The Apostle Paul gathered the leaders from the church at Ephesus for some parting words. He had been with them for a few years and they had experienced an incredible revival in their city and beyond. We don't have this meeting on DVD but thankfully someone took some notes of what he said (see Acts 20:17-38).
In the midst of some important heart-felt instructions, Paul said: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock ..." (Acts 20:28). Notice the order ... look after yourselves as a first priority THEN the church or people entrusted to your care. How often leaders pour all of their time and energy into looking after others while neglecting themselves.
Here in Australia, Rowland Croucher, from John Mark Ministries, estimates that there are over 10,000 ex-pastors. How sad! These are people who once had a dream and a vision but for some reason have dropped out of the race.
In 2001, the National Church Life Survey revealed that of existing pastors in Australia, approximately 25% are in burnout (clinical depression), 50% are in the danger zone, and only 25% are what could be called emotionally healthy (see the NCLS publication Burnout in Church Leaders). If the local church is the hope of the world and its future is in the hands of its leaders (a quote from Bill Hybels), then these are highly concerning statistics! No wonder Paul told these Elders to take care of themselves!
How do we care for ourselves - as followers of Christ and as leaders? Here are five habits for anyone who wants to be a healthy person:
- Retreat Regularly (a healthy spiritual life). How easy it is for us to be more of a Martha than a Mary (see Luke 10:38-42). We can be so busy working for the Lord that we don't take time to sit at his feet and develop intimacy with Him. It's so important that we regularly pull aside from our busyness to connect with our God and to receive direction from Him. Jesus did this often (Mk.1:35. Lk.5:16) and so did the early church leaders (Acts 6:1-4). Make time for it - daily, weekly and monthly.
- Deal with your Internal Stress (a healthy emotional life). Life and ministry can be stressful but it is the stress that we carry within that does the most damage. Internal stress can come from unrealistic expectations, negative emotions, and unresolved conflicts. Renew your mind, resolve conflicts quickly, confront issues, and talk about your feelings with a safe friend, counsellor or spiritual director.
- Keep Growing (a healthy mental life). God has called us to a life of 'progress' (1 Tim.4:12-16). Keep growing and improving yourself on a continual basis. Read good books, listen to helpful teaching, learn from mentors, and gain all the experience you can.
- Develop Close Friendships (a healthy social life). Love your family and spend regular time with emotionally replenishing people who pour back into your life. Also, develop a broad variety of interests and/or hobbies. It's healthy.
- Keep Healthy and Fit (a healthy physical life). God is interested in all of us - spirit, soul and body. Maintain a balanced diet, get regular exercise, as well as adequate sleep. Balance activity times with rest, relaxation and recovery times. Develop a sustainable pace. Keep the Sabbath principle. Take a good day off. Have regular holidays. Laugh and enjoy life!
Rate yourself from 1-10 on each one of these habits. What are your lowest two? What could you do in the next few weeks to lift in these areas? Great. Like the prophet Nike says, 'Just do it!"
The best gift you can give those who follow you is for you to be a healthy leader. Remember, it's not how fast you run but how long you last. Finish your race! Don't be another statistic. All of heaven is cheering you on. We need you!
For those interested, here are some good resources for healthy living, especially for leaders:
- Adrenaline and Stress by Dr. Arch Hart
- Margin by Richard A. Swenson
- Unloading the Overload by Cliff Powell
- Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
- The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
- Pastors at Greater Risk by H.B. London and Neil B. Wiseman
- Articles for ex-pastors compiled by Rowland Croucher at John Mark Ministries