10 Best Practices of Super Healthy Leaders (And A Free Giveaway!)

healthy leaders

What do you need to become a super healthy leader over the long haul?

Too many leaders get discouraged, drained and defeated over the long haul in leadership. None of them set out to end up that way, but without careful attention to important disciplines, it happens.

That question can seem difficult to answer until you realize that leaders who do well in the long run, all seem to adopt common habits and practices that help them thrive, not just survive, in leadership.

After two decades in church leadership (with a few more to come…I hope!), here are ten things that leaders who are thriving these days almost always have in common and almost always have in abundance.

And, conversely, leaders who are missing most of these generally don’t survive in our changing culture.

The good news is you can thrive—not just survive—in today’s church culture if you pursue the right things.

If you want to get better as a leader, make sure you get to Rethink Leadership in Atlanta April 26-28th. I’ll be speaking at it along with Bob Goff, Jon Acuff, Reggie Joiner, Les McKeown, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Brad Lomenick, Dan Reiland, Jeff Henderson, Darius Wise, Kara Powell and many more.

There are just a few tickets left…so hurry before it sells out.

On that note, I’m giving away two tickets to RL17, and the winners will get also get coffee with me backstage at the event.

Here’s how to win.

  • Register for the event today.
  • Leave a comment on this blog post, telling me you’re coming and what you’d love to pick my brain on over coffee.
  • We’ll refund the registration fee to our winner.

Already registered? Just leave a comment on this post with what you want you’d like to pick my brain on over coffee. We’ll choose one previous registrant as a winner, refund your admission and invite you to coffee.

Your comment below is your entry ballot in the contest. Comment to win!

Now…here are ten best practices I see super healthy leaders embrace.

1. Cultivate A Few Great Friends With Whom You Can Be 100% Honest

Ministry is hard. Isolation makes it much harder.

When you’re transitioning a church (and these days, we’re ALL transitioning churches because change is so rapid), it’s important you have a trustworthy few with whom you can be 100% honest.

You can’t publicly or even privately complain about the situation you’re facing with the people you’re leading. It’s bad leadership.

You do need a few people who understand your situation and who can empathize, pray with you and correct you (you’re not always right and your attitude needs adjusting from time to time).

In this respect, I usually find I connect best with peers who hold a similar position and responsibility in another city. They get what I’m struggling with, and I can play the same role for them.

2. Relationships With Leaders Who Are One Or Two Steps Ahead

Having a few friends with whom you can be 100% honest is different than finding a few leaders who are one or two steps ahead of you.

The first group functions as friends and colleagues, the second as mentors.

You don’t have to piggy back your leadership on someone famous. Too many leaders hold out for that opportunity to be mentored by Andy Stanley or Perry Noble, and decide they can’t settle for anything less.

Guess what? That will probably never happen. (It was also one of the reasons I started my leadership podcast, so you could be mentored by leaders like Andy, Perry and Craig Groeschel, even virtually. Best of all, it’s free).

But nothing is stopping you from finding a pastor or church leader who is just one or two steps ahead of you. Maybe you’re trying to break the 200 attendance barrier and he’s got a church of 300. Ask to go for lunch and come with great questions and an open notebook.

Maybe you’re looking to handle more volunteers than you’ve ever handled? Find the ministry leader who’s handling twice the number you are and ask her for lunch. You’ll learn a ton.

Mentors are closer than you think and more accessible than you think.

3. Spend Meaningful Time With People Who Give You Energy

This group isn’t necessarily people with whom you can be 100% honest. They’re not even mentors. It’s different.

This group is about people you personally find energizing.

I frequently ask ministry leaders, “When was the last time you went out for dinner with a couple who left you feeling completely energized and replenished?”

The blank looks and the looks of shock and disappointment on leaders’ faces tells the story.

We don’t do this nearly enough.

Ministry is giving. And because ministry is giving, it can be draining.

Your leadership is like a bank account. You can only give so much without becoming overdrawn. Be overdrawn long enough and you go bankrupt.

Go find some friends who energize you. Then, hang out!

4.  A Bullet-Proof Devotional Routine

You got into ministry because you love Jesus. But far too many leaders fall out of love with Christ while in ministry.

Why is that?

As Bill Hybels has famously pointed out, too often we let doing the work of Christ destroy the work of Christ within us.

The best way I know how to keep your passion for Christ fresh and alive is to develop a bullet-proof devotional routine.

By bullet-proof, I mean it needs to work at home and when you’re on the road, when you’re busy and when you’re on vacation, when you’re at your most stressed and when you’re at your most relaxed.

outline mine here.

