Help for emotionally drained pastors

by Brand
(Boston)

Hello friends and partners in ministry,

I just want to thank each of you for sharing your hearts on this page. Your stories have been an immense help to me over the course of this past year. This past year has been emotionally difficult time in ministry for me and at several points in the year, I strongly considered transitioning to a different ministry or career, but by God's grace, I have come to believe that the Lord is asking me to stay and serve right where he has called me.

I have spent the majority of the past 20 years in pastoral ministry. I have a very driven personality and a very supportive wife who also tends to be a driven person. I'm grateful for her support and for the fact that our marriage and our relationship with our children is strong (something that can certainly be a challenge for those who serve in pastoral ministry).

I planted the church I lead some years ago. It's still a relatively young church, but isn't truly a "new" church any longer. Most of the books I have read on church planting tell you that the initial group of people that help you plant the church will probably leave once the church gets going. I have also heard those people referred to as "scaffolding" that gets removed once the structure of the church becomes established. That has been our experience over this past year and it has been emotionally difficult.

Some people left and were hurtful in the way they chose to do so. They were unfairly critical of me or the church and even though I like to pretend that I have thick skin, I tend to feel most of the criticisms rather deeply. Others left when they felt like our young church couldn't offer them some of the programs or facilities that they were craving. Thankfully, even in the midst of some of these people leaving, our church has continued to grow and reach new people. But the emotional drain I have been feeling as a pastor has been significant. I smile a lot, but behind that smile is a lot of pain and many bruises.

I have been honest about this with my family and several trusted friends in ministry. Most people don't know what to do with my honesty (probably because I'm usually the one they come to when they need to be vulnerable with someone), but it has felt good to be honest. My church doesn't really know I have been feeling this way. It always feels too risky to bare your soul to the people you're trying to lead, so I tend to be somewhat cautious there without becoming disingenuous.

I don't know if you're going through a season of emotional drain right now (odds are you are), but if so, please allow me to share a few things that have been helpful to me during my season of intense emotional drain.

1. Pray and preach the gospel to your own heart. Thank God for His grace to you in Christ Jesus.

2. Be honest with your family and close friends about what you're experiencing.

3. Scale back on foods that tend to have a depressive effect on the mind (sugars, carbs, alcohol, etc.). I don't drink alcohol, but carbs and sugars have been my "go-to" drugs when I'm trying to soothe emotional pain. Unfortunately, they can actually make the pain worse.

4. Listen to good teaching/podcasts that help feed your soul. I listen to a lot of biographical/interview podcasts. They help me stop thinking so much about myself and my struggles and I find them particularly helpful to listen to when my mind starts racing at night.

5. Exercise a little more. I joined the gym down the street from my house and using their treadmills/elliptical machines has helped me feel emotionally and physically better. My pants are starting to fit better and the scale has been cooperating too.

6. Ask the Lord for help to repent of whatever sin you may have been using to self-medicate your pain (usually it's food, drink, drugs/pills, porn, etc.).

I'm so grateful for those of you who have chosen to be honest in this forum. Your transparency has been a big help to me as I'm trying my best to navigate this season of ministry. Keep pressing on and listen to the Lord's leading. Your work and service is more fruitful than you know and your service to the Lord isn't being done in vain (even though you may not be seeing the fruit as quickly as you may want to be seeing it).

Love you all.

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