Pastors are epidemically unhealthy. I know, I was one. I’m still a pastor, just not unhealthy anymore. So, I know how easy it is to get to a point of health that leaves you tired, fat, and sick; totally unintended. I also know how hard it can be to adjust things enough to ratify our lifestyles enough to improve or fix them. Most church congregations are pleased with sermon eloquence than they are over the total health of their pastor. “Hey, as long as he’s preaching good sermons…”
As pastors, we live high pressured lives. We feel like we have to be on our game 100% of the time. When we’re not 100%, we’ll fake it ‘till we make it. We are pressured to visit every member for every reason their in the hospital. We’ll feel pressured to say yes to every wedding, every funeral, everyone wanting counseling, and to attend every church event. If we’re not in study in our office, we may be in our vehicle, traveling to visit parishioners’ homes, or to attend some conference. Our eating habits become a routine of McDonald’s drive thru, and feeling the pressure to taste and indulge in every casserole that was lucky enough to make it to the pot luck. Our recovery is depleted by broken sleep. Restless nights, wrestling with thought, phone calls in the middle of the night, followed by early mornings to rise and shine…without the shine.
My people saw my brokenness. I wore is like a heavy coat, though I thought I hid it well. Now for a dose of sobriety. They love you, yet they have no idea how to help you. You’re there spiritual leader, you’re suppose to know these things. Right? Or, face the fact that they’ve never been in your position to know the pressures you feel. Most of them don’t know what;s going on, neither do they know your schedule and activities. You’re still showing up, so all’s good.
What is there to do? Where do you go? How do you survive and heal?
1. Seek an honest spiritual coach.
I went to friend that I trusted and he put me in tough with a man who lived 5 hours away in Memphis. It was a man I’d never met, nor ever even heard of. However he had a love for hurting pastors. it was important that we didn’t know each other. It allowed for blunt, honest, discussion. To be clear, we only ever connected with one another via email. He would ask questions that flat out angered me. He was forcing me to look at myself, and my own sins. He was able to speak so honest that at first, i decided i did not like him, Yet he was one of the greatest blessings. He helped to “reset the broken bones”, so to speak. He was able to say what needed to be said that a friend wouldn’t, perhaps, want to say. The distance was a blessing. He ended up coaching me for several months and provided much needed guidance and healing.
2. Seek a personal trainer
It doesn’t have to be a certified trainer. I’m a certified personal trainer and I can make pretty good money at that. Many pastors can’t afford to hire a professional. I couldn’t either! We had a young man in our church that looked like he was in the cast of 300! Ripped, cut, and chisled to the core. I went to him with a bargain. I asked him to help me learn how to exercise and lose fat and I would disciple him one on one. Our training sessions doubled as discipleship sessions. He took his purpose seriously and he worked with me and I lost 30 lbs in a month! It gave me accountability and direction. He taught me about exercise and performance and helped me to put it into practice.
3. Seek your identity in Christ
The schedule and pressured routines that lead to broken pastors is not the problem, that’s the symptoms. Like me, many pastors lose their true identity. I fell into the trap of believing I was a church planter. It became what I used to “appease” God, or so I thought. What I did and how our church developed and performed became my act of worship and homage to the Lord. I loved what i was doing, but what I was doing was killing myself. I began to re-evaluate myself. “Who am I?” The bible is clear, yet easily forgotten…our identities are in Christ, not our vocations. I am a child of God, and church planting is what I do. I had to kill a golden calf, the idol of work. If you think who you are is a reflection of what you do, you’re unhealthy and will break. Go to the Scriptures and find your identity again.
4. Seek intimacy with Christ
I thought I knew what I needed. For years I needed my church to like me. I needed them to follow me. I needed the community to respect me. I needed high attendance. I needed prominence. I needed to haver all the answers. I was sadly mistaken. And, I was vitally broken when at one time or another I lost or felt like I’d lost each of those needs. As I sought pure intimacy with Christ I found I only needed one thing…Him. Jesus was all I needed and was sufficient in ALL things. My always had “Jesus + something else = everything.” I learned the truth that in reality, it was “Jesus + nothing = everything. My what relief that brought!
5. Say no to the church and yes to yourself.
Its not optional. If they fire you, let them fire you. Does it matter? You’re not there anyway. Your heart is heavy, your stomach is sick, your wife is sorrowed, your life is stressed. This is triage. Stop the bleeding! you have to take time for yourself. You have to find a hobby to enjoy. You have to find a place to go. I began long walks in the woods. I have a cabin remotely located deep in seclusion, surrounded by God’s quiet beauty. I began to see my own retreats there. I took a one month sabbatical to travel, and visit with mentors, just to be fed and poured back in to.
6. Walk out of theology section at the bookstore and head to the nutrition and health section.
I know you know your Bible, and theology is your go to while perusing the book store. How much do you know about your own body and how it works? What do you know about simple nutritional and physical health? I became a self-educated guru on exercise science, nutrition and diet, and physical performance. I had to learn to take care of my temple. I wasn’t taught that stuff in seminary. I ignored it in high school and college! I went to the internet, bought some books and began to see the human body as a splendid creation of God. I learned that by taking care of it naturally, it would take care of me back. My energy, focus, mood, self-confidence, and total well being have just sky rocketed. Educate yourself about yourself. You’re living in the only body you’re ever going to use.
It takes time and patience, but don’t lose hope. Though many are burning out and quitting ministry altogether, you don’t have to be a part of that demographic. It’s all in how you respond to the epidemic that you’re a part of. There are more helps and tips, and plenty of people that are willing to help. You will get to discover the joys of being freed from the pressures, and stresses that have been weighing on you, and feel good in again in your own body…in your ministry.