What Everybody Ought to Know About Emotions and Ministry

What Everybody Ought to Know about Ministry and Emotions

Life is emotional. But for those of us in ministry, it feels like it’s even a little more emotional.

That’s true even for those of us who think of ourselves as more rational than emotional. Sometimes we get surprised by how intense ministry can become. I started out in my twenties as a lawyer, so emotion wasn’t really a huge part of my wiring.

But within a few years of beginning ministry, I realized that if I didn’t figure out how to navigate the emotions of ministry, I probably wouldn’t make it in the long run.

And looking back on my time in ministry so far, I can honestly say the biggest crises I’ve had to navigate have not been spiritual or vocational nearly as much as they’ve been emotional.

What I mean by that is I didn’t know how to emotionally cope with the demands of my calling.

My biggest challenges for both paid staff and volunteers seem to involve handling the pressures, challenges, and criticism of ministry.

In my post How to Get Off the Emotional Roller Coaster of Ministry, I share six strategies to help you manage your emotions as a leader. But first, it would be helpful to drill down on the reasons why ministry is emotionally draining for so many.

So, Why Is ministry so emotional for so many?

Here’s my theory. Ministry combines three areas of life that are intensely personal:

Your faith

Your work

Your community

Because of that, it gets confusing.

What you do is what you believe.

What you believe is what you do.

Your friends are also the people you serve and lead.

Throw your family into the mix (because they believe what you believe and are friends with the people you/they lead and serve) and bam – it’s even more confusing.

Because of this, things that normally happen ‘at work’ very seldom stay ‘at work.’

Things that normally happen 'at work' very seldom stay 'at work.' Click To Tweet

Here are three common pitfalls many ministry leaders struggle with:

1. Disagreements at Home

You and your spouse end up arguing about being out ‘one more night’ at a meeting or event. But because ‘what you do is what you believe’ you feel that staying home is somehow being ‘unfaithful’ to God.

2. Taking Criticism Personally

You get an email or comment criticizing something you said in a message, and you’re really bothered by it. It’s more troubling because you’re not sure whether it means you’ve somehow failed God, not just your employer.  And then guess what? You bring that home to your spouse, who also loves God.

Repeat that pattern multiple times and your spouse can end up resenting the very place that’s supposed to be her spiritual home and the spiritual home of your kids.

3. Friendship

One of the worst forms of hurt can come when someone you consider to be a friend becomes a critic of your ministry. I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and it hurts deeply.  When people you share your life with quietly (or not so quietly) start to work against you, it’s very difficult to navigate.

One of the worst forms of hurt can come when someone you consider to be a friend becomes a critic of your ministry. Click To Tweet

If you don’t navigate these issues well, here’s what can happen as a result:

You begin to resent the church you serve.

Your family begins to have mixed emotions about your church.

You stop trusting people.

Your personal time with God becomes clouded and even dies for a season.

You dream of getting out of ministry.

You build up anger you’re not sure how to get rid of.

If you want strategies to deal with this, click here. You can overcome it! I’ve learned to cope with all of this.

Build A System To Beat Overwhelm

One of the reasons leaders struggle to improve their habits is they feel like they just don’t have the time to do it.

Change that.

My approach to life and leadership changed radically for me over ten years ago when I figured out how to get time, energy and priorities working in my favour.

I’d love to help you free up hours each day to do the same thing. And I’ve helped over 5000 leaders do just that.

If you’re trying to find the time for what matters most in life, my High Impact Leader course, is an online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Many leaders who have taken it are recovering 3 productive hours a day.  That’s about 1000 hours of found time each year. That’s a lot of time for what matters most.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – Joel Rowland, Clayton County, North Carolina

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A game changer.” Pam Perkins,  Colorado Springs, Colorado

Curious? Want to beat overwhelm and have the time to reflect, rest and reinvent yourself?

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

In the meantime

How have you found this to be true?

What have you seen people struggle with emotionally in ministry?

What Everybody Ought to Know About Emotions and Ministry


  1. Don Easton on March 9, 2020 at 2:32 am

    Hey Carey,
    I totally concur that as leaders in a church our emotions can get under pressure and as a consequence, we are prone to burnout. Yes, it is hard to not take things personally when our faith, and people we love, have invested in and journeyed with are involved.
    They guys at flourishing in ministry project note that for church pastors 67 competencies are required to do the job well. To add to the complexity we often change gears quickly. One moment we may be planning capital fundraising for a new facility and the next dealing with the death of a loved one. Sustained high-level stress often ends in burnout. Thankfully that’s not the end of the story as you clearly demonstrate. Jesus is interested in our restoration (his reputation is at stake).
    Love your blog – thankyou!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 10, 2020 at 10:32 am

      Thanks Don!

