By Ben Mandrell
When our family moved to Denver to plant a church several years ago, I was energized by the possibilities of kingdom impact and hopeful for the relationships we would build.
Powering through 12-hour days, I was determined to overcome the odds and launch a “successful” church.
At the same time, I felt overwhelmed by the task of raising funds for the work. Every phone call from a potential partner felt high-priority and urgent.
Not long after we arrived, my wife, Lynley, came down with appendicitis and had to have an emergency appendectomy. It was fast and scary, with an ambulance involved.
As she recovered in the hospital, she needed the love and comfort of her husband, but I was continuously running out to the hall to “take this call,” oblivious to the obsessive behavior I was exhibiting.
This was a low moment in our marriage.
Pastors, just like everyone else, move in and out of emotional health. When the pressure is on, we tend to drift toward “work machine” mode and ignore the other important commitments in our life.
I recently spoke with Pete Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Leader, to discuss this struggle in ministry.
In our time together, he defined emotional health for pastors like this: “Leading and serving out of an overflow of your life in Jesus—not giving something you don’t possess. It’s a look at the whole person.”
During our conversation, Pete went on to list a few signs that can indicate a leader’s emotional health is at risk. I’ve been pondering how these symptoms may manifest in the life of a pastor, and I’d like to unpack some thoughts on these five.
1. You’re always rushing.
When we walk in the flesh, we run over people. Have you been doing that lately? Are you constantly angry at the slow-moving staff members God sent you?
Being in a hurry is rarely a sign of accomplishment, and we all know Jesus didn’t roll that way.
Not a single verse in the Gospels reads anything like this: “And Jesus, in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, shouted at the little children in the street for blocking the way. He shoved them aside and picked up His pace to reach the destined city.”
Jesus had more going on than you. Paying attention to your patience meter is a solid way to monitor your emotional health.
Do you often overcommit yourself, sprinting from meeting to meeting, skipping lunch? Are you consistently taking on more?
In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author Greg McKeown offers leaders a challenge to pause before signing up for more:
What if we stopped celebrating being busy as a measurement of importance? What if instead we celebrated how much time we had spent listening, pondering, meditating, and enjoying time with the most important people in our lives?”
These are soul-protecting questions in the midst of the ministry complexities.
2. You’re speaking more than you’re listening.
Scripture is filled with warnings about opening one’s mouth too often. “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).
Emotionally healthy people are consistently intrigued by the ideas of others and seek to draw them out in exploratory conversations.
Just think about the people you enjoy talking with the most. These people likely give you plenty of space to vent, to get things off your chest, and to sort out your ideas. You probably walk away feeling clear headed and encouraged.
As a pastor, do you leave people better than you found them? God has called you to be a speaker, but don’t assume that every room is waiting for your next words.
More times than not, they need you to hear and care.
3. You’re not fully present with people.
Are you so determined to drive the flock forward that you’ve lost the ability to lie in green pastures?
Resting with the sheep is as important as moving with them. It’s one thing to lead people; it’s another thing to walk alongside them and to sincerely enjoy them.
I think of Paul’s words to his friends in Philippi: “So then, my dearly loved and longed for brothers and sisters, my joy and crown, in this manner stand firm in the Lord, dear friends” (Philippians 4:1).
By the sound of those words, Paul dearly loved the Philippians and truly missed the sharing of meals and the swapping of stories.
Pastor, are you making space for relationships with those you lead? Do they know they’re your joy and your crown? If not, start soon by getting some quality time on the calendar.
4. Your home life suffers.
If you preached a sermon next Sunday on work-life balance, would your spouse affirm the message with a smile, or would she quietly dismiss herself after the introduction?
One of the most exhausting assignments in ministry is to bring your best self to work when you know your home life is lacking. A double life will destroy your emotional balance.
In seasons of heightened stress at home, many pastors overlook the value of Christian counseling.
The body of Christ was built to be interdependent, and sometimes the pastor and his family are the ones who need the help.
Allowing others to minister to you is a sure sign of humility, and every marriage on the planet would be blessed by the spiritual gift of sound counseling.
Skilled counselors rarely tell us outright what to do, but instead, draw out the resentment that naturally grows inside us.
Like a big load of laundry now tossed on the table, these things can be sorted and put away.
Do you and your family need a trained listener, a skilled guide to lead you through a tough season? Swallow your pride and set up the appointment. We all need help sometimes.
5. Your body is giving you clues.
Like Pete said, emotional health is a focus on the whole person. This includes the physical.
Our bodily condition can be a reflection of what’s going on inside us, especially as caution signs like muscle tension, blood pressure, lethargy, and headaches emerge.
In the midst of a global pandemic, many pastors are sitting in front of a screen most of the day, neglecting the needs of their bodies and souls.
In Get Your Life Back, John Eldredge draws attention to our need for drinking in beauty and enjoying the outdoors. We need to escape our routine sometimes and run from our desks:
…beauty rescues. It rescues because it is merciful, comforting. It heals, restores, revives, renews. This is why people in convalescence want to sit in a garden, or by a window overlooking the sea. Research shows that patients recovered faster, needed fewer pain killers, and left the hospital sooner if their windows allowed views of nature.”
As this COVID-19 season continues, enjoy the outdoors more often. Move about. Take a long, meandering walk with your spouse. Go on a prayer walk through your neighborhood. Seek the Healer’s hand in your own heart.
Be kind to yourself—your whole self. Your ministry depends on it.
Ben is the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources.