Read Acts 20:28
28 Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (NRSV)
If a person I love is in danger of being swept away in a strong current in a river, I will not do much good simply diving in to be with them. It sounds and looks heroic, but in reality I can’t help them by being destroyed with them. Better if I can safeguard myself by getting a secure foothold on the river bank and reach out a helping hand from there.
Taking care of ourselves is to be a priority if we are to take care of others. Paul recognises this as he warns the leaders of the church at Ephesus that they need to keep watch over themselves as well as over the church.
Any honest church leader knows this: letting our own lives, our own relationships with God, fall into disrepair will undermine our leadership. Burning ourselves out to care for others leads to self-neglect and ultimately to lack of care for others. It sounds so noble to give ourselves to others, but unless we also care for ourselves there won’t be much to give to others in the long run.
And this applies to all, not just church leaders. It is not selfish to take care of ourselves. To paraphrase Jesus, we certainly have regard for our neighbours but this regard is linked to our regard for ourselves. We don’t focus simply on ourselves, but unless we look after ourselves we can’t consistently look after others. We are not superhuman.
A bleeding heart is no good to anyone if it bleeds to death.