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.

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There may not be a more needed book than this one. We live in a culture that is always on and constantly going. We are surviving but exhausted, pushing through but wearing out. Join me on a journey of exploring what it looks like to live a whole and balanced life. Watch this short video to learn more about The Whole Life book.

What is biblical self-care?

What makes self-care biblical?

To understand self-care biblically we need to look at it rightly. The best way to approach self-care is through the lens of stewardship. The Bible teaches us to steward all the gifts that God gives us (Luke 12:48; 2 Corinthians 9:6–15; 1 Peter 4:10). When God blesses us with resources, it is our responsibility to steward them wisely. Self-care is simply stewardship of our body, our time, our decisions, our responsibilities, and our relationships.

In The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care, biblical self-care is defined as follows: “The practice of drawing on divinely given resources to steward our whole lives for personal enrichment, the good of others, and the glory of God.” Read that again.

This definition always has God’s glory as the target. In addition, others are blessed but not at the expense of totally depleting yourself. Too often, Christians pay little attention to their own needs or care. They believe this is a selfless way of living, but it often ends up driving them to a useless state of burnout.

Biblical self-care means we steward the body God gave us and respect our limitations. We steward our life by engaging in things that bring spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

Biblical self-care means we steward our time and seek to wisely say “yes” or “no” based on what is best for ourselves, our families, and others God has placed our lives.

Biblical self-care means we steward the gifts and abilities God has given us to bless others without exhausting ourselves in the process.

Engaging in self-care does not contradict self-sacrifice, nor does it necessarily lead to a self-centered life.

So what might biblical self-care look like in your life?

It is engaging with God in the ordinary sacred places. Perhaps it is you in your favorite chair with just a Bible and a cup of coffee or tea. Or it might meeting with God as you take a walk around the neighborhood or in a park. It can be as quiet as moments in prayer in the middle of the night, or as noisy as a foyer full of chatter as you enter the familiar four walls of your church.

A person who engages in biblical self-care recognizes the best place to go for refreshment is to the One who restores the soul. It is trusting God enough to allow things to wait while you take a nap, eat a meal, exercise, play a game, read a book, or watch show. It is enjoying God through the smile of a dear friend, in the giggles of a little child, or in the unhurried conversation with your neighbor. It is noticing when you are stressed and changing course. It is scheduling check-ups, taking vitamins, asking for help, or taking a vacation. It is doing all these things for your enrichment, for the good of others, and for the glory of God.

The picture in this post is a place I go to often. It is a spot along a walk where I commonly stop to take in the beauty and breathe in the grace of God. For me, this is self-care.

How will you engage in the much-needed practice of biblical self-care?