Ministry is an emotional roller coaster. Much of leadership is for that matter.

One day you’re on top of the world,. The next day you want to bury yourself in a deep cave.

You probably think only the way to get off the emotional roller coaster of ministry is to quit. To leave it for a more normal life.

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 a previous 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.



6 Keys to Staying off the Emotional Roller Coaster of Ministry

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 counselor 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 counselors 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?


By the way, join me and over 5000 other leaders next month in Atlanta at the Orange Conference.

I’ll be speaking along with Andy Stanley, Mark Batterson, Perry Noble, Jeff Henderson, Derwin Gray, Ron Edmondson, Geoff Surratt and many more.

Plus I’m hosting a special track exclusively for senior pastors, executive pastors and campus pastors You can register here.


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  3. Gary Davis on April 6, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Great list Carey. I know these are important in your life, I read them in your posts. Praying for you, your family and your ministry.

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  5. Nancy Whelehan Leport on April 5, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Sad that these basic suggestions are out of the minds of many pastors

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 6, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Sometimes we just need to reminded. We all do.

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