Ministry Comes With Emotional Trials
Vocational ministry is rewarding and joy-filled. As a pastor, you will see people baptized, hearts excited about the Word of God, repentance, obedience, love, forgiveness, sacrifice, risking with the gospel, delight in God, discipleship of all kinds, and people using their gifts in the local church.
At the same time, if you are planting or revitalizing a church, it is extremely difficult work and one of the toughest things you can do. You are fighting a war that will have wounds, sometimes even from friends. And the reality is that no matter how others may try to prepare you, you will not fully understand until you walk through the trials yourself.
I have been in vocational ministry for 20 years, and could not have anticipated the good I would see and experience, nor the trauma. Though “normal” in ministry, this can break you down and exhaust you. You may at times feel like Job when he said, “When I say, my bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint, then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath” (Job 7:13-16).
You may resonate with the Apostle Paul when he said, “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapon of righteousness for the right hand and for the left: through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (1 Corinthians 6:4-10).
Paul also encouraged us in our ministries when he said, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:5).
And hear the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11).
The reward is great but the trials are real. So the question becomes, how do you stay emotionally healthy in your life of ministry?
How You Survive The Emotional Challenges of Ministry
The key to survive such trials is to learn the discipline of fostering emotional health by rest and refreshment. Most church planters (myself included) work hard, are driven by achievement, and are tempted to not rest well. Rooted in that is a lack of trust in the One who gives rest. Instead of prayer and rest, we think we can plan, strategize, and figure this out with the power our minds and the determination of our grit. In doing so, we rely on the flesh and not on God.
An incredibly important aspect of making it through such trials is certainly your faith, and also having the maturity to rest. If you don’t, you will get by for a while but eventually you will be beat down, physically unhealthy, emotionally unhealthy and the work in which you are laboring will become a curse.
How are we to stay emotionally healthy and refreshed through such things?
How to Stay Emotionally Healthy
Develop Relationships with Partners in Ministry
I’m getting to know the pastors in my city, which is surely a help, but my favorite partners in ministry are my Acts 29 brothers.
When joining Acts 29 I knew that I was joining an organization that I was aligned with theologically, philosophically, and missionally. But I did not anticipate how helpful membership in Acts 29 US West would be to my emotional health.
I have never been a part of a ministry organization that cares about the health of their pastors in the way that Acts 29 does. The Acts 29 assessment process is one way they show care; my assessment actually required that I receive counseling and coaching. In that helpful time, a glaring issue arose: I needed rest — personal, family, and daily rest.
This partnership has brought me to conferences and monthly gatherings with Acts 29 US West churches in my region that contribute to my rest and refreshment. Money can be tight when planting a church, and when I couldn’t afford to attend my first Acts 29 US West Conference, another pastor in the network that made sure I had a hotel room and a ticket to the event. That generosity gave me rest.
When I was dealing with some extremely difficult issues resulting from a church merge that I had done, I didn’t plan to attend our area’s gathering of Acts 29 US West pastors because I felt that I was too entrenched in the heat of battle. But my Area Lead reminded me that those are the times you need brothers the most, and encouraged me to attend. During the gathering, they took significant time to pray for me.
Pastoral friendships and ministry partnerships like these provide men you can link arms with and walk your ministry life with, which is very helpful to your emotional health.
Ask Yourself The Right Questions
Did I rest today?
You should have a block of time each day when you are not working, not on technology, and present with family.
When will I rest this week?
Ensure that you have a designated day off each week. Though this day may change throughout your ministry life, the habit is very important.
What extra day will I take this month?
Set aside one day every month to rest, fast, pray, and dream in solitude. Allow your soul to be still and know your God.
What is my vacation plan for my family?
Even when money is tight, it is important to find a way to get away with your family. There are many ways to do vacations without spending much money!
What disciplines will I do this week?
When will I fast? When will I pray? When will I be still before the Lord? As mentioned above, taking a day for these sort of things each month is important, but it is not enough; look to incorporate some of these disciplines into your life throughout each week!
Monitor and Do Something About Your Physical Health
One of the more difficult things for me to work on is my personal health, which can be closely connected to emotional health. Pay attention to how you manage your physical body for the sake of the kingdom work you have before you.
You may have just had the best week of your life. But, some fiery arrow is likely coming. Satan may ask to sift you like sand, and you may at times feel defeated. But, are you emotionally healthy enough to face upcoming ministry challenges head on?