  2. Jeff Courter on July 1, 2019 at 8:19 am

    I think this is why St. Paul believed it better not to marry, and why the Catholic Church today does not allow its priests to marry (the appropriateness of this doctrine is not something I am debating, for I am married – I could not remain single myself). Paul unquestionably felt his ministry was enhanced by his being single. For everyone who is married, it is a challenge.

    Today, family ties are also strained as adult children move (or, as in my case, when parents move due to a church calling). Visiting family hundreds of miles takes away time from the congregation. (Vacations are in the same category, BTW…)

    So in our accelerating society, time is impacted by distance as well. A spouse may travel for business, which creates limited time for family, too. We manage time as we adjust to increasing distances in our relationships, both in our ministries and in our families. As technology enables us to keep in touch more easily, it also makes it easier to be physically farther apart.

  3. Bekele on June 30, 2019 at 8:14 am

    Thank you for sending me the resources
    It is so important for my mission training

  4. […] a previous post (What Everybody Ought to Know About Emotions and Ministry), I outlined the reasons why ministry is so emotional for so […]

    • Mark D Smith on June 30, 2019 at 7:41 am

      I would add recreational/social life to “faith, work and community.” When I first entered the ministry thirty-six years ago, about two years in I couldn’t figure out why I felt so drained and empty. After considerable soul-searching, I realized that what had been four compartmentalized parts of my life (in differing percentages), with different people/personalities stimulating me and completing me (to differing degrees), were now synthesized into one location, one group of people, and one underlying (although awesome) purpose. In learning not to surrender my whole life to one setting and one group of people, I returned to a much greater state of emotional and spiritual health, and not cooincidentally, I was able to regularly meet new people, form meaningful relationships outside of the church environment, and some of those people found Christ. To reduce our lives to one environment in every major area of our lives is not only unhealthy, it will limit the number of people we influence for the Kingdom.

  5. Jalal on January 26, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Looking forward to part two! One of the biggest struggles we have had is not with our believing friends and extended family but with our unbelieving loved ones. The guilt and constant explaining of why we can’t come to Christmas due to church services, why we can’t just leave for the weekend or why it always seems as if our “church family” comes first. I think it is dificult for some outside the church to realize that this IS our job and not always our choice over them. After many years of feeling pain & guilt, my sister just released me with the most beauitful words last week, nothing profound just “I love you and I am proud of what you all are doing, I just get jealous of your time” I knew it was an emotional topic but until she said that, and I felt the grace of her words I did not realize what an emotional struggle I had been in. The worst battle is when someone in the church family you love implies or blatantly tells you that you don’t give enough time (attention,care,focus) to them when you know how much your extended family gives up and what you put into “your job”. Very hard for me to find a balance, I would love to hear if others struggle with this and how they handle it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 26, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      Jalal…wow. What a powerful story, and a great reminder to all of us of the cost not just to ourselves, but to our family. We’re all better and wiser for you sharing this. Thank you!

  6. Linda Goodall on January 24, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Working in social services for one church organization, yet attending and serving at another church, can certainly get emotional. Not bringing my emotions home (for privacy reasons through my work and for my volunteering at my church to not overwhelm my husband who is still trying to figure out the whole God thing) can be so hard. I’m a talker. But a lot of the time I feel I have to internalize instead of vocalize at home, which is not natural for me.
    Looking forward to reading the strategies that you’ve learned!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 24, 2013 at 8:41 am

      Thanks Linda. So glad you raised confidentiality. That’s a huge one, and so critical!

  7. Scott Cochrane on January 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Carey, you’ve put language around an issue that doesn’t get a lot of press. Way to go! Can’t wait for ‘Part 2’!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 24, 2013 at 8:41 am

      Thanks Scott. I want to write a book about this but the change series comes first. It’s a subject I’ve wrestled with a lot.

      • Sheila on May 14, 2018 at 12:01 pm

        I’m just finding this post now and resonating with it ALOT. Wondering if you’ve yet written the book that you referenced in the comment above?? I would buy it!

  8. AL on January 23, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    My first reaction was, “Carey Nieuwhof needs to stop reading my thoughts.” 🙂 My husband is a pastor…our relationship isn’t suffering at all because of his job, but it certainly is difficult to find friends who “get” us. I can’t talk to my church’s pastor about much of anything, because he’