How To Stay Healthy in Ministry

The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, reveal to us what it means to follow Jesus: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

The ‘cost of’ and ‘call to’ discipleship is a call to die to oneself and yet live in the fullness of a resurrected life in Christ Jesus.

The spiritual health and growth of pastors is tantamount to a church’s health, so it’s something to be taken seriously.

As God’s appointed ministers, church planters and pastors are called to lead out as God’s “point men” in making and maturing disciples (Col. 1:28-29). We are shepherds who must teach and preach sound doctrine “in season & out” and model with our lives what it means to be a worshiper on mission.

This is both a noble and numbing call!

Without question, church planting and pastoral ministry demand a faithful “pouring out as a drink offering” self-sacrificing life of commitment to God and His people. However, this call to pastoral ministry does not mean we should live a life of self-neglect for the sake of Christ.

In fact, while self-sacrifice is biblical, self-neglect is sinful, and such practices, even with the most pious motivations and intentions, will lead to an unhealthy life and an unhealthy church–both of which do not please God.

So what is the insanely busy church planter and pastor to do? As one who has planted two churches and experienced three different types of pastorates (i.e. vocational, bi-vocational and non-vocational), here are some not-so-novel suggestions:

Be “The Bible Guy”

Pastors are constantly pouring themselves out through preaching, shepherding, visioneering, evangelizing, visiting, counseling and the list goes on.

Factor church planting into this equation, and you’ve got the makings of a spiritual blowout! Pastors, we need to be full to the brim with the knowledge and the glory of God. We cannot love what and whom we do not know. We cannot be pastoring on the fumes of our spiritual reserves.

If your spiritual ‘fuel warning light’ has been on, repent and read. Dive into God’s Word and consume it for life and ministry. Don’t just read it technically for your next sermon—read it devotionally, remembering the glories of Calvary through which the mercies of God have been revealed unto you.

Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church, recounts this story of an interesting back-and-forth he had with another well-known speaker at a Christian conference. As Matt was awaiting his turn to speak, this speaker introduced himself and said to him, “You must be the Bible guy” to which Chandler replied, “Shouldn’t we all be the Bible guy?”

Pastor, be that guy. Sure, read your Grudem, Packer, Dever, Carson and Keller, but don’t dare neglect the Word.

Be Dogged in Your Prayers

The great reformer, Martin Luther, wasn’t only interested in “protest.” He was also apparently a lover of dogs and a reformer with a vibrant prayer life. In the following account, notice how Luther brings these two passions together:

“When Luther’s puppy happened to be at the table, he looked for a morsel from his master, and watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, he [Martin Luther] said, ‘Oh, if I could only pray the way this dog watches the meat! All his thoughts are concentrated on the piece of meat. Otherwise he has no thought, wish, or hope.’”

Pastors must be tenacious, resolute and persevering in prayer. There is much power in prayer—not because it allows us to tap into the power of some unknown, impersonal mystical force or realm but because our Father God loves us and desires us, his under-shepherds, to be in communion with Him through this gift of prayer.

The Scriptures remind us again and again that He always hears us and answers us according to His perfect wisdom and will (James.5:16; 1 John 5:14-15; Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Rom. 8:26; Psalm 141:2; Matt. 7:7). Pastor, be doggedly pursuing God in prayer.

Be in Community

Pastoral ministry can be a lonely journey and church planting is often even lonelier. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. If you’re planting and leading a church and are not experiencing the close-knit, biblical fellowship you exhort your people to pursue, hypocrisy is just one of many sins you will be actively engaged in.

We were created in God’s image, and, in Christ, our relationship has been restored and our fellowship renewed vertically (with God) and horizontally (with fellow believers). How can a church expect to be healthy if their spiritual leader is functionally living outside the body of Christ?