By Derwin L. Gray
Anyone who is invested in their ministry feels pressure to perform. To grow their reach. To see lives changed. To see communities transformed.
These are all good things. But if not kept in check, these ambitions can start to eat away at our souls.
Leaders, please take care of your soul. Your soul is the totality of your being, it’s who you are. The best thing you can give your families and local church is a wholly, emotionally, and physically healthy you.
When I say wholly what I mean is this. We are whole in Christ and He declares us to be holy. Through the Holy Spirit, we get to grow in this holiness.
Your gift to teach, preach, or lead is important, but your holistic health—like your spiritual, emotional, and family life—is more important.
Don’t lose your family because you’re having an affair with the congregation or pursuing ministry success.
After all, It’s easy for people to love your gift because it blesses them, but they don’t necessarily love you. Make sure you are caring for yourself because if you don’t, no one else will.
The Barna Group in partnership with Pepperdine University conducted an interview of 14,000 pastors across various denominations.
What they discovered is that pastors are not immune to mental health struggles. Half reported suffering from depression. 1 in 5 struggled with addiction, mostly to pornography.
Spiritual warfare is real, but how much of these struggles are because of our own ministry idolatry? We can become so obsessed with our churches and ministries growing fast that we shrink our souls.
Here are some ways we can care for our souls while we fight the temptation to make ministry front and center in our hearts.
1. It is vital that we, by faith, anchor ourselves in the deep and life-giving love of Jesus.
“My lips will glorify you because your faithful love is better than life. So I will bless you as long as I live; at your name, I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:3-4).
Always remember that the love of Jesus is better than life. It’s better than ministry and our church growing fast. Take time to marinate on Ephesians 3:16-19.
God wants to do ministry through you. But don’t let doing ministry destroy the ministry God wants to do in you.
2. It is vital that we, by faith, anchor ourselves in our union life with Christ.
I don’t have to be the lead pastor of Transformation Church to be okay. Being a pastor is not my primary identity. Who I am is a beloved child of Christ. Who I am is because of the Great I Am.
Our ministries don’t define us. “For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One” (Ephesians 1:4-6).
It’s hard to care for your soul when you think you’re the one enhancing your soul. The Father loves Jesus, so he loves us.
3. It is vital that we, by faith, care for our mental and physical health.
Investing in our mental and physical health is an act of worship. When it comes to exercising, do something that’s sustainable that you actually enjoy.
Although I’m a former NFL player, you’d have to pay me a salary in order for me to be involved in CrossFit. That’s not something I’m going to keep up with!
So find something you like that will be beneficial to your physical health. Also, get sleep. One of the most holy things you can do is take a nap.
Jesus already died for the church; you don’t have to. Don’t burn yourself out. White space is good space. Don’t fill in every second of your calendar.
And if you have struggles with mental health go to counseling, go to therapy, and get some biblical spiritual direction. Know your limits, establish your boundaries, and make sure you have accountability.
I want us all to serve in ministry for a long time, but I want us to serve faithfully, healthfully, and beautifully.
DERWIN L. GRAY (DerwinLGray) is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church in the Charlotte, North Carolina area. He is a former NFL safety and is the author of Limitless Life, The HD Leader, and a forthcoming title from B&H, The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches About Finding True Happiness.