It seems like every other week that a prominent Christian leader quits, is fired or lands in the news because of some sort of scandal.
I don’t know about you, but I find these stories demoralizing because each story tarnishes the reputation of Jesus and His Church in our culture.
These stories are also scary because I find myself thinking,
Can anyone do this? Can anyone lead in the spotlight without failing?
The truth is that hundreds, probably thousands, of church leaders and pastors serve and lead faithfully for years, even decades without a major failing.
We just don’t hear about them in the news.
Unfortunately, they usually aren’t the ones who get a national platform for speaking and writing. However, they are the ones we need to be listening to.
I would argue that each of us who lead in the church need a handful of mentors who are doing it right, and by that I mean, faithfully and steadily serving in the right ways.
These are the people we need to be listening to and modeling leadership after if we want to stay healthy in ministry.
What I want to share with you in this post is a summary of the ideas I’ve picked up from hanging out with faithful church leaders.
I think it comes down to watching the gauges in your life.
Imagine driving a car. There are gauges in the dashboard that keep you aware of how things are going with the car – how much fuel you have, the temperature of the engine, oil pressure and if you drive a new vehicle, probably even the air pressure in your tires.
All these gauges keep us aware and let us know if any trouble is coming.
I’ve come to believe that staying healthy in ministry often comes down to watching a few different gauges.
Here they are:
The first gauge we need to watch is our level of humility.
And by this I mean our openness to the idea that we are still capable of doing something really dumb.
One of my mentors calls this,
A healthy awareness of our own depravity.
It’s when we hear of someone else making a bad decision, having the humility to admit,
I am capable of that.
I’m convinced that we are most vulnerable to making a choice that could devastate our career and our church when we stop believing we are vulnerable.
This moral hubris can lead to real trouble in our lives.
If we want to stay healthy in ministry, we need to stay humble about our propensity to choose what is wrong.
The second gauge we need to watch is accountability.
I don’t know about you but I’ve found that it’s really difficult for me to make destructive choices when I know that a group of people are going to ask me about my choices on Friday morning.
Maybe it’s that I hate losing or disappointing people or that I’m a terrible liar.
I don’t know but it works. Accountability really works.
When I think about unhealthy seasons in my life, without fail, I had removed myself from accountability relationships.
I’ve come to believe that you have to be crazy to attempt long-term ministry without accountability.
If we want to stay healthy in ministry, we need people in our lives who are not enamored with our skills and gifts, who are willing to ask us the hard questions about life.
The third gauge we need to watch is the rest gauge.
I firmly believe that pastors and church leaders don’t make disastrous decisions because they are horrible people.
Pastors and church leaders make disastrous decisions because they are tired. They are emotionally depleted.
So, an important question for all of us:
When are you resting? When is your Sabbath?
Recently, a mentor in my life clarified a few things for me about Sabbath rest.
Here’s what he said:
You may not feel the positive effects of Sabbath rest but you WILL feel the negative effects of not.
Also, if you rest once, you probably won’t experience dramatic impact. The real measure of Sabbath rest is a year from now. The difference in after a year of resting properly vs. a year of not resting properly is dramatic.
If we want to stay healthy in ministry, we need rest and Sabbath.
Where is this built into your schedule?
A fourth gauge we need to keep an eye on is our faith. And by that I mean our relationship with God.
Something that my senior pastor often says is this:
The greatest gift I bring to this church is not my teaching gift. It’s a heart that is alive to God.
I don’t know about you, but for me, it is so easy for ministry to become spiritual tasks without a spiritual connection with God.
It happens when message prep becomes quiet time, when prayer time becomes praying as a staff.
It’s so easy for the lines to become blurred and then the next thing you know there just isn’t much substance to your own personal relationship with God.
I constantly need to hear how important my personal connection with God is and I’m guessing you do as well.
If we want to stay healthy in ministry, we must create time and space to connect with our creator because the greatest gift we bring to our churches is our own vibrant relationship with God.
The last gauge that I want to bring up has to do with our core needs.
By this, I mean that empty space that each of us feels in our hearts.
For some of us it might be the need for affirmation.
For others it might be achievement or belonging.
For some it could be the longing to be esteemed or seen.
Each of us has core needs that have to do with our wiring and experiences.
For me, it is being seen and affirmed. I believe these needs are hardwired in me.
They aren’t even necessarily sinful, they just are. However, how I seek these needs definitely can become sinful.
Something a mentor said to me yesterday might be helpful here.
The motivations that get us into ministry are legit…
For me, this would be the affirmation and praise I received from leaders, parents and friends about my leadership and speaking.
…but these motivations cannot sustain you in ministry.
What my mentor was saying is that God uses certain motivations to get us into ministry and they are a good thing, but if we continue to rely on these we will not be able to stay healthy in ministry.
The encouragement, praise and affirmation I received after preaching as a teenager and young adult propelled me into ministry but if that encouragement, praise and affirmation continue to be what I seek, I will quickly find myself in trouble in ministry.
Here’s the thing: I can’t get rid of my core needs and neither can you.
The goal isn’t to rid ourselves of our deepest longings. It is, however, our goal to see these needs met in appropriate and proper ways.
The primary way, of course, is through our relationship with God.
I am beginning to understand what it means to be seen and affirmed by my Creator as I express the leadership and preaching gifts He has given me.
So, here’s an important question: what are your core needs?
What motivates your behavior? Are you aware of them?
Are you aware of how your wiring and experiences shape your thoughts, emotions and actions?
And, let’s take this one step further…How and where are you meeting these needs?
This is a crucial question for those of us in leadership in the church.
If we want to stay helpful in ministry, it’s important for us to understand our own core needs and to meet those needs in appropriate and healthy ways.
Well, there you go, five gauges to watch if you want to stay healthy in ministry.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic.
How do you stay healthy? Feel free to share in the comments below.