I was going through my documents file recently when I came across an article I wrote a few years ago about pastors and their health. I submitted it to a few Christian publications hoping to get it published, but none were interested. However, as I read the article I considered the number of pastors who might find it encouraging. Please forward it to your pastor if you feel lead to do so, or you may find it helpful and applicable to you personally. I believe the principles are useful to all of us as laypersons or ministers.
Over the years I have observed my fellow ministers becoming discouraged, disillusioned, and emotionally exhausted. How can we lead our congregations to victorious Christian living when we ourselves are falling apart? Sad to say, but we as ministers are depressed, burnt-out, wore out, in poor health, and quitting the ministry in droves. The numbers of pastors leaving the ministry due to discouragement and depression are hard to determine because so many never admit to suffering from these afflictions. We tend to view being honest about depression and discouragement as ministerial career killers. However, the opposite is true: Failure to admit and then resolve personal issues regarding depression, burnout, and discouragement will eventually wreck our lives and drive us from the ministry. When we take care of ourselves spiritually, physically, and emotionally, we will then be better equipped to minister to our own families and our congregations.
Allow me to share some tips for my fellow pastors and ministers which I have found helpful and have kept me on track over the years.
Maintain a Vibrant Prayer Life. A crucial part of growing in our faith and keeping a vibrant attitude toward life and ministry is the discipline of prayer. This is an essential element in keeping a healthy perspective on life, family, and ministry. We are called to lead by example, and nowhere is this more relevant than in the area of prayer. During a conference I attended a few years ago, Dr. Richard Blackaby told the story of a pastor who had become so discouraged that he left the ministry. Dr. Blackaby asked him how his prayer life had been while he was a pastor. The man replied, “Prayer? I didn’t have time to pray. How could I be expected to find time to pray in the midst of everything else I had to do?” Place prayer at the top of our to-do list, never at the bottom. We can only take our congregations as far spiritually as we have gone ourselves. Make time to pray and we have made time to begin walking forward in daily spiritual victory.
- Start getting up earlier every day for the purpose of prayer.
- Resolve to begin the day with a period of prayer rather than the morning news.
- After a devoted time of prayer, open the Scriptures and allow God’s Word to speak to your heart – not for planning a sermon, but rather for your own spiritual edification.
- Make up your mind that from this day forward you will make prayer a top priority. You will begin to see immediate and powerful results.
Maintain a Proper Diet. Being overweight can lead to an assortment of health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, poor self-esteem, and overall lethargy. Regardless of your physical condition, a consultation with your family doctor about how to get in shape is always a good idea. This consultation can also be an opportunity to discuss starting an exercise program or how to manage depression.
Healthy eating habits begin with the first meal of the day.
- Say goodbye to doughnuts and pastries in the morning and try some oatmeal, grapefruit, whole-wheat toast, or yogurt and granola. Replace cookies, cake, pie, and ice cream with healthy snacks such as raisons, celery sticks, carrots sticks, and fresh fruits.
- Try eliminating all sugar from your diet for 6 months. What?! Yes, you read that correctly. Cut all sugar from your diet and you will lose weight.
- Stick with healthy foods such as fruits, green leafy vegetables, and various meats – without the bread.
There are a gazillion books on the market which are great resources for healthy eating, but I dare say you are smart enough to figure this out for yourself. Eat less and eat smart – that’s the key.
Maintain an Exercise Program. For many reading this, regular exercise will seem something along the lines of climbing Mount Everest. However, your exercise program does not have to be anything fancy. Four years ago, I began a new exercise program and I am yet to join a health club or buy expensive exercise equipment. Every morning I spend around 20-30 minutes doing basic calisthenics: jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, and stretching exercises. Then, if my schedule permits, I snap the leash on my dogs and we take a brisk walk. All of this can begin before your daily schedule revs up in earnest. You will then face the day with new energy, confidence, and well-being.
Maintain Some Unique Interests. As ministers of the gospel, we give extensively of ourselves to those around us. Set aside time to pursue an engaging pursuit that will facilitate relaxation and lowering of stress levels. Take up a new hobby, learn to play an instrument, learn a foreign language, take a culinary arts class, begin keeping a journal or online blog, or sit down and actually begin writing the book you have long dreamed of. Treat yourself to the occasional cup of gourmet coffee with a bran muffin (fat-free, of course!). The possibilities are endless.
Christ has called us to go into all the world and be His witnesses (Matthew 28:19, Acts 1:8). We are better equipped to our calling when we take steps toward maintaining healthy lifestyles. The Lord has empowered us, our families need us, and the church and community are looking to us for leadership. Rise up, get going, and get started. The time is now.