4 Traits of an Emotionally Healthy Ministry Worker

“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. 40:28–292 Cor. 12:9–10Gal. 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. 5:171 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. 5:11Heb. 10:24).

This post written by Eliza Huie was also published by The Gospel Coalition.

Justice for All: Where the pledge fails, the promise stands firm.

I had the recent privilege to sit in on a hearing in the district court. It was a chance to witness the public proceedings to which this country gives open access, and I am grateful. But more so, it was an opportunity to hear the courageous testimony of a victim who gave voice to her story and for that I am deeply honored.

As I sat in that courtroom three words came to mind. They are familiar words to anyone living in the United States. School children, before they learn to read and write, memorize these words. Whether you are born here or immigrated, if the United States is your home, you will learn the words “justice for all,” the last three words of the Pledge of Allegiance. Sitting in the court filled me with passion for those words. We were there for justice.

The situation was complex, spanning many years of repetitive coercion, manipulation, threats, and violence leading to deep confusion and the crushing of a spirit. She was a college student volunteering in children’s ministry. He was her pastor. She was vulnerable. He was powerful. The grooming and lies started early and led to atrocious abuse of power and authority. Yet, as evidenced by the brief lines of introduction before the judge, this would be abridged to a single incident shared in the courtroom where she was not a person with a story but a case with a number.

As the case unfolded, it became clear that there was one thing everyone was looking for—evidence. If terrorizing drew blood, if manipulation left marks, if bullying left bruises—then, the evidence would be undeniable. But abusers know better. They know how to twist the truth, making even their victims believe their lies. The book of Ecclesiastes says it well when it states, “…I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed—and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors—and they have no comforter (Ecclesiastes 4:1).”

Pressed into the standard protocol of the court and in the hands of an overwhelmed and unprepared district attorney, she was simply a name on a form in a large stack of disheveled papers. A name filling a timeslot on a docket. A name mispronounced, a name repeatedly gotten wrong, a name mistakenly called. If they didn’t even know her name, how could they ever know her story? She was a case, a number, a file declared to have “lacked the evidence” to bring a conviction. 

Justice for all? Though this court did not deliver, the words retained their power. Not because of a pledge, but because of a promise. The promise is not found in the words of a prosecutor or an advocate or even a supportive friend. Rather, the promise of “justice for all” is found in the God’s Word. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed (Psalm 103: 6). The Bible is full of promises related to God’s just judgement. He has promised to defend the abused and punish the abuser.[i]

Justice for all? Where the pledge fails, the promise stands firm. She is not a case, a number, a file. She is a person with a voice. An important voice. A valued voice. A voice of truth heard by God and his promise of justice is sure.

I witnessed incredible courage from this woman in that courtroom. She was honest. She was clear. She was brave. Abuse is wrong and must be exposed. As she continues to wait for justice, her testimony was not in vain. She stood for truth and she stood for the many other victims whose voices are still unheard and I am so proud of her. She knows God heard her voice she can agree with the Psalmist in saying, “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live (Psalm 116: 1-2).” 


[i] See Psalm 72:4, Psalm 146:7-9, Proverbs 17:5, Proverbs 22:22-23, Isaiah 10:1-3, Jeremiah 50:33-34, Micah 2:1-3 for just a sampling of how the Lord views abuse.

Making Your Counseling Experience More Effective

Counseling is an important decision. Once you begin, it is helpful if you are committed to several practices during the counseling process. Below are a few suggestions that I have found to be important in cultivating the most effective counseling experience.

Be Honest

This may seem obvious. Why would someone invest time and, in some cases, money to meet with a counselor and not be honest? It might surprise you to learn why this happens, but what may be even more surprising is discovering that you might relate to these reasons. Honesty is not just about what you reveal but also about what you conceal. You may feel you are being honest because what you shared in your session was the truth. However, what was not shared can be equally or even more integral to present an accurate picture of the situation. Candor is risky but necessary in counseling.

One reason people may withhold information is fear of man, a temptation common to all. It is not that you are afraid of your counselor; rather, you may be afraid of giving your counselor reason to dislike you or think poorly of you. Another common reason for withholding information is pride. Pride encourages the keeping up of appearances. Even in the midst of seeking help from a counselor, the desire to save face can sabotage your steps toward help and healing if you are tempted to be less than entirely honest.

