Pastor, how are you doing? If you’re like me, when people ask how you’re doing, you have a ready-made, default answer along the lines of, “Pretty good…just hanging in there.” But how are you really doing? How are you feeling physically? How are you doing mentally and emotionally? What about your spiritual health? How long has it been since you assessed how healthy you are?
Pastoral ministry is a blessing and can be rewarding, but it’s not always easy. We are always on call. People are constantly in need of our attention. We have to be prepared at any given moment to lead funeral services, counsel the brokenhearted, or preach the Word. Our minds never really get a break as we spend our days thinking through our sermons, dreaming about the future, and interceding for our congregation. Pastoring is often physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. Knowing the demands of ministry, we cannot afford to ignore the ways ministry taxes our bodies and minds. We must guard our health.
Warnings About Your Health
If you want to remain effective in ministry for years to come, you cannot underestimate the importance of your health. The ministries of many pastors have been derailed because they ignored their health. Here are two important warnings I believe pastors should consider:
First, focus on all aspects of your health. I want you to picture a square table. As long as all four legs are the same length and strength, you can put a considerable amount of weight on any corner, and the table will stand strong. But if one of the legs is half the length of the others, the table will topple over as soon as enough weight is applied to the compromised corner. Likewise, we are only as healthy as our weakest leg. Think of our overall health as a table with four legs: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
We may naturally pay more attention to our physical and spiritual health, but if our emotional or mental health is weak, our overall health is weak. In fact, when we struggle with one aspect of our health, it often affects all parts of our health over time. If you and I want to be effective in ministry for many years, we need to pay attention to all aspects of our health.
Second, don’t be afraid to slow down, rest, and seek help when necessary. As pastors, we know the weightiness of the ministry entrusted to us. We understand that God has set us apart for the shepherding of His people, a people we will one day have to give an account for before God. Wanting to be faithful to our calling, we sometimes sacrifice our health on the altar of ministry. We labor for the Lord and pour ourselves out for others until there is nothing left in us. But what good are we to our congregation if we neglect our health and reach the point where we are forced to step away from ministry for years, maybe even for good?
Whether we are going through a peaceful or exhausting season of ministry, we need to find opportunities to slow down, rest, and seek the help of others. As many have said before, ministry is not a sprint but a marathon. Your goal in ministry is to remain faithful and finish strong, not to burn yourself out. Make sure to keep a close eye on your health so that you are able to recognize when you need to change pace, take a break, or seek help.
Practical Ways We Can Maintain Good Health
With these two warnings in mind, I want to offer three practical ways every pastor can oversee their health.
Pay Attention to Warning Signs. Our cars come with dashboard warning lights for a reason: to let us know when something needs our attention before it’s too late. Similarly, as pastors, we need to look out for warning signs that indicate one or more aspects of our health needs our attention. Whether we are under conviction for sinfulness, begin to feel overwhelmed, or sense the early stages of depression, we need to address any warning signs that pop up in our life.
Seek Accountability. Everyone has blind spots, even pastors. Plus, we are not always honest with ourselves about how healthy we are. We need people who are close enough to us to recognize something is off and loving enough to point it out to us. If you have a wife, she is likely one of the first who will recognize when some part of your health is not where it needs to be. Fellow pastors, trusted friends, and those we have discipleship relationships with are also in positions to keep us accountable.
Invest in Yourself. What restores you, gives you energy, and allows you to let off steam? For some, it’s reading or writing. For others, it’s going to the movies, playing golf, or exercising. For me, it’s hiking. Hiking allows me to exercise, take in God’s beautiful creation, pray for what is on my heart. It’s my go-to way of investing in my health. Every time we carry out the responsibilities of pastoral ministry, we are giving something of ourselves. Some duties require little of us and some a lot. But if we want to be effective for the long haul, we need to invest in ourselves by participating in something that restores us. Make sure you set aside time regularly to invest in your health so that you can continue investing in others.
It’s never too late for us to become better stewards of our body and mind. Overseeing our health is a never-ending responsibility, but it’s a worthy investment considering the calling upon our lives.