By Jesse Masson
Attending to our mental health is essential to overall well-being. Unfortunately, there is still somewhat of a silent stigma around mental illness and the need for treatment among Christians—and especially among church leaders.
As I have sat with ministry workers and church staff in my office at various points in time, I hear common objections and concerns of therapy as indicating one’s inability to handle their ministry tasks, being inadequate or incapable, seeing mental health as a “sin” issue, or simply not trusting Jesus sufficiently. This would make sense if we were in control of what thoughts and feelings we have on any given day. But that would be the equivalent of choosing the physical pain level we subscribe to when getting into a car accident.Our holistic health contains aspects—physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional health—that God created in us and are, thus, worthy of our care. — @JesseMasson Click To Tweet
So instead of protesting the “rights and wrongs” of counseling, let’s start from a point of agreement that our holistic health contains aspects—physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional health—that God created in us and are, thus, worthy of our care. This means we must be able to understand factors that take away from our health, how to care for our mental and emotional health, and finally how to be aware of symptoms that indicate our need for care.
Helping Others Takes a Toll
It is inevitable that as soon as you step into a role of service or ministry, you will be a target for other people needing support, help, guidance, a listening ear, or even counseling for their heartaches. This has the potential to suck your energy along with your time. It’s not that you don’t care about others, but you realize the clock only allows so much time to give out in a day.Whatever is allowed to take up your time is denying the attention to something else. Helping others will take a toll on your own well-being. Click To Tweet
In the bestselling book Boundaries, Christian counselors Henry Cloud and John Townsend concisely remind the reader that whatever is allowed to take up your time is really denying the attention to something else. So, priorities are really important to understand and care for. Sometimes that means a person must choose where the time and attention is most needed and willing to be given. In other words, helping others will take a toll on your own well-being.
Getting Help for Mental Health Is Not a Weakness
Does your need for mental health discredit your leadership? Does this make you a bad leader? No, it actually confirms your humanity—just the way God designed you. Did you know your limited-ness is actually a good thing?Limitations actually point you in the direction of the One who can help and the Savior Jesus Christ, who knows how to navigate troubling storms of the holistic self. — @JesseMasson Click To Tweet
In the Bible, Jesus often exemplified self-care by retreating to renew and refresh Himself in prayer and rest from others. Indeed, limitations actually point you in the direction of the One who can help and the Savior Jesus Christ, who knows how to navigate troubling storms of the holistic self. It is truly by design that limitations are in place, and there is an appropriate response when feeling anguish. So why would anyone think they are without limits or that limitations are a mark of poor leadership?
Assessing Mental and Emotional Health
I firmly believe that one’s ability to recognize a need or limitation in oneself, is a healthy quality that far too few leaders possess. Too often, I see leaders trying to play the role of Superman or Wonder Woman, believing that the world rests on his or her shoulders alone. This actually causes burnout in oneself and sets a poor leadership example for others to follow. If this is the precedent, then your ministry is set up for failure and over-burdened souls, which you will not be able to maintain.If you set the precedent that everything rests on your shoulders alone, your ministry is set up for failure and over-burdened souls. — @JesseMasson Click To Tweet
Instead, humble leadership understands the need for self-care and the practice of highlighting that for the longevity of health in oneself, others, and ministry. The counterpoint to this is someone who believes he or she is the only capable person for bringing about good (i.e., a savior’s complex). So, lead well, and show your strength to stay within your limitations and know when you need help beyond your capabilities.
Here are a few signs to consider that you or the ministry you care about is struggling:
1. You no longer enjoy the tasks or dynamics that previously brought you joy or were energizing.
2. Your other priorities are not being cared for well (e.g., family, friends, personal goals, etc.)
3. People around you act reserved or unengaged (could be you are perceived as too stressed and not as approachable).
4. Praying “harder” hasn’t relieved the symptoms. (God cares but is not a genie to grant your wishes.) God does allow others in your community to help you (i.e., professional therapists), just like a dentist or doctor would be sought out when seeking physical care.
5. Are there symptoms of feeling restless or helpless? It may be an indicator that you need help navigating your feelings more than you would like to admit.God requires you to be a good steward of what He gives you, which includes your own life and health. — @JesseMasson Click To Tweet
God requires you to be a good steward of what He gives you, which includes your own life and health. Counseling is a valid form of self-care, and seeing a counselor is a priority for improved health. It is a subtle strength that allows vulnerability.
As I like to remind my clients, we are only as vulnerable to the degree we are courageous. Be courageous enough to be vulnerable: invest in your ministry by seeking mental and emotional health counseling.
Jesse lives in Kansas City with his wife, Julie, and their three children. In 2020, he started Connected Counseling LLC, a Christian counseling practice that offers professional in-office and teletherapy sessions.