5. Exceptional Clarity Around How And When To Say No

The enemy of great leadership is not lack of opportunity; it’s the overabundance of opportunity.
The more successful you become, the more opportunity you will have. At first, your temptation is to say yes to everything. After all, you’ve waited your whole life for a crack at some things.

But saying yes to something good means you’ve likely said no to something potentially great.

Doing a few things extremely well always trumps doing many things adequately.

If you’re struggling with how to say no (and most of us are), here are some guidelines I use.

6. Regularly Scheduled Work-On-It Time

The problem with most of our jobs is that they are largely reactive unless you decide they won’t be.

You can spend an entire day answering emails, responding to messages and attending meetings you didn’t call only to hit 6:00 p.m. and realize you didn’t move the mission forward one iota.

Long terms, this will kill your ministry.

Realize that in a post-Christian culture, momentum doesn’t come naturally.

The most effective leaders always budget significant blocks of time to work on their ministry, not just in it.

Here are 7 work-on-it things you should start budgeting more time for starting this week if you want to be effective.

7. A Diversified Learning Menu

The challenge for many of us in church leadership is that we listen to the same voices over and over again.

You become a fan of a certain preacher, a certain theologian and you read and listen to only them.

I find I often learn the most from people who are least like me.

Sometimes the answers to your problem lie outside your discipline, not within it.

8. A Great Marriage Or Healthy Personal Life

It’s hard to lead well at work and at home. Usually one suffers at the expense of the other.

You either use your best energy at work and have none left for home.

Or you use all your energy on your personal life and have little left for work.

As a result, married leaders who excel at work often end up with a less than ideal family life, and single people who pour their heart into their ministry end up with a much reduced personal life.  (I wrote about what I’ve learned in my marriage here.)

Neither is a great scenario.

If you pour the level of intentionality into your life that you pour into your leadership, you will have a better life.

9. A Hobby That Takes Your Mind Off Things

One of the challenges of leadership in ministry is that it requires both your mind and your heart. And the great leaders always throw their heart and mind fully into it.

Which means it can be hard to turn things off when it’s time to go home.

I talk to too many leaders who just can’t seem to turn it off.

Which is why having a hobby or something else that takes your mind off of work is one of the best things you can do.

What works? Anything that will take your mind off of your day job. That can be cycling, cooking, wood working, hiking, art, or watching a movie. Anything that gives your mind a break.

10. Enough Financial Margin

If there’s one thing the future will require, it’s more sacrifice.

This seems a bit tough in an era in which many church staff are underpaid and many are bi-vocational.

But developing financial margin is critical. Having no margin severely limits how you can respond to the opportunities in front of you.

I think more of this margin will be required in the future than in the past as church budgets struggle and as governments inevitably take away tax savings from churches and church staff.

The bottom line is this: the more margin you have, the more opportunities you can seize.

The less margin you have (as a person or as a church), the more those opportunities will pass you by.

Enter to Win Admission to Rethink Leadership

I’d love to hear from anyone heading to Rethink Leadership 2017 in the comments.

Tell me what you’d love to talk about when we meet one on one, and we’ll draw two winners.

Scroll down and leave a comment!


  1. Lalen Jeckson on October 16, 2018 at 2:58 am

    Although your fasting is lower on the first diet, you’re spiking into the “danger zone.” That’s 140 mg/dL or 7.8 mmol/L. Evidence suggests that chronic levels over this range contribute to diabetic complications. If you are 8.5 mmol/L at 2 hours post-meal, you could potentially be even higher earlier on or in the hours afterward. In diabetics, blood sugar doesn’t always neatly spike in the first hour and return to normal the second hour. Sometimes the 2- or 3-hour reading is higher than the 1-hour reading, especially if you consumed a lot of protein or fat with your meal.

  2. sobit on July 25, 2018 at 7:02 am

    hello this is greate article i would like to share it with my friends.

  3. Tony on March 15, 2018 at 2:58 am

    Really inspiring and am very grateful for you to share such a wonderful blog.This habits are really going to help I know.Last day I have gone through one such article that is Leadlife Blog by Sean Hughes which covers the topic like philosophy of life,Leadership,motivation etc. and it is one of the best blogs on motivation

  4. […] Excerpt from 10 Best Practices Of Super Healthy Leaders  […]

  5. […] Nieuwhof notes that church leaders must have real conversations, in the context of real relationships, in order to […]

  6. Brandon norton on May 28, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks for investing in others. You are a mentor from afar. I would love to see the outline of your devotional life (the link wouldnt work). I’d love to discuss implementing systems and structure in church. Need help!

