The word “health” gets tossed around a lot regarding pastors. So much, that it begs the question: What does health mean? What does it look like for a pastor? I reached out to a few of my pastor friends and asked for their definition. Here are their responses:
“The ability to breathe in and out. Many pastors only know how to breathe out and that’s why they end up collapsing, just like we all would do if we physically only breathed out.”
“Living in a way that promotes positive growth and functionality.”
“Not certain how I would define it, but I know it when I see it/experience it.”
Now let me issue a disclaimer: I don’t have all the answers regarding pastoral health. But I do know a few things, and in today’s post, I’d like to offer up four behaviors I’ve observed in pastors who’ve maintained a good level of health over a long period of time:
Healthy pastors possess a vibrant walk with God
Healthy pastors remember why they signed up for the ministry in the first place: Love for God. Appreciation of His redemptive work of grace in their lives. Most pastors sign up because they’ve received so much from God and want to give back.
But the machinery of ministry possesses the uncanny capacity to subtly chip away at a pastor’s love relationship with Jesus. For example, sermon prep can crowd out devotional reading of Scripture. Also, the never-ending demands of people can interfere and get in the way of alone time with God. And slowly but surely, week by week, spiritual vibrancy can fade.
Healthy pastors rarely forget why they do what they do . . . love for God. And so, they prioritize and feed that most important relationship. Here’s another behavior of healthy pastors:
Healthy pastors plan/implement an intentional emotional well-being strategy
Healthy pastors diligently practice effective emotional behaviors, such as:
Calendar control – they pay attention to their pace. They make room in their schedule to work on the most important items.
- Making time for exercise, hobbies, and friendship.
- Adopting healthy work/rest rhythms. We can help you explore at Converge Coaching four key work/rest rhythms that help you lead better, lead longer, and enjoy it more.
- Expressing anger without saying or doing something they’ll later regret.
- Setting and enforcing appropriate relational boundaries. Healthy pastors don’t allow people to abuse them verbally or in any other way.
Here’s the point: Healthy pastors take personal responsibility for recharging their emotional batteries. And so, they game plan accordingly. Here is a third behavior I’ve noticed with healthy pastors:
Healthy pastors work from their identity, not for their identity
Healthy pastors get their identity more from the God they love than the people they serve. Getting identity from people is especially tempting for pastors. If we get our identity more from the people we serve than the God we love, we set ourselves up for trouble. We end up trying to receive from ministry what only Jesus can give us . . . unconditional acceptance and love.
If you’re a pastor who loves Jesus, your identity is this: You are an adopted son or daughter who is unconditionally loved by a good Father! Regardless of how big (or not) your church is. Regardless of how well (or not) you preached this past Sunday. Regardless of what your emotions are telling you right now. His love for you comes full force without strings attached. Learn to work from your identity, not for your identity. One more behavior . . .
Healthy pastors share the load
Sharing the ministry load doesn’t always come naturally to a pastor. If you’re a perfectionist and a pastor, you have double trouble. You may think “No one can do this task as well as I can.” Or “It’s just easier if I do this task myself rather than trying to teach someone else to do it.” Both of those thoughts lead to a long-term lack of health.
May I offer a different approach?
- You work. Figure out how you want the work done and what you need to get out of it.
- You work—others watch. Show willing and able people how you currently accomplish the task.
- Others work—you watch. Give away the task to a team member. Provide feedback as they execute the item.
- Others work—you get out of their way. Give him/her primary responsibility for a project/series of tasks. Keep monitoring to provide encouragement and ensure results but take your hands off and let your talented people run.
Jesus—the best leader of all time—shows us this approach in His work with the twelve apostles. He chose these guys to follow Him. He demonstrated the work of the Kingdom while they observed. After that, He delegated a small venture to them (Luke 10:1-23) and provided immediate feedback upon their return. Finally, He fully empowered them to do the work of the Kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20). He left the work in their hands with the promise He would be available to them for encouragement and strength.
So, pastor… are you healthy? For real?
How is your walk with God? Are you paying attention to your emotions? From whom or what are you getting your identity? Are you sharing the ministry with others?
Take an honest look in the mirror. If you have a hard time evaluating yourself, reach out to a wise friend or mentor. Ask him or her to evaluate you using these behaviors as a guide. If you need to grow in any of the four (I think we always have room to grow), invite someone into your life who can walk the journey with you. For the church you lead to be healthy, you need to be healthy. For the Church worldwide to be healthy, its leaders need to be healthy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on other behaviors that lend to pastoral health. Take a minute to leave a comment and share your ideas.
I’m rooting and praying for you (and myself too) to get and stay healthy!