Mental Health in Church Renewal

Written by Bill Whitt
May 8, 2023

Pastors and other church leaders often experience mental illness. Here are five commitments to mental health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recently found that about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness each year, but less than half receive treatment. Pastors and other church leaders often find themselves in this statistic.

  • The rate of burnout among pastors has increased at an alarming rate. Barna found that 42 percent of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year, a figure that is up 13 percentage points from 2021. Pastors listed stress, loneliness, political division, and the effect of ministry on their families as top reasons for their burnout.

In our calling to care for other people, church leaders often forget to care for themselves. However, if we really want to lead others well, we have to lead ourselves well too.

Five Commitments To Your Mental Health
Commitment 1: Mentoring is a must
  • Someone recently told me, “It’s lonely at the top,” and I’ve found that to be true. When you’re pouring yourself out to hundreds of people, you need to make sure you have at least a few people pouring into you. We all need an objective set of eyes to help us stay on track and encouraged. This is the heart of mentoring.
  • I meet with a retired pastor and counselor every other week via Zoom, and I go to see him in-person on a one-week retreat each year. More than any other single factor, this mentoring has helped me weather the storms of ministry’s inevitable ups and downs.
Commitment 2: Friendships are Fabulous
  • In addition to mentors, we need friends as well. Studies have found that loneliness can be as lethal as obesity or smoking. Social isolation increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
  • Pastors are constantly surrounded by people, but true friendships that provide us with support are few and far between. Healthy church leaders have to consciously seek out and nurture friendships outside of the church. I’ve found that other local pastors understand what I’m going through, so they have been a great place to start.
Commitment 3: Rest is Required
  • The relentless reality we face as pastors is that Sunday is always coming. There is always another sermon to write, another class to teach, another meeting to lead, another couple to counsel. The work is never done!
  • However, God asks everyone, pastors included, to prioritize a regular rhythm of rest… for HIS glory! Modern science backs this up. Lack of sleep is linked to depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Personally, I aim for getting eight hours of sleep every night and taking one day of rest every week.
Commitment 4: Eating Well is Essential
  • Many pastors eat out… a lot! Some of us “stress eat” way too often too. We end up with sugar highs and lows, extra body weight, headaches, fatigue, and other serious health problems. That’s not good stewardship of the bodies God has given us!
  • Good diet and exercise can help not only with our physical health but with our mental health too. I feel mentally sharper and more confident after a trip to the gym. I’ve found working out and eating healthy meals are simple and effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety!
Commitment 5: Your Mindset Matters
  • I grew up admiring Billy Graham, and I expected that when I became a minister, I would be able to keep 100% of the people happy 100% of the time like I thought he did. (He did not actually do that, by the way.) That unrealistic expectation set me up for failure in a big way.
  • I found that I needed to rethink the way I think! We all need to find our deepest identity in being God’s child, not in our successes and failures. As pastors, we share the gospel of God’s unconditional love with people every day, and we need to share it with ourselves too. We ask our congregants to show unconditional love to each another, and we need to offer ourselves that same kind of charity.

Which of these commitments resonates most strongly with you? What other things do you do to prevent burnout in your ministry? Reply to let me know!

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