  7. Kevin McKoy on April 18, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    Carey, love your “from the Book, challenge the heart, in the face” approach to life & ministry! RL17 will be my first and I am excited (and a bit intimidated) about the principles I will gain.
    Since I am more of a Mild Roast/Breakfast Blend kind, I would love to hear your thoughts on being a leader who empowers other leaders (instead of just followers).

  8. Nate Gustafson on April 8, 2017 at 6:10 pm

    I’m curious to know what voices you listen to and learn from outside of the church world and “popular” Christian ministry and leadership world? I started reading “The Essentialist” by Greg McKeown after hearing your interview on the podcast. It speaks to a lot of what you have outlined in your post. Who are you reading or listening to that is really challenging you and stretching you out of your comfort zone?

  9. Chris Troxel on April 8, 2017 at 9:43 am

    This confronts many of my unhealthy habits, and what I carry into the ministry team. Gracias.

  10. Brad Ogden on April 7, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Hey Carey, looking forward to ReThink in a few weeks! I’d love to grab coffee with you and chat through leading change through opposition. How to know when the people you’re leading might be in the wrong seat to help implement the necessary change? How much time/energy do you invest in trying to push change through them before realizing it may not be the right person to execute.

  11. Doru Cirdei on April 7, 2017 at 9:31 am

    I really like you and the way you share and provide training for leaders. You are my Influencer and I am grateful!

  12. My 5 for Friday (April 7, 2017) | Art Rainer on April 7, 2017 at 4:09 am

    […] 10 Best Practices of Super Healthy Leaders by Carey Nieuwhof. Burnout can happen in leadership. Carey Nieuwhof says, “Too many leaders get discouraged, drained and defeated over the long haul in leadership.” He gives ten best practices of super healthy leaders. […]

  13. Jason Coache on April 4, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I’m a church planter. My town is about 90,000. 8% churched. Opening day God blew this up with 600 people and we are settling in a little over 350. We went from the womb to crawling. I couldn’t be overwhelmed. I’d love to talk best practices in my situation.

  14. Bob Bekkerus on April 4, 2017 at 8:55 pm

    Hey Carey, loved RL16 and so excited for 17!

    Here’s what I’d love to pick your brain on today: churches in our town are really competitive. I wish we would partner more, but ideological differences get in the way. How do we break down barriers well so that we can see each other’s churches as teammates rather than competitors?

  15. Valerie VanderHeyden on April 4, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Carey. I was lucky enough to https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2289527f9d81b43c01fbbb5c64faa00403db2acca4076d8a3a7839f29dfd4f84.jpg attend the Orange Tour last year and your breakout in Richmond. You won me over that day. I’d love to have an opportunity to talk with you about leading from the second chair and helping others to see the importance of volunteering in Kid’s Ministry. I’ll take medium roast, please ????. And if I’m not picked, still super pumped for Orange in just a few weeks!!

  16. CMP on April 3, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    I’d love to talk about transitions and reaching full potential.

  17. Tony Miltenberger on April 3, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    Carey, I’m all registered for ReThink. Three things I would love to chat with you about over coffee:
    1. The future of mainline denominations, specifically the consequences when you left one.
    2. What is the role of the church for the unchurch who have been in our pews for decades?
    3. I would love to get in the weeds on how you podcast. Start to finish how does your process work?

  18. Jon Magnuson on April 3, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    I would love to pick your brain about how to develop leaders and how best to move things from “concepts” to “culture” and train and equip existing leaders while being a three year old church plant in a small rural community with over 20 churches. We have a very active core of 50 people which is compiled of people from “branches” that have broken away from other “trees” (one of the local 20 faith bodies). We may have to have more than one cup of coffee.

  19. Kristen on April 3, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    I first heard you speak last year in Charlotte, NC. I’ve since followed you and you’ve helped me tremendously. I’d love to pick your brain on how to “fix” a lack of excitement as a whole among other things. We’re trying to move forward with new ideas and generate excitement to reach others but the church being over 40 years old is stuck in tradition and being content where they are.

  20. Pamela Nelson on April 3, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Hey Carey, I’d love to talk about managing the tension between organic and intentional mentoring in faith-communities. (How to cultivate mentoring cultures organically – which millennials desire – yet intentionally, so it can actually occur.)

  21. Ruth Miller on April 3, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Great info on leadership! If I have coffee with you, let’s talk about volunteer recruitment

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.