How to Look After Your Soul
"Despite all the struggles, pioneering as a vocation is not easy to get out from under. The call of the wild, it draws you to the uninhabited space to follow dreams that are too ridiculous to be expressed, to build places you've only seen in your imagination. And no matter how beat up you are, how hacked off or desperate for rest, when the call of the Spirit comes again you're up and throwing a few things into a bag and off again, probably limping, sniffing the air; catching the scent."
Kim Brown, pioneer (quote taken from Pioneer Practice)
Taking care of your own soul is just as important as the work of pioneering itself. There are some particular challenges unique to fx practitioners simply because you’re starting something new. Not everyone gets you, the work is tough and it can be very lonely. But don’t worry, you’re not alone; here are some reflections from fx practitioners about how to take care of your soul on this journey.
1. Acknowledge it's a tough gig - for you and others
Things come and go when you’re pioneering new things – it can be isolating and demoralising.
“Pioneer work is fragile, there’s a sense that things could blow away in the wind. You need to know that people have your back. It’s like an expedition team and the home-camp – the explorers need to know that the people at the base are there for them if things go wrong.”
And, let’s face it, things often don’t fit with our hopes and plans as they emerge – and that can be tough.
2. Carefully discern where the best support can be accessed on a structural level
Fx practitioners have listed ministry mentors, line management, spiritual directors, overseeing groups and regular fellowship events as valued people and places of support.
“Particularly at the beginning, support is crucial. In my previous diocese there was no real understanding of pioneering, and targets could change or funding be withdrawn at any point. When things didn’t go right, I fell through the gaps. In my new Diocese there is strong strategic and emotional support for pioneers – and the funding they receive to support our work reflects that. It’s reassuring to note that the places that support pioneers well seem to get more Church Commissioners funding – they are supporting places where people will grow and work will develop best.”
3. Put your own support in place
Structural support is crucial, but also noted was the significance for soul wellbeing of ‘people of peace’. These people could be friends, partners, colleagues, family – or even exercise buddies.
“Sometimes I just need a good rant, somewhere safe to let off steam. I have friends who will just listen, and put the kettle on,”
Prayer support from local churches was also noted as helpful for remembering that you are part of a bigger picture.The support we put in place for ourselves doesn’t have to be people – yoga practice, dog walking, regular retreats and cooking were also listed as some of the things which people across our network build in to sustain them.
4. Make a break for it!
One theme which has emerged is around physically getting away from it all.
“Time in the outdoors is critical for me, I know I need to get outside sometimes to connect with God,”
“Just having a day off at home doesn’t switch me off – work and home can blend when you live where you work. I need to get physically away sometimes, and then I come back re-charged.”
As is often the case, balance is essential:
“If I spend too many days at the desk I get worn down, if I spend too many days with other people I get worn down! I just need to remember simple things like keeping balance, spreading my tasks well across a week, and getting away from things to find space for myself.”
“I’m so aware of the ‘cult of busyness’, it can make people feel important to over-fill their diary and talk about how busy they are! But it serves no one well and it’s not a good model of healthy life or faith.”
5. Rhythm and rooted points
“I have to be very intentional about looking after my own spirituality. It won’t just happen amongst the busyness of life and work.”
Some of the most honest pioneers talk about their struggle to prioritise their own spiritual wellbeing.
“I have lots of good intentions, but unless I find rooted points where I’m accountable to others then it slips down my to-do list.”
Morning prayer, regular scheduled time of silence, and having “anchor points to remind me to pray” were all listed as helpful ways to build a rhythm of prayer and awareness into pioneer life.
“For me, its finding anywhere I’m not “the boss”!” I was told, “places to be and pray with others, where no one is looking to me for leadership.”
Despite the struggles faced, one pioneer trait everyone agrees with is that we’re energised and excited by seeing communities come together and working for a common good.
Fresh Expressions is a movement that works on connections. Pioneering is an incredible privilege but it can also be very lonely at times which is why community and connection is such an important part of the work of Fresh Expressions. We are a movement of practitioners, everyone involved has started or run Fresh Expressions so we know what it’s like.
FX Associates are the core of the movement. They’re a growing community of hundreds of Fresh Expressions practitioners across the UK who are passionate about equipping, encouraging and championing fellow pioneers and Fresh Expressions. If you’re currently involved in a Fresh Expression and looking for your tribe then come and join us!