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How to think differently about the emotional impact of ministry

| by Roy Yanke

These challenges can be both intense and constant. Much like those in emergency response roles (the “first responders”), the grief that clergy encounter in crisis situations can crush the most optimistic spirit. In the daily and weekly work of caring for souls, the pain, griefs and disappointments run like dripping water over the heart and soul. Over time, a deep spiritual and emotional erosion can occur.

Challenges can also come from our internal dialog. We battle with personal wounds, with tendencies to make ministry “all about us” and with the subtle belief that we are limitless in our capacity to live out this calling. 

Regardless of how we experience them, these encounters take their toll. Often depleted and on edge, we wonder why we don’t have the reserves to keep up with the rhythms of life. 

Dr. Chuck Wickman, Founder of PIR Ministries, referred to some in ministry who weren’t burned out but “bummed out.” They were weary, worried and had lost sight of how what they were called to do was meaningful.

Caring for souls is the primary role that clergy fill—a role that brings them face-to-face with people in the middle of their messy lives. While the option exists to take a clinical approach to these people and their problems, most pastors and ministry leaders are wired to invest in people and their growth. We desire to walk alongside them in their brokenness. 

Even the apostle Paul experienced the weight of ministry in this way. “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?” (2 Corinthians 11:28-29).

Is this just part of the job? 

As a ministry leader, how do you handle the grief, the inconsistencies, the challenges in leadership, the tensions with staff and family, the fear of not measuring up or getting enough done, the worries over the sustainability of a church or a ministry?

Far too many of us are willing to ignore or bury the effect this emotional weight can have on us, choosing to accept them as “just part of the job.” Unfortunately, the pressure mounts, and we end up living a life that is dominated by the needs of others while our own needs are minimized.

Spiritual, emotional and physical fatigue are the first signs we’re not processing these emotional challenges well. Medicating with behaviors that are self and soul destructive is the final stage— signaling that we have lost the sense of who we are. 

We need to think differently about the emotional impact of ministry if we desire to serve with a whole heart.

Here are two things that help me offload the emotional weight of ministry life that tends to accumulate in my soul.

1. Process with those you trust.  

The importance of trusted others who can help us process these deep emotional challenges is vital—whether counselors, mentors, peers or friends. These are our “advocates” who will advocate on our behalf before God in prayer. They will also promote the grace of God to us during bleak hours of our soul. 

As I look back on my years of pastoral ministry, it is sad to remember how few friends I had. This did not serve me well. I’m grateful that this is no longer the case.

2. Embrace your humanity and the gospel.

It is far too easy in a ministry role to forget that we are human beings and not human doings. We have bodies that need rest, exercise and intimacy. We have hearts and souls that need stewarding as much as the ministry tasks on our list. 

Being human means I must embrace the fact that I have limits; and that my role is not to fix people or the world. Learning to immerse myself in the gospel daily reminds me that He is the Savior and I have been invited to partner with Him in His work of restoration. 

The gospel also allows me to remember who I am. My identity is not in what I do, but that I’m made in  God’s image, lavishly loved by Christ and called to a daily journey with Him. 

Leaning into these two truths make it possible for me to take the weight, the griefs and cares of ministry life, to their true resting place—in God’s hands.

We’re living out the most important calling in the world. As ministers and pastors, we’re the “first responders” to the chaos, pain and spiritual brokenness that people experience. 

Sharing in their grief—and experiencing our own—requires a solid foundation in who we are. Without that, the weight of ministry life will slowly consume our passion for the calling God has given us.

Photo source: istock 

Roy Yanke

Roy Yanke is the Executive Director of PIR Ministries, a national ministry of renewal and restoration for pastors and their families. Roy has been a workshop presenter for a variety of ministry seminars around the country on the topic of pastoral self-care. He has been the principle speaker for pastor’s retreats, and is also a regular guest lecturer at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Roy pastored for 17 years before experiencing his own “crash and burn.” Roy and Deb live in the metro Detroit area.

Because there is joy to be found in life... Roy play bass in the worship band, enjoys jazz music and hockey, and his dog, Keillor.

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