The following are four essential practices for any church leader. In fact, these might be helpful to any Christ-follower.
1. Take care of your mind. Too many ministers do not read widely and consequently get stuck in a mental rut. Some read only the latest books from well-known preachers. The mind, however, needs exercise. For many years I have read widely. This started many years ago when I would spend one afternoon every two weeks in the local university library. There I would survey national news magazines along with material that provided commentary from various perspectives. I skimmed the New York Times (Sunday Edition) regularly along with the Wall Street Journal. I also read book reviews and journal articles.
Of course, this is so much easier now! Online access allows you and I to do this kind of reading in the privacy our homes. Such practices have sharpened my thinking for years.
2. Take care of your soul. Ministry is a calling born out of one’s experience with Christ. Yet one must be intentional about cultivating a heart that is available for what God wishes to do in that person’s life.
Most mornings, I begin the day reading my Bible, praying, and writing in my journal. These disciplines and others have been important for cultivating my heart. Prayer books, biographies, and classical devotional literature have all been helpful to me.
3. Take care of your emotions. So many ministers have neglected this one! Perhaps a person has never dealt with the pain and hurt in his or her life. Meanwhile, others are confused by this person’s intense anger and on-going depression. Often such unchecked emotions spill over into the church and other relationships.
Frankly, having a few healthy friendships can help a person with emotional care. Yet, many ministers speak of the loneliness and lack of intimacy that characterizes their lives. Unfortunately, when a person lacks appropriate intimate relationships, that person will often seek intimacy in inappropriate ways such as pornography, emotional affairs, or even sexual affairs.
How do such authentic relationships happen? Generally speaking, one has to take initiative instead of passively waiting for a friendship to form. Some of the most unlikely people may turn out to become wonderful friends. In my experience, these friends have included people both inside and outside the congregation.
4. Take care of your body. Far too many ministers practice the spiritual disciplines and nurture their intellectual life but then completely neglect their physical health. When I was a young minister, several older ministers warned me about this. One person told me that as a young man, he didn’t exercise, rested very little, and neglected his body. As a result, he faced serious health issues some years later. Sleep, nutrition, and physical exercise are very important particularly for a lifestyle that is often stressful.
Taking a day off is very important. Play, relaxation, and living a balanced life are essential to living as a healthy, whole person. Such self-care is not a luxury but a God-honoring investment in long-term ministry.