Pastor, how loved do you feel?

There are times when pastors should prioritize their own spiritual and emotional health.

ELISE HARBOLDT, RN, BSN, works for the Health Ministries department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

The most meaningful text message I have ever received came from my friend Marie. After befriending Marie, I invited her to church. To my surprise, she started coming, even though she’s not a Christian.

After several visits, Marie texted me to express her gratitude. One sentence in particular jumped out at me:

“I’ve never felt loved like this before .”

I sat stunned, eyes tearing up. It made me wonder: What if Adventist churches everywhere were known for helping people feel more loved than they ever had before?

Then my thoughts turned to the need for God’s workers to feel loved. I am convinced that in order to effectively share God’s love, we need to consistently experience it—both from God and from others. I learned this lesson the hard way— trying to balance ministry with untreated depression and addiction.

I started working for the church when I was 22. I was struggling with binge eating and bulimia. I knew I needed help but assumed people would be disgusted if they knew. So, I tried to numb my shame with a frenzy of ministry activity. I experienced the painful isolation that comes from trying to minister to others without allowing God (and others) to minister to me. God blessed me with a strong and lasting recovery, involving several people I feel safe confiding in.

Because of my experience, I feel pained when I think of those in ministry who do not have the friendship, support, or loving accountability they need. Research indicates that pastors and church leaders are extra vulnerable to loneliness, burnout, and hidden shame. Consider the following results from a 2014 survey of Adventist pastors in North America

  • Forty-nine percent of pastors reported struggling at times with anxiety or depression.
  • Two-thirds of pastors felt they didn’t have enough time to spend with family or friends.
  • The majority of pastors reported stress that they did not have anyone in whom to confide.
  • Over one-third of pastors reported struggling with media addiction. About one-third of pastors admitted struggling with pornography.
  • Two-thirds of pastors reported stress about prioritizing personal devotions.1

A 2013 survey2 of 4,260 Adventist pastors in all 13 divisions revealed several stressors:

  • Forty percent of pastors felt they did not have enough time to do their necessary work.
  • Twenty-three percent of pastors reported occasionally wanting to leave the ministry.
  • Twenty-five percent of pastors reported feeling discouraged and uncared for.

Sometimes good ministry means sharing bread with the hungry, preaching eloquently, or going the extra mile for a church member. But other times, good ministry means spending time with supportive friends, establishing healthy boundaries, or slowing down long enough to experience God’s healing presence. It means reading the Bible for personal encouragement and guidance, not just sermon preparation. In moments of discouragement or failure, good ministry might mean reaching out to a friend, mentor, or counselor and saying, “Something is wrong. I need help.”

Today, intentionally prioritize your own spiritual and emotional health. Set aside a few moments, ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and honestly reflect on the following questions:

1. What barriers are preventing me from experiencing God’s love more fully? (e.g., overwork, inadequate time with God, addiction, shame)

2. What steps can I take to remove these barriers?

3. What barriers are separating me from the support and accountability I need from others? (e.g., shame, not wanting to be a burden, busyness)

4. What action steps can I take to get the ongoing support and accountability I need?

“The power of love was in all Christ’s healing, and only by partaking of that love, through faith, can we be instruments for His work.”3 May we, along with those we serve, say: “I’ve never felt loved like this before.”

1 David Sedlacek et al., “Family Stressors and Strategies for Alleviation of Stressors in Pastors’ Families,” September 8, 2014, static1.squarespace. com/static/571690422b8ddee5df762d8e/t/5a270b93652dea92b0 bc7859/1512509803573/Family+Stressors.pdf.

2 The Institute of Church Ministry, “The Adventist Pastor: A World Survey,” May 2013, adventistresearch.org/sites/default/files/files/The%20Adventist%20 Pastor%20A%20World%20Survey%20.pdf.

3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 825.

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