The Apostle Paul gathered the leaders from the church at Ephesus for some parting words. He had been with them for a few years and they had experienced an incredible revival in their city and beyond. We don’t have this meeting on DVD but thankfully someone took some notes of what he said (see Acts 20:17-38).

In the midst of some important heart-felt instructions, Paul said: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock …" (Acts 20:28). Notice the order … look after yourselves as a first priority THEN the church or people entrusted to your care. How often leaders pour all of their time and energy into looking after others while neglecting themselves.

Here in Australia, Rowland Croucher, from John Mark Ministries, estimates that there are over 10,000 ex-pastors. How sad! These are people who once had a dream and a vision but for some reason have dropped out of the race.

In 2001, the National Church Life Survey revealed that of existing pastors in Australia, approximately 25% are in burnout (clinical depression), 50% are in the danger zone, and only 25% are what could be called emotionally healthy (see the NCLS publication Burnout in Church Leaders). If the local church is the hope of the world and its future is in the hands of its leaders (a quote from Bill Hybels), then these are highly concerning statistics! No wonder Paul told these Elders to take care of themselves!

How do we care for ourselves – as followers of Christ and as leaders? Here are five habits for anyone who wants to be a healthy person:

  1. Retreat Regularly (a healthy spiritual life). How easy it is for us to be more of a Martha than a Mary (see Luke 10:38-42). We can be so busy working for the Lord that we don’t take time to sit at his feet and develop intimacy with Him. It’s so important that we regularly pull aside from our busyness to connect with our God and to receive direction from Him. Jesus did this often (Mk.1:35. Lk.5:16) and so did the early church leaders (Acts 6:1-4). Make time for it – daily, weekly and monthly.
  2. Deal with your Internal Stress (a healthy emotional life). Life and ministry can be stressful but it is the stress that we carry within that does the most damage. Internal stress can come from unrealistic expectations, negative emotions, and unresolved conflicts. Renew your mind, resolve conflicts quickly, confront issues, and talk about your feelings with a safe friend, counsellor or spiritual director.
  3. Keep Growing (a healthy mental life). God has called us to a life of ‘progress’ (1 Tim.4:12-16). Keep growing and improving yourself on a continual basis. Read good books, listen to helpful teaching, learn from mentors, and gain all the experience you can.
  4. Develop Close Friendships (a healthy social life). Love your family and spend regular time with emotionally replenishing people who pour back into your life. Also, develop a broad variety of interests and/or hobbies. It’s healthy.
  5. Keep Healthy and Fit (a healthy physical life). God is interested in all of us – spirit, soul and body. Maintain a balanced diet, get regular exercise, as well as adequate sleep. Balance activity times with rest, relaxation and recovery times. Develop a sustainable pace. Keep the Sabbath principle. Take a good day off. Have regular holidays. Laugh and enjoy life!

Rate yourself from 1-10 on each one of these habits. What are your lowest two? What could you do in the next few weeks to lift in these areas? Great. Like the prophet Nike says, ‘Just do it!"

The best gift you can give those who follow you is for you to be a healthy leader. Remember, it’s not how fast you run but how long you last. Finish your race! Don’t be another statistic. All of heaven is cheering you on. We need you!

For those interested, here are some good resources for healthy living, especially for leaders:

11 thoughts on “A Theology of Self Care

  1. Good article
    Just a small note regarding the ex-pastor stat, that can be a deceiving figure.
    I know two ex-pastors – one took up a position in a Bible College and the other is now a life coach. Which is kind of like a pastor for non-Christians and Christians, in a way.

  2. Overall I think this is a great reminder and challenge for anyone involved within any form of leadership (and all christians).
    Lets all commit ourselves to living it out!

  3. Good advice for anyone and everyone, not just the leaders! I’ll definitely have to implement these. I’m more the Martha type of personality, and it’s always a battle to become more like Mary!! Still, you’ve given some great practical pointers there. Keep up the good blog work, I’m finding it really informative and interesting!

  4. Some great advice for us all Mark, thanks. It is a timely reminder to “watch out for ourselves”, as well as for those we are helping to pastor.
    How easy is it to get so busy doing things for God, that we actually forget to just spend time with God. And so we neglect to draw in some strenght, peace of mind, and fresh details about the call he has for each of us!
    And you are right to draw our thoughts to the example of Jesus himself. He was regularly “withdrawing” from crowds, or “slipping out for the night to be alone”… If he needed to do it, how much more do we.
    Thanks again.

  5. Thank you so much for spelling that our for all of us, Ptr. Mark. The safety instruction/procedure presented by the cabin crew at the beginning of each flight comes to mind. Do they not say that when the oxygen masks come down and someone beside you needs assistance, to put a mask on yourself first before helping the person beside you? If you don’t equip yourself with the mask, what would the use be of trying to help the person beside you if half-way through the process you pass out because you don’t have the oxygen supply you need?
    God bless!

  6. Thanks for the update and the encouragement, Rowland. I’ve updated the blog post and also added your resource link. All the best! Mark

  7. Thanks Mark .. That was some great advice and it is a blessing to have you as our Senior Minister. You always tackle interesting issues in your blog .. I was wondering if you could share a few thoughts about Hillsong Church because there has and continues to be so much talk about it in the media and I am personally just so confused.
    thanks again and God Bless.

  8. A lot of the media loves to go after anything controversial and they also don’t seem to know what to do with ‘successful churches’. If churches aren’t doing well, some secular people are happy. If churches are doing well, these same people think that something must be wrong. Hillsong is a very good church and Brian Houston is a sincere leader who is endeavouring to make a difference in this world. A lot of the negative media attention they’ve received is really unjustified and distorted. Thankfully, up until this time, it hasn’t stopped or hindered them from moving forward. In fact, it has only attracted more people to their church. Mark

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