5 Steps to Being a Healthy Pastor

Today we want to pass along an interview with a long time pastor that Tom and I know from Northern California.  His name is Jeff Bigelow and the discussion comes from the Vanderbloemen search group.  The questions were asked by Holly Hall who serves at Vanderbloemen.  Jeff has a wealth of experience and we hope it will be an encouragement.  What would you add?

From Jeff and Holly:

The weight of being a pastor can feel unbearable. Many pastors lose sleep over the anxiety of preparing an engaging sermon for Sunday, being accessible to their congregation, and trying not to neglect their family. The reality is an unhealthy pastor will lead an unhealthy church.  Jeff and Holly sat down to discuss what it looks like to be a healthy pastor amidst the stress of shepherding a church.

Holly: So, Jeff, you’ve sat in the shoes of the pastors joining us today. You were the Senior Pastor of Rolling Hills Christian Church in El Dorado Hills, CA. What were the emotional pressure points you felt as a senior pastor that those of us outside the pulpit don’t see on Sundays?

Jeff: I was an expert at losing sleep as a senior pastor. I felt the constant weight of my role as the shepherd to my church. I felt the weight of wanting to change lives with every sermon. My nightmare was that I wouldn’t be prepared when it was time to preach on Sunday. I put immense pressure on myself to deliver an effective and compelling sermon each Sunday. I poured at least 30 hours of my week into preparing for my sermons. It was overwhelming!

Holly: Absolutely. Most people only have to prepare a few key speeches or talks in their life, but pastors are responsible for delivering compelling sermons each week. As you think back over your years as a Senior Pastor, what are some tips you found helpful to maintaining a healthy balance in your life and keeping anxiety from getting the best of you?

Jeff: I was fortunate to be a part of a great church and a great family that loved me well and allowed me to grow as a person and as a pastor. They aren’t always easy, but here are five things that helped me maintain a healthy balance in my life as a pastor.

1. Be Prepared – It’s the Boy Scout motto, and it’s helpful for almost anything in life. You won’t be as anxious about something you feel fully prepared for. Figure out what being prepared means for you and set aside time in your schedule to plan.

2. Be Realistic – Do your part but then step back and let the Holy Spirit do the work. As pastors, we feel the weight of wanting lives to be changed each week. We may not see the outward expression of those lives being changed each week, so take comfort in that not everyone will buy in to your message immediately. Jesus tells the story of the four kinds of soil, of which only 25% produces. We are the message bearers, but the Lord is the heart changer.

3. Family Support – My wife grew up in a pastor’s family, so this helped her understand what I was feeling. Be sure to communicate your feelings to your family so that they can empathize with you and know how to support you. It’s important that a healthy pastor be in a healthy, happy home.

4. Extracurricular Activities & Hobbies – It is vital that a pastor have outlets of fun and enjoyment outside the church. My wife would always encourage me to go play tennis, which always helped relieve some stress for me. There’s the joke about the pastor always mowing his lawn so he could see a tangible result of his effort. As funny as it is, it’s true! Ministry is often hard to measure, and it’s important for pastors to participate in activities where they can see results.

5. Sense of Humor – Someone once told me, “Most of us take ourselves too seriously and don’t take God seriously enough.” I cling to this and remind myself to have a sense of humor. It’s hard as pastors, because we are surrounded by the heaviness of life – divorce, cancer, death, etc. People can accept the truth a lot easier when there’s laughter involved.

Holly: Wow, Jeff! This is so helpful. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us.

Jeff: You’re welcome! It’s easy for pastors to feel alone, but I hope this encourages them to know that every pastor feels down at one time or another. Be encouraged today!

What steps have you taken to maintain a healthy balance in your ministry?

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One thought on “5 Steps to Being a Healthy Pastor

  1. Thanks, Steve, for posting this excellent interview. It seems ironic to me that there are these steps but in fact, Jeff is no longer a pastor—he felt burnout, and these days is doing something else. He was an incredible pastor and went hard all the time. Perhaps, methodologically, if he developed Hybel’s model of a teaching team, or added staff members to relieve part of the stress–maybe that would’ve helped. I don’t know. But what happened to him is a sober example that every pastor ought to think about. Often. I pray that God will bless him, and that somehow, some other doors will open in the future that will offer a chance for him to re-engage. He has so much to offer!

    Tom Salter

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