“I need to step away from serving.”
These are words you expect to hear from time to time. People serve for seasons, and some seasons are longer than others. But this was coming from a capable and energetic ministry worker, a spiritually solid servant of Christ. Yet what followed was an explanation of emotional decline, frustrating interactions, and strained interpersonal relationships—an explanation that affirmed the decision, though hard, was wise.
If you’re serving in ministry, you have likely been encouraged to prioritize your spiritual health. You may have been exhorted to pay attention to spiritual disciplines that will shape you into the best possible leader, teacher, or minister. All of this is good. The Bible implores us to pay careful attention to ourselves (1 Tim. 4:12–16).
But spiritual vitality is not the only area of health ministry workers need to pursue. Your emotional health is also essential. Below are four traits of emotionally healthy people for you to pursue. If you’re in ministry, each one is worthy of your careful consideration.
1. Adopt an appropriate view of your capacity.
Emotional health begins with embracing your sovereignly ordained limitations. You must avoid the lies that say having limited physical, mental, or emotional bandwidth means failure. Instead, know the value of asking for help and do so regularly. God created you to need him and others. So, lean on the Lord’s strength and allow others to support and assist you (Isa. 40:28–29; 2 Cor. 12:9–10; Gal. 6:2). Rather than pushing through or ignoring personal limits, accept them. Take the necessary time to give your body what it needs: rest, nutrition, hydration, recreation, or stillness. See your limited capacity as part of being human rather than a personal flaw.
Spiritual vitality is not the only area of health ministry workers need to pursue. Your emotional health is also essential.
Are you open to the support and assistance of others when you’ve reached your capacity? Do you decline new or additional requests to serve when you know you haven’t had sufficient time to rest or reset? A wrong understanding of our limitations can lead to service motivated by obligation, resentment, guilt, or even shame. But a healthy view of your capacity can help you see that saying no is at times wiser than saying yes.
2. Avoid obsessing over failures.
Are you able to be disappointed by mistakes but not devastated by them? Do you find yourself rethinking past situations that went wrong? Emotionally healthy ministers understand the importance of forgiveness and fight the temptation to negatively ruminate on what others have done to them. They fight against a defeatist mentality about their own mistakes as well, trusting that God uses all things for his glory and our good.
Dwelling on your mistakes (or the mistakes of others) saps your emotional and spiritual health. When you find yourself replaying mistakes, beating yourselves up, or thinking you’re worthless, instead make the replays your cue to turn to the Lord. Turn the temptation to fixate into a call to prayer. Instead of allowing failures to become all-consuming, seek the Lord’s guidance when things go wrong (Ps. 25:8). He can redeem all your mistakes but sometimes he uses them in constructive ways to lead you to deeper dependence on him. In your failings, the Lord often teaches you more about yourself and his character than in your times of great success.
3. Pursue healthy relationships.
In ministry, much of your work is spent in relational interactions, serving and pouring out your life for others. That’s a good thing. Emotionally healthy people regularly invest in life-giving relationships.
But having healthy relationships is not about the number of friendships you have. Instead, it’s about the depth and quality of your relationships. Do you have relationships where you’re not in the role of caregiver? Is there a balance in your life between pouring into people and being poured into by others? Do you spend regular time with people whose company is refreshing to your soul?
In your failings, the Lord often teaches you more about yourself and his character than in your times of great success.
Your relationships need to be a balance of giving and receiving. In your friendships and ministry relationships, you need a good understanding of what things you’re responsible for and what you’re not. When a person takes on more responsibility than is appropriate, unhealthy relational interactions can manifest.
This was the case for the ministry worker who shared her need to step away from serving. Her life had become consumed with serving others to the point she’d neglected her own needs and it had caught up with her. Ministry workers can too easily fall prey to this because their positions often require greater levels of responsibility for others. This heightened sense of duty may lead you to feel overly responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships both inside and outside the context of your ministry.
4. Find your worth in Christ.
Emotionally healthy people do not depend on others’ approval. Rather, they rest in the knowledge of who they are in Christ. The world sends us endless messages, tempting us to create status for ourselves. But as believers, we can rest in the unshakable identity we have received from God (John 1:12) and weigh others’ opinions with discernment, filtering them through the truth of Scripture.
Are you able to rest in who you are in Christ, or do the opinions of others affect your feelings of worth and contentment? Is your belief in who God says you are evident in your perception of your worth? Christians don’t need to be caught up in a hot pursuit of identity formation. We have no need to accomplish what has already been given us. We can be confident that we are who God says we are (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 2:9). Prioritizing regular times of communion with God through prayer and meditation in the Word stabilizes our emotional health and protects us against the temptation to believe the world’s false messages about identity.
Serving or working for a ministry, church, or Christian organization doesn’t guarantee emotional health. A person may be devoted to all the right spiritual disciplines and still be deteriorating emotionally. In your effort to sacrifice for the kingdom, you may miss the important need to attend to your emotional life.
One final note: emotional health is not an individual effort. As in all areas of life, we are created for community. Consider talking about these four traits with people who know you well or those with whom you serve. Prayerfully encourage one another or to reflect on any changes or adjustments you may need to make (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:24).