“The greatest gift you can give your church is to be a healthy pastor.”
Those were the life-changing words a dear friend and professional counselor said to me during a particularly stressful period of my life and ministry. The rigors of full-time pastoring and its inevitable crises were taking a toll on me emotionally. Furthermore, I was forty pounds overweight and living largely on fast food and caffeine. And my spiritual life? Well… I had allowed the work of the Lord to overshadow the Lord of the work.
Without spouting statistics, let’s just say that ministry can be hazardous to your health. The To-Do list is never completed. There is always another sermon to write, call to make, person to counsel, etc. It becomes all-consuming, unless we intentionally and consistently back away to take care of ourselves and allow the Lord to minister to us.
For many of us, this simply means discipling ourselves to have a quiet time. Pray more. Read more. And that is absolutely vital; we must be spiritually well-nourished to effectively minister to others.
But here is the catch:
We cannot be spiritually healthy without also pursuing emotional and physical health.
God created us as spirit, soul, and body. We often make the mistake, however, of assuming that these are separate and compartmentalized. They are not. Each aspect of our triune nature is interwoven with the other two. When we are unhealthy physically, it affects our emotional and spiritual health. Likewise, when we are emotionally unhealthy, our body and spirit also suffer.
So, to fulfill God’s calling and purpose for us long term, we must take care to pursue health holistically. This means:
We must take care of our bodies.
Like most evangelical and Pentecostal ministers, I have preached that we should stay away from alcohol, nicotine, and any drug or other substance that harms our bodies or creates a dependence. Of course, after delivering some of these messages, I would go to a fast food restaurant and inhale soft drinks and cheeseburgers like there was no tomorrow!
When I made a decision to lose weight and get healthy in 2009, I knew I would feel better once the weight came off, but I had no idea HOW MUCH better I would feel! I woke up in the mornings refreshed and full of energy. I was able to focus clearly on my tasks. I did not experience the “afternoon slump,” and I did not need caffeine to keep me going all day. Furthermore, I was able to deal with stress much more effectively.
Sadly, in recent years I have allowed myself to drift back into old habits. I’ve regained about 15 pounds, and I’ve lost much of the stamina and strength I had developed. The good news, however, is that I did it once, and I know that I can do it again! So I’ve hired an amazing physical trainer, started eating healthy once again, and, with God’s grace and a lot of sweat, I will set an example in my physical health.
We must protect our mental and emotional well-being.
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of moral failures and even suicides among pastors and other ministers. Some would cynically assume such ministers were never right with God in the first place and are simply deceivers attempting to build their own kingdom. In truth, however, most of these are sincere leaders who lose their way because they are completely spent emotionally and mentally.
It can happen to any of us. First Corinthians 10:12 tells us, “…if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (NIV). When we are emotionally spent, we make poor decisions. When we are hurting, we wrestle with temptations that we normally would never consider, simply to escape the pain, even if only temporarily.
That is why it is absolutely vital that ministers take sabbath days. Someone once told me, “Well, the devil doesn’t take a day off, so why should I?” I responded, “The devil isn’t your role model!” Jesus took time to rest, and my friend, we are no better than He.
An emotionally and physically healthy minister can run and finish the race well.
When I was a teenager, I could actually run pretty fast. I thought I could run cross-country easily. I quickly discovered that I did not have the ability to endure over distance. I would burn up my energy by running too fast in the beginning. Only when I paced myself could I endure.
So it is with ministry. The race we are called to run is a marathon, not a sprint. If we push too hard out of the gate, we will not have the ability to maintain over the long road ahead.
I want to finish well. That is why I have created this blog. Let’s take a journey toward total health together, so that we will be FIT TO SERVE in the Lord’s kingdom and finish our race well.
Copyright: paktaotik2 / 123RF Stock Photo