Written by Bill Whitt
February 6, 2024
Written by Bill Whitt
An unlikely post on X went viral last week when Elmo posted: “Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?” The simple question from Sesame Street’s lovable red Muppet quickly received almost 20,000 replies.
- People did not hesitate to be honest with Elmo, saying they were depressed, broke, sad, and in need of a hug. One response pointed out “The world is burning around us, Elmo.”
I wonder what you would say if I asked you the same question. Being a church leader is not for the faint of heart, as the position comes with some unique risks.
- A recent study by Lifeway found that 63 percent of pastors identify stress as a mental challenge, along with discouragement (48 percent), distraction (48 percent), loneliness (28 percent), and depression (18 percent).
- A Barna study revealed that 40 percent of pastors are now at a high risk of burnout (compared to 11 percent in 2015).
Because we are called to help others to grow in their spiritual health, we must also prioritize ours. Here are some ideas for how to stay healthy for the long haul.
Five Ways Church Leaders Can Stay Healthy
Idea 1: Find a Ministry Buddy
- You need friends outside of your church — people who love you for who you are and not for the pastoral role you play in their lives. Often the people who can understand you the best are other pastors who share similar joys and heartaches.
- You can find ministry buddies at other nearby churches, within your denomination, or from back in your seminary days. Isolation and loneliness can literally kill. Don’t let that happen to you!
Idea 2: Meet With A Mentor
- The challenges of ministry can make you feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and even worthless at times. It’s hard to know what to do with such strong feelings.
- It can be encouraging to hear from other church leaders who have been through these battles and lived to tell about it. They can also help you prepare for what lies around the next corner, so you don’t trip over common challenges.
Idea 3: See A Counselor
- Pastors are not immune to mental health issues. In fact, because of the unique demands of the job, some studies show pastors have more mental health challenges than the general population.
- If you are experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or worry, don’t suffer in silence, and don’t feel ashamed. A trained counselor can give you the perspective you need to think more clearly (e.g., avoiding all-or-nothing thinking) and discover the deep roots of your emotional life (e.g., family of origin dynamics that continue to play out in your current relationships).
Idea 4: Practice the Spiritual Disciplines
- Just because you’re putting in 40+ hours per week in the church office, doesn’t mean you get a pass from investing in your own spiritual journey and maturity. God has given all Christians, including church leaders, means of grace that powerfully connect us with him, and we should be using them!
- Some of the most important spiritual practices for pastors include Sabbath rest, meditative Scripture reading, and prayer. We must carve out time to cultivate our own relationship with the Lord rather than assume that academic sermon preparation will have the same result.
Idea 5: Learn to Say No
- It’s easy to feel like you’re on-call 24/7. Without boundaries in place, church work will expand to fill every waking moment of your day — and sometimes rob you of restful sleep too.
- Establishing boundaries and saying, “No,” is never fun or easy. However, I believe your church members actually want you to lead a healthy, balanced life. They know it requires exercise, time exploring your hobbies, and time having fun with your family. Recognizing and working within your limits helps you bring your best self to the people you serve in ministry!
If you are reading this article, and you are not a pastor, I hope you have still found it to be helpful. If you want your pastor to last for the long haul, you must encourage him or her to pursue these healthy habits and even make systemic changes to promote health. For example, at my church, we reimburse some of the costs of mentoring, and we provide an Employee Assistance Program that covers counseling for all employees. Can your church invest in your leaders by making similar commitments? Reply and let me know what you can do!