Prioritizing What Matters

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Brian Wallace
Associate Minister for Emerging Ministries &
Acting Head of Staff
Thursday, March 21, 2024

Prioritizing What Matters

Self-care was a topic I first heard discussed as I entered the world of vocational ministry. But now, it’s everywhere. Social media platforms are full of influencer accounts talking about self-care: its importance, strategies for it, and plenty of opportunities to buy into their service or nutritional supplement—guaranteed to improve your well-being.

My cynicism about some of these influencers aside, I believe self-care is essential.

But also, to be clear, a lot of self-care advice misses the point entirely.

Here’s what I mean. A lot of self-care advice starts with the idea of taking time for yourself away from work: date nights with spouses and partners, taking the allocated vacation and study leave time, honoring one’s sabbath, etc. Again, these are all good things, and I support them. But here’s my thesis: self-care starts at work by prioritizing what matters and what you love in your job.

Let me explain.

A month or so into the pandemic, I was talking with one of our pastors, who, like many of us, was really struggling. Endless session meetings, CDC guidelines, and the general angst of a global pandemic were taking a real toll on them.  In a moment of unfiltered honesty, I blurted out this question: “What do you love to do that you get paid to do?”  This pastor responded that their two favorite parts of their job were leading Sunday morning worship and the weekly bible study.  Because of pandemic-related restrictions, both of these activities had been paused, and the parts of the job that were left were all the things that this pastor (1) didn’t like and (2) wasn’t naturally gifted for.  It was no wonder they were struggling.  Our insight from that conversation was that this pastor needed to find a way to do more of what they enjoyed and got paid to do.  A few weeks later, this church had moved their Wednesday morning bible study to Zoom.  In a follow-up conversation with the pastor, I asked him if he had noticed a difference in his satisfaction with his role.  He answered honestly: “Yes, it’s definitely helped – I’m still struggling, but it’s better than it was, that’s for sure.  At least I have one thing each week I can look forward to”.

Here’s the short version: Strategically and intentionally increasing job satisfaction is one of the most effective and important elements of self-care. Self-care should ultimately be about providing rest from work you love and find fulfilling but that is nonetheless tiring, not trying to prevent burnout from a role you don’t find fulfilling.

Hence my question: What do you love to do that you get paid to do?  Do more of that.

There is, for nearly all of us, an inherent tension in this question: Most of us aren’t in systems where we can readily re-align areas of responsibility that we don’t enjoy and/or just plain aren’t good at.  In the ministry world, most of us have to be, on some level, a jack of all trades – balancing administrative responsibilities with teaching and interacting with and supporting our people.  It’s not like many of us can “hire someone to do what you don’t like,” as the social media leadership gurus would suggest.  But here’s another thing I’ve found: If you’re doing more of what you love, doing the things you don’t love as much isn’t as draining.  And, if you’re doing more of what you love, sometimes you can tap into new and creative ways to engage the areas of your work that you’re not as good at and don’t enjoy as much.

As some of you know, 2023 was quite a year for me professionally.  The leadership transition within the Presbytery shifted me into several new roles and responsibilities, and I experienced a significant learning curve.  It was and remains, in so many ways, a healthy and needed experience that has stretched me and pushed me to grow personally and professionally in many facets of my life.  All that being said, I discovered near the end of last year that I hadn’t found the same sense of fulfillment in my work as I had in years previous, which was weird to me.  After all, I mostly enjoyed the challenges that had come my way.  But something was still off.  As we approached the December 2023 Presbytery meeting, I realized that I had taken six vacation days and three study leave days for the whole year.  I decided that that, well, wasn’t a good thing, and thanks to the weird dynamic of the Presbytery workload (Presbytery work is the slowest at the times when our churches are the busiest – namely Christmas and Easter), I could take some additional time off around Christmas, and that was great and much needed.

But then I asked myself my question: What do I love to do that I get paid to do?

An honest self-assessment led me to this conclusion: I had let slip from my priority list some things professionally that brought me the greatest sense of joy and fulfillment.  And so, in addition to taking some time off near Christmas, I identified two areas where I wanted to renew my focus in 2024 and took tangible steps to prioritize those things more.  In my case, it was a both/and scenario of practicing good self-care and seeking to increase the sense of fulfillment in my day-to-day work by prioritizing that which I love to do and get paid to do.  And you know what, it’s made a real difference.

As I write this article, I’m coming off a marathon of a few weeks with back-to-back retreats and training events. While some of this is the result of my less-than-wise scheduling, it’s also a result of this time of year for me.  This past Sunday, I left Crestfield to stay with a family member who was having surgery this week and the four hours in the car on familiar roads afforded me some time to reflect.  With the cruise control engaged on Interstate 79, I paused to check in with myself: how was I feeling?  My conclusion was that I was so tired, so very tired, but I was just tired.  So much of the last few weeks was filled with things I love to do that I get paid to do.  Tiring, yes, but fulfilling?  Absolutely.

So, this week, ask yourself – in whatever stage and season of life you’re in – what do I love to do that I get paid to do?  Whatever it is, prioritize doing that.

In Christ,


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