If a minister intends to persevere and minister well into the future, a commitment to one’s own overall health is a must. Far too many ministers started well and then managed to self-destruct. When a minister self-destructs, everyone loses.
To keep from self-destructing, one has to be very intentional about one’s spiritual, emotional, relational, mental, and physical health.
The following are four practices which may be helpful and might even be essential for any church leader to stay healthy.
- Take care of your mind. Too many ministers do not read widely and consequently get stuck in a mental rut. Some read only the latest books from well-known preachers. In a culture that continues to rapidly change, coupled with the complexities of life, it is important that ministers read widely.
For many years I have read widely. This started years ago when I would spend one afternoon every two weeks in the local university library. There, I would survey national news magazines along with material that provided commentary from various perspectives. I skimmed the New York Times (Sunday Edition) regularly along with the Wall Street Journal. I also read book reviews and journal articles.
I continue to survey news sources, magazines, and journals. Of course, now this is so much easier! Online access allows you and I to do this kind of reading in the privacy of our homes. This particular discipline has helped me stay abreast and has greatly helped my thinking.
- Take care of your soul. Ministry is a calling born out of one’s experience with Christ. Yet one must be intentional about cultivating a heart that is available for what God wishes to do in that person’s life. The soul is much like a plot of ground in which one might plant a garden. This section of land must be prepared and cultivated if one hopes to see a crop eventually. Likewise, the soul must be cultivated and cared for, if one wishes to live out of the soul.
Most mornings, I begin the day reading my Bible, praying, and writing in my journal. These disciplines and others have been important for cultivating my heart. Prayer books, biographies, and classical devotional literature have all been helpful to me. While I vary my practices in the mornings, what has not varied is my desperate need to come before God every day. Far too many ministers place a premium on activity that is seen instead of investing in soul care that may not be seen but is vital to spiritual health.
- Take care of your emotions. Many ministers have neglected this! Perhaps a person has never dealt with the pain and hurt in his or her life. Meanwhile, others are confused by this minister’s anger and occasional depression that seems to be just under the surface. These negative emotions may eventually spill over into the church, as well as into the family and friendships.
Frankly, having a few healthy friendships can help a person with emotional care. Yet, many ministers speak of the loneliness and lack of intimacy that characterizes their lives. Unfortunately, when a person lacks appropriate intimate relationships, that person may seek intimacy in inappropriate ways such as pornography, emotional affairs, or even sexual affairs.
How do such authentic relationships happen? Generally speaking, one has to take the initiative instead of passively waiting for a friendship to form. Some of the most unlikely people may turn out to become wonderful friends. In my experience, these friends have included people both inside and outside the congregation.
- Take care of your body. Some ministers practice the spiritual disciplines and nurture their intellectual life but then completely neglect their physical health. When I was a young minister, several older ministers warned me about this. One person told me that as a young man, he didn’t exercise, rested very little, and neglected his body. As a result, he faced serious health issues some years later. Sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise are very important, particularly for a lifestyle that is often stressful. This is more than a health issue. It is part of being a good steward of the body God has given us.
Taking a day off is very important. Play, relaxation, and living a balanced life are essential to living as a healthy, whole person. Such self-care is not a luxury but a God-honoring investment in long-term ministry.
Serving as a minister in a congregation is often rigorous and demanding. There are seasons when ministry may seem to eave one feeling empty and depleted. For a minister to be able to serve well into future years, certain habits and practices need to be taken seriously. These practices will enable one to practice healthy ministry and finish well.
(Jim Martin, Memphis, Tn. – July 1, 2016)