How to Pursue Mental Health as a Ministry Leader

Posted by Aaron Buer on August 5, 2021

My family has been watching a lot of the Olympic games.

We’ve been staying up late, eating too many snacks, and binging as much of the games as possible.  

One of my daughters was a gymnast so we’re especially focused on the gymnastics competitions.

Arguably, the biggest news of the games has been Simone Biles dropping out of some competitions, which started a flurry of conversations on social media about mental health.  

This has led me to think a lot about pressure, stress, and mental health in ministry.

I’ve never had a case of the “twisties” as gymnasts call it but I’ve definitely felt the pressure to perform, hold it all together, be strong, be an expert in the scriptures, and never make a mistake.  

Here’s the deal: whether you lead a small ministry of 15 students, a church of 300 people, or a mega church of thousands, leadership comes with stress, pressure, and high expectations.

And, many in ministry are not faring well right now. Maybe that’s you.

As we head into this fall ministry season, which is often the busiest season of the year for churches, my hope is all of us will pursue mental and emotional health.

Let’s talk about how we can do so for ourselves and encourage the same for our church staff and volunteers.

Take a Sabbath

The cornerstone of mental health is rest. You are not a robot.

God had to teach this lesson to his newly rescued people after the Exodus.

The Israelites were former slaves.

They thought of themselves as machines.

And so, God commanded sabbath rest. I think they needed that command.  

I fear many of us act as if we are slaves to our ministries. We’re not!

We cannot maintain that type of pace, or we will crash and it will be ugly for ourselves, our families, and our ministries.  

You need a day of rest and by day of rest, I don’t mean the day where you mow the lawn and do all the work around the house.

Setting down your church to-do list and picking up your home to-do list is not Sabbath.

Sabbath is putting down your to-do list and choosing restorative activities.

What I’ve learned throughout my ministry career is that sabbath is not optional.

If you treat it as optional, there will be consequences.

So, before we hit the fall ministry season, what day will be your sabbath? Friday? Saturday? Monday? Pick one.

Make sure everyone knows, and build a wall around it…with a moat…and a dragon.

You need this.  

The foundational piece of mental and emotional health is sabbath rest.

God commanded it. God modeled it. We need to embrace it. 

Schedule Vacation

Here’s the scenario: I work really hard over a series of weeks and then I’m tired.

Then, I say, “Wow! I need a vacation.”

But, I can’t take a vacation because I’m involved in 20 different projects and I have five kids.  

This is my problem. I did this to myself. Why? I didn’t plan ahead.

You will need time off this year, beyond just a weekly sabbath.

However, you will not take the needed time off unless you schedule the time off.

Here’s my challenge: Sit down with your calendar for the next year.

Schedule vacation time now. Request the time off from work. Ask your mother-in-law to stay with your kids. Book the trip. Buy the tickets. Schedule the dog-sitter.

The way to ensure you get enough rest over the next year is to schedule it now.

If you wait until you need it, you’ll never get it.  

If you want to maintain mental and emotional health over the next year, schedule vacation time in advance.

Build Friendships

Emotionally healthy people have deep friendships.

It’s kind of a requirement.

Especially in ministry, we need safe relationships where we can be authentic, where we can be vulnerable, and where we can vent.

Without friendships like this, you will be in trouble as ministry leaders.

So, who are your people? Who knows what you’re struggling with? Who knows what you’re afraid of? Who calls you when they are worried about you?  

If you don’t have friendships like this, my challenge is to pursue at least three people this year who could become this kind of friend. 

And how do you do that?

Choose a couple of people who you want to become closer with.

Then, start acting like the kind of friend you need.

Check-in on them. Pray for them. Text them weekly to encourage them. Ask them if they are interested in hanging out a little more often.

If they reciprocate, you are on your way.

If they don’t reciprocate, try someone else. 

My point is, you need deep friendships to thrive in ministry and you should not just passively wait for friendships to show up at your doorstep.

Pursue them. Build them. Lead the way.

Pursue Jesus

This one probably feels obvious, but here’s the thing, the greatest gift you can offer your church is not your preaching gift, your leadership gift, or even your wisdom gift.

The greatest gift you can offer your church is a thriving relationship with Jesus.  

We were created for a relationship with our creator and we need a strong connection with him to be fully mentally and emotionally healthy.

In addition, your church needs you to model this relationship for them.  

Let’s be honestit’s so easy in ministry to let our relationship with Jesus slip.

We get busy doing the work of ministry and it feels like spiritual work and then the next thing you know, you haven’t actually read the Bible for connection with God in weeks.

Let’s make pursuing Jesus a priority.

Let’s remember that pursuing Him is the most important thing we can do.

Let’s model pursuing Jesus for our congregations.

Wrap Up

I pray these four tips help you intentionally pursue mental and emotional health as a ministry leader.

If you have other tips you’ve found to be helpful in your own pursuit of mental health, we’d love to hear them.

Please feel free to share them in the comments.

Topics: Advice

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