Scripture tells us that keeping silent about our sins or transgressions before God will bring misery (Ps. 32:1-8). We must be honest before God, but we should also be honest with those who God provides to help us. In counseling, lean into honesty and participate in the accountability and wisdom that can come from trusting your counselor enough to be fully honest.

Slow Down

Those who are curious about the counseling process may ask how long it will take. They want to know how many counseling sessions will be necessary until they feel better or until their situation will change. This is not an unreasonable question, but it often reveals an incorrect view of counseling and the process of change. It is important to remember that you are not a problem to fix or solve. You, like me and everyone else, are a complex individual. Your situation is complex. You deserve the attention of careful exploration. Counseling deals with the deepest issues of the heart; it takes time to draw out what is there (Prov. 20:5).

God is not in a hurry. He knows what you need and knows the best timing to bring about what is required. You are going to counseling because you desire change, and change is a process in which you learn more about yourself and God. The process of slowly uncovering fears, desires, and beliefs is necessary. It is the process that is often the point. It is in the process that you begin to see what God is teaching you. Trust the process and avoid the rush to get through it.

Pray

The Bible says that prayer is powerful in its effect (James 5:16). Prayer changes things, and one of the most important things it changes is your own heart. Pray before, during, and after your session. Pray for your heart to be changed through the time with your counselor. Pray that you would be sensitive to God and His Word. Pray that God would encourage and strengthen you as you seek to work through the challenges you face.

Pray for your counselor, too. I feel so strongly about this that I considered making this the only point of this post. Counselors fight their own battles with fear of man in the counseling room. They, too, can be tempted to rush toward change and overlook moments where a long look at Jesus is once again needed.

Your counselor is human, just like you. They have good days and bad days. Your prayers for them are invaluable. Pray that they would be fully dependent on the Holy Spirit. Pray that they would counsel out of a life that is abiding with Jesus. As a counselor, I have been shown many kindnesses by those I counsel, but the thing I am most grateful for is prayer. Make it a priority to pray for your counselor (1 Thess. 5:25).

Certainly, there are more things you can do as a counselee to maximize the counseling process, but if you take these three things to heart and revisit them often, you will get far more out of your counseling sessions. So, if you are currently in counseling or if you are thinking about starting counseling, commit to these things and consider sharing them in a conversation with your counselor to talk about how you are doing in each of them.

Questions for Reflection

  1. As a counselee, are you committed to being honest, slowing down, and praying throughout the counseling process? What other practices help make your counseling experience most profitable?
  2. As a counselor, what other practices of counselees have you found helpful for them to cultivate the most effective counseling experience?

This blog post written by Eliza Huie was originally published on the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC). Visit the BCC for helpful information and resources related to biblical counseling.

Biblical Counseling Wounds, Abuse, and EMDR

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/worthy-celebrating-the-value-of-women/id1497732229

Since you have found your way to my website, chances are you have interest in biblical counseling. I am so glad you are here!! There are many ways to describe biblical counseling. Here is one that sums it up. Biblical counseling is “focused on the application of God’s Word and walking in God’s Spirit when dealing with matters of life as a whole.” But biblical counseling is still a work in progress. We have much to learn and many horizons to still explore as we hold tightly to the timeless Word of God.

I recently had the privilege to talk about my continued experience in the world of biblical counseling and share about some things I have learned and am still learning. On this podcast I discuss three areas of unique importance and interest. They are:

What should we do when someone has been hurt by biblical counseling. Let’s be honest, it happens. What we do with these situations has huge implications on the movement as a whole.

What does the church need to know about abusers and the abused. Pastors, leaders, helpers, and counselors take warning. We are not immune from being duped by an abuser which can lead us to give wrong counsel or take inappropriate action.

What is EMDR? These days, more and more people are suffering from the impact of trauma in their lives. The world is not a safe and peaceful place. Relationships cause deep harm. We are witnesses to constant horrifying news and events. Anxiety has turned to panic in our lives. EMDR therapy is proving to be a helpful resource for those suffering from distressing memories of events or situations.

The church can and should be a place where sufferers are provided with life-giving care that is humble, relevant, and rooted in God’s eternal promises.

LISTEN HERE: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/worthy-celebrating-the-value-of-women/id1497732229

Responding to Someone Hurt by Biblical Counseling

Not everyone’s experience with biblical counseling is positive. I am not talking about situations where a person is running from God or holding tightly to sin. Biblical counseling will not land well on a hard heart.  Instead, I am talking about experiences where people have humbly sought out biblical care and have sadly come away more wounded by the experience.

As counselors, we must be willing to admit that sometimes people encounter poor applications of biblical counseling. Sometimes counselors fall very short in incarnating Christ when engaging the fallen, broken, or downcast brother or sister. Sadly as biblical counselors, we do not always express thoughtful love or engaging compassion as faithfully as we confess

I assume I am not alone in hearing stories of people hurt by their engagement with a biblical counselor. You, like me, may have been cautiously questioned about your counseling approach by a believer still carrying wounds and shame received from a hurtful counseling experience in their church. What we do when we encounter brothers and sisters whose engagement with biblical counseling was hurtful is extremely important. Our response can solidify their concerns, wound them further, or give them hope. I pray that this article will lead us all to the later. The following tips on what to do and what not to do should be reviewed as regularly as we encounter those hurt by biblical counseling.

What to do.

Listen

As counselors this should be our default, but it is worth emphasizing here. Take care that you are intent on hearing their story. Give plenty of time and space to let them unfold it. Allow them to share their experience and actively engage in hearing them. Let your words be primarily questions that encourage them to share more. Listening will elicit the trust that was likely broken in their past experiences. The first step in loving someone hurt by counseling is to let them know their story is important to you and you want to hear all of it. James 1:19 is an unfailing guide for this.

Empathize

As you listen, seek to identify and understand the emotional weight of their experience. Enter their world by seeking to grasp the reality of their pain. Carry their burden with them in the spirit of Galatians 6:2. Empathy will help you respond appropriately. It will assist you to offer encouragement, comfort, and support in a way that validates that sorrow, grief, and pain are normal responses to being hurt.

Self-reflect

Not everything you hear in their hurtful experience will be solely due to the counsel or counselor. They bring their own stuff to the table as well. Lord willing, there will be a time and place to work through that further with them. This is not that time. It is crucial that biblical counselors examine themselves when they hear stories of counseling hurt. How is hearing this story impacting you? What feelings and emotions are coming up in you as you listen? Humbly reflect on the way you bring care. What in this person’s story could be true of your care? Where is needed change in your own approach to caring for people being revealed?

What not to do.

Gossip

It is incredibly easy to slip into gossip when someone shares the hurt they have encountered from biblical counseling. In an effort to sympathize, the desire may arise to confirm what you also may have heard or experienced from a counselor or ministry. Maybe you have even had previous engagement with that specific biblical counselor, church, or ministry and you can add a tasty morsel to confirm their evaluation. This is not helpful. It does not bring healing and only solidifies distrust for those in biblical counseling. Do not do it.

Defend

As you hear a story of hurt, you may feel like defending yourself as a biblical counselor. Avoid the temptation to personalize what you are hearing. Even if the things are about the ministry or organization where you serve or received your training, a defensive response is not a humble response. Biblical counselors are not perfect people. We are in process just like our counselees. Taking up a defensive posture may be an indication of the work needed in our own hearts. Hearing someone’s pain should rouse understanding in us, not defense. To do otherwise is the way of the fool (Proverbs 18:2).

Dismiss

You may not agree with everything the person is sharing. You might see holes in how they have assessed their situation. There could be glaring over-reactions. Avoid being dismissive. Dismissing their pain will only affirm their experience. A wise counselor ascertains the appropriate time to address these things. Wisdom includes being able to hear emotional and sometimes irrational thinking for a time, in order to carefully build the trust needed to engage the person’s heart later. Don’t dismiss or make light of their pain to jump to what you assess as more important matters.

Conclusion

We need to lovingly engage people who have been hurt by biblical counseling. Not doing so will only distance sufferers from communities of care that God has provided. We have a responsibility to compassionately care for those who are hurt, all the more when they have been hurt by us. Let us model the way of the wonderful Counselor who draws near to the crushed and brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).