of the congregation.
Many pastors do not feel that they have the agency to say yes or no in their lives and ministry, leaving them overwhelmed and spiritually exhausted. Pastors need support to get away for the sacred work of spiritual self-care.
Much like caring for pastors’ physical well-being, caring for pastors’ spiritual well-being looks like supporting them in the development of a concrete plan with accountability and resources.
There is real joy in having a community of people who understand your weird job.
Flourishing in Ministry research calls this a relationship with “similar others” — people with whom we can share jargon and knowing glances without explanation. Having similar others helps us feel known and supported when we work through challenges as well as when we celebrate accomplishments. Similar others can provide us with critical feedback about our work.
Pastors need support to get away for the sacred work of spiritual self-care.
It’s impossible to know whether the Peloton instructors are the kinds of friends they portray themselves to be on social media. But their presentation of their connection with one another reminds me that my life is better when I have people who yearn for the renewing of the world as I do, who understand the quirky ups and downs of my daily life, and who nerd out on the same very specific things that bring out my inner nerd.
Meanwhile, we continue to hear stories of lonely and isolated pastors — ministers who yearn for connection with similar others but have no space in their lives to nurture these critical wisdom-sharing friendships.
My strong singular recommendation on how to care for pastors in this season of a receding pandemic, based on my listening to many who are caring for pastoral leaders, is to help pastors befriend other pastors.
Congregational ministry is particularly idiosyncratic and unpredictable right now. Economic supports may solve one set of challenges but are not able to address a multitude of other, adaptive challenges facing ministerial leaders. Whether a congregation thrives, decides to close or attempts something in between, pastoral leaders need friends to help them navigate this difficult new terrain and determine their next most faithful steps.
Wisdom and friendship are renewing resources that can accompany pastoral leaders and all who care for them through what lies ahead, whatever it may be.