How Ministers Can Stay Mentally Healthy
Just as our bodies are imperfect, our emotions and spirits are imperfect too, and we sometimes reach our breaking point. We live in a fallen world, no longer perfect as it was originally created. No one is immune to spiritual anguish; not even a minister.
DON'T STOP READING! You might think this post does not apply to you because you are not a minister. However, though I am speaking from a formal ministerial role in a local church, every person has the responsibility to take on the role of a minister. In fact, the original language for minister (diakonos) can also be translated as servant. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are all called to take on the role of a diakonos. We are called to "use whatever gift [we] have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms" (1 Peter 4:10).
So again, though I might be speaking from a formal ministerial role, these are truths that apply to all servants of God's Kingdom. And as ministers, we must stay on top of our mental and spiritual health. For that reason, I have put together 5 simple things that ministers can begin doing today that will improve their mental health.
- Respect the Sabbath. Take a break every once in awhile! To be exact, once a week. Separate yourself from your regular routine, from your phone and laptop, and maybe even from your family if needed. Now keep in mind, there is a difference between leisure and taking the sabbath. I have heard many who consider the Sabbath as a burden more than anything else. Many professing Christians enjoy sports and television and secular books and magazines and recreation and hobbies and games far more than they enjoy direct interaction with God. The sabbath is designed to put the pleasures of the world aside and to meditate and be still with God. As a minister, respecting the sabbath allows you to fill your spiritual cup and reconnect yourself to your God given purpose.
- Learn to smile and more importantly learn to cry. That is an abstract way of saying that your emotions matter and often speak louder than anything you have to say. Joy is contagious and should be lived out and shared through a smile. People you interact with need to know that you are a positive leader who is leading them down a positive path. However, ministers must be careful not to give off this distorted notion that they have life completely figured out. Though joy is an important aspect of leadership, it is not the only way to lead and serve. Ministers, as fellow humans-beings, must take part in the wrestlings with God that make up the human experience. Ministers have hearts that are broken, spirits that are crushed, and questions that go unanswered as well. Though there are inappropriate ways leaders can express these emotions, it is crucial that they find avenues to share their emotions with others.
- Begin viewing people as souls. Whenever I began believing this, my entire perspective of servanthood shifted. What fills me with satisfaction as a minister is knowing that I am serving other souls that have just as much depth, complexity and beauty as my own. God did not design us to be independent creatures. We were designed by the blueprint of God's nature to live in community with others. We struggle together. We serve together. We live together. By viewing people as more than the profiles built for them based off of assumptions, experiences, or gossip, I am able to serve them more effectively.
- Properly manage your life. It is easy to be sucked under the dark vacuum of pain and suffering the world's sinful nature creates. Many attempt to not only carry their burdens, but also the burdens of others. Personally I struggle with this, but have learned that saying "no" can be just as effective as saying "yes." We each have to decide where we invest our time, energy and resources because we have a limited supply of each. Adopting the metaphor from Wayne Corderio in his book, Leading on Empty, if we pour more into others than we do to ourselves, our "gas tank" will eventually run empty and we will have nothing left to offer. Ministers must be responsible of how they manage their life.
- Focus more on your own transforming self. The language of this final step is borrowed from Jim Martin's blog, godhungry.org. If you allow yourself to be bent and shaped by the awe-inspiring, all-loving Christ, then you are going to be the best that you can offer to others. So often we get bogged down in trying to please and meet the standards of people. We pour our energy into ensuring our "followers" are being transformed by the gospel, that we lose grip of our personal transformation. The greatest gift you have to offer is the best you. Save yourself from the weight of expectations you live under and begin living out your own journey.
Ministers are servants. We give and give and give with no strings attached. Short-term this is exhilarating and is a self-propelling wheel that keeps our passion alive. However, without the proper healthy habits built into our lives, many ministers experience burnout. We allow our outtake to outpour our intake which results in us running on empty and burning our engine.
Mental health is a crucial facet of our effectiveness. It is time that minister take control of their lives once more and practice healthy mental habits to ensure their longevity in doing God's work.