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How to Get Off the Emotional Roller Coaster of Ministry

How to Get off the Emotional Roller Coaster

You probably think only the way to get off the emotional roller coaster of ministry is to quit.

It’s not.

In fact, I don’t recommend it.

You don’t have to abandon your calling, even though we live in an age where many do. It’s so tragic, because there is a way to survive, and even thrive.

Believe it or not, there is a way to stay in ministry and not engage all of the emotional twists and turns that leave so many leaders wrung out.

In my last post (What Everybody Ought to Know About Emotions and Ministry), I outlined the reasons why ministry is so emotional for so many.

Knowing the reason why ministry is emotional is half the battle, but here’s the other half is about practices you follow to stay healthy.

So  what are those practices? What should you do to stay emotionally balanced and healthy?

Here are six that helped me:

1. Understand the perfect storm of work/faith/community. Church world is the only place I know of where what you believe is what you do and the people you serve are also your friends. You need to understand this. I wrote about how unusual and important this is in my last post on it so I won’t go into more detail here.

But seriously, if you keep this in mind it will save you a thousand times over. Here’s why: understanding why something is emotionally confusing is the first step toward untangling the confusion. When you turn on the lights, you don’t have to stumble over the same furniture in the room again and again, like you did when it was dark. So take time to understand how confusing ministry is and why.

2.  Find friends who aren’t in your church or organization. Be friends with the people you live with and serve. But find some friends you can talk to about anything.

You don’t need many – even two or three is plenty, but they can be invaluable.

If you only have friends ‘inside’ the church, there’s always a dual relationship. You either don’t disclose enough because you worry about being fired or inappropriate, or you over-disclose and you put a strain on the friendship because you are also that person’s leader.

A spouse or unchurched friend isn’t the right person for talking through every problem with either. Your spouse wasn’t designed to bear the full weight of your frustrations every time you’re frustrated.  And your unchurched friends probably aren’t the right people to confide all your frustrations in either. Because this is the church you’d like to invite them to.

So develop some friendships in which you can talk honestly. It’s healthy.  An easy choice is to find a peer (pastor or key volunteer) in another church or community.

3.  Don’t base tomorrow’s decisions on today’s emotions. This one is so simple but so often missed. Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Just don’t. Go to bed. Pray about it. Call a friend. Wake up in the morning and then make the decision. Or wait a week.

Don’t make the decision Until. You. Calm. Down.

You’ll thank yourself later.

4.  Seek a Christian counsellor. I’ve gone to a counsellor numerous times over the last 12 years. I’m pretty sure it’s why I’m still in ministry and why I’ve got a solid marriage today. My counsellors have helped me see things I’m blind to, challenged me on issues I’m sure God wanted me to deal with and helped me realize that personal change can bring leadership progress.

Don’t think of it as an expense. Think of it as an investment. Your spouse, kids, church and colleagues will be grateful you sought help.

5. Develop a devotional life that has little to do with work. One of the common casualties of serving in the church is your devotional life. You get too busy to read your bible. Or you ‘cheat’ and make your sermon or lesson prep your devotional time as well.

I use the One Year Bible to make sure I read through all of God’s word, not just the parts I’m teaching on. And I try to pray about the things I would pray about if I wasn’t a pastor.

6. Develop a hobby or interest outside of work. Or you might say, get a life. I struggle with this (because I love what I do), but if you have a hobby like photography, hiking, painting, woodworking, golf, skiing, cycling – something to get your mind and heart into fresh space, you will be richer for it. I cycle. I also write. And I love to travel. They’re all good for my soul.

These six practices have helped me become more emotionally balanced.

What’s helped you? What struggles remain?

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  • This was really a great post! The part about the devotional time is so real! It’s unfortunate, but so real. I’ve heard that and read about this in other places as well, and it’s something that we can’t allow the enemy to steal (our personal time with the Lord). Thanks again for this authentic and helpful post! God bless you and keep you until the day of Jesus Christ.

  • Dee

    Thanks Carey! Great pointers, did not know how much I needed this until I started reading. Finding time for something like a hobby is hard though. Where do I get to fit it in?

  • Such an important topic, Carey. My wife and I are both on staff FT at our church, and over the past year we’ve had to develop a unique practice of our own. Along the same lines of having a healthy devotional life, every 3 months we plan a mini-Sabbatical…and not together.
    Within the same week one of us will get out of town for 3 days, and upon returning the other will do the same. (caution: if you are on Facebook people in your church may think your marriage is having trouble)
    We take devotional books, Bible, journal, and other spiritually uplifting reading that will help us focus on Jesus. What we DON’T bring: work or any books on leadership or ministry. This is a time to de-stress and re-focus. This is also why we have decided to get away individually. 1. This is a time meant for us and God. 2. If we went together it would be extremely difficult to refrain from talking about ministry work.
    Three years ago I DID leave the ministry, and I really believed that my call was done. But our God is always good, and He placed us in an amazingly healthy church to both heal and grow. How I’m doing today? I will not let the ministry kill me, BUT I will die working for His Kingdom.
    God bless you, Carey. See you at Orange.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      So glad you’re back Brent…and thanks for sharing the unique pattern you and your wife have discovered. I’m sure it will resonate with and encourage others.

  • Thanks Carey! These last two on emotions and ministry have been super helpful. God Bless!

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      So glad Derek!