I recently had a conversation with another pastor about how difficult it is to stay emotionally healthy in ministry. I have had this discussion dozens upon dozens of times over the years, as I suspect you probably have too.
This year will mark my 34th year of ministry. Over the past three and a half decades, I have experienced a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I have had moments of incredible clarity with a lot of wind in my sails and other times I have struggled to hear from God, wondering how much longer I will do “pastoral ministry”. My wife Linne and I have built incredible friendships, but we have also been betrayed by people we loved and trusted.
Ministry is hard, and it is important!
I would like to share with you a few things that have helped me stay healthy along the way…
Never letting Jesus become the job
First and foremost, find ways to stay in love with Jesus. Write songs, write poetry, worship, study. Jesus isn’t supposed to be your job; he is supposed to be your friend, your savior, and your first love.
Remember Jesus is a real person, not a religious position. We can not give something we do not have.
Cultivating a solid home life
My wife and I met and started dating when we were in middle school. While I love the church, it doesn’t compare to the love I have for my wife and family. Do not miss cultivating a solid home life. Build your family and let the Lord build the church.
In our family we have a simple rule we use to help guide us: “Never treat anyone better than you treat your own family.” We work hard to give our family our best, not our leftovers
Participating in a pastoral life group
I believe for a pastor to stay in ministry long term, they must have people they can confide in and do life with. 14 years ago, me and three other pastors decided to start a life group. This group has been a life-saver for me. We have three rules:
- Show up consistently
- Be honest
- Don’t share what gets shared in the group.
Over the years, we have walked through marriage and family issues, struggles with addictions, as well as the challenges of ministry and leading staff.
Getting a hobby and doing it regularly
I spend a lot of time doing hobbies, like riding bikes, fishing, camping, four wheeling, skiing, and hanging out with friends. I am a true believer that hobbies help keep life in perspective.
I have found that many pastors only do the things they love a few times a year, when they schedule a vacation. I find it much more helpful when your hobbies become a normal part of your everyday life. One of the practical challenges I give pastors is to try to find things you love to do and be able to access them within twenty minutes of your front door.
Doing ministry that breaks the mold of Sunday
Preaching to the same people week in and week out can become monotonous. You must find ways to engage non-believers. You must preach the gospel to people outside of your church.
We try hard to create a lot of easily accessible environments to connect with people who do not go to church. One of my favorites is an event we call Vineyard @ the Vineyard. I invite a local winery to come and serve wine and a musician to come and play music. It creates a great environment for people to connect with people who know Jesus, while doing something that doesn’t feel like church.
May the Lord bless you in your journey towards emotional health.
About the Author
Paul Watson is the founding pastor of the Downtown Vineyard in Grand Junction, CO. He and his wife started attending the Vineyard in Denver as a young married couple. They hadn’t been following Jesus for long, and thought they had too much baggage to be leaders. But they were recruited to help with the youth group anyway, telling them that,”in the Vineyard, everyone gets to play!” Volunteering led to a staff position where they served as leaders for many years. Then, they left to plant the Downtown Vineyard. Paul is also a coach with Multiply Vineyard.
Becoming A Healthy Church Planter
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