So what are those practices? What should you do to stay emotionally balanced and healthy?
Here are six that helped me:
1. Understand the Perfect Storm of Work/Faith/Community
As I outlined above, the church world is the only place I know of where what you believe is what you do and the people you serve are also your friends. You need to understand this.
If you keep this in mind it will save you a thousand times over. Here’s why: Understanding why something is emotionally confusing is the first step toward untangling the issue practically. When you turn on the lights, you don’t have to stumble in the dark.
2. Find Friends Who Aren’t in Your Church or Organization
Be friends with the people you live with and serve. But find some friends you can talk to about anything.
You don’t need many—even two or three is plenty, but they can be invaluable.
If you only have friends ‘inside’ the church, there’s always a dual relationship. You either don’t disclose enough because you worry about being fired or inappropriate, or you over-disclose and you put a strain on the friendship because you are also that person’s leader.
A spouse or unchurched friend isn’t the right person for talking through every problem with either. Your spouse wasn’t designed to bear the full weight of your frustrations every time you’re frustrated. And your unchurched friends probably aren’t the right people to confide all your frustrations in either. Because this is the church you’d like to invite them to.
So develop some friendships in which you can talk honestly. It’s healthy. An easy choice is to find a peer (pastor or key volunteer) in another church or community.
3. Don’t Base Tomorrow’s Decisions on Today’s Emotions
This one is so simple but so often missed. Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Just don’t. Go to bed. Pray about it. Call a friend. Wake up in the morning and then make the decision. Or wait a week.
Don’t make the decision Until. You. Calm. Down.
Never base tomorrow’s decisions on today’s emotions.
You’ll thank yourself later. Unless you want even more terrible emotions, that is.
4. See a Good Christian Counselor
I’ve gone to a counselor numerous times over the last 15 years. I’m pretty sure it’s why I’m still in ministry and why I’ve got a solid marriage today. My counselors have helped me see things I’m blind to, challenged me on issues I’m sure God wanted me to deal with, and helped me realize that personal change can bring leadership progress.
Don’t think of it as an expense. Think of it as an investment. Your spouse, kids, church and colleagues will be grateful you sought help.
5. Develop a Devotional Life That Has Little to Do With Work
One of the common casualties of serving in the church is your devotional life. You get too busy to read your Bible. Or you ‘cheat’ and make your sermon or lesson prep your devotional time as well.
Over the years, I have used the One Year Bible again and again to make sure I read through all of God’s word, not just the parts I’m teaching on. And I try to pray about the things I would pray about if I wasn’t a pastor.
6. Develop a Hobby or Interest Outside of Work
Or you might say, get a life.
I struggle with this (because I love what I do), but if you have a hobby like photography, hiking, painting, woodworking, golf, skiing, cycling—something to get your mind and heart into fresh space, you will be richer for it.
For me, three b’s that have become the hobbies I love to do: boating, barbecue and biking (road cycling).
For me, if I didn’t have a hobby outside work, I’d probably just work. Too many driven leaders are like that.
If this post is resonating, my new book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences, might help even more. I do a deep dive into this and other issues leaders grapple with.
Didn’t See It Coming tackles the seven core issues that take people out: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout and the emptiness of success, and provides strategies on how to combat each.
Why did I write it? Well, no idealistic 18-year-old sets out to be cynical, jaded and disconnected by age 35, yet it happens all the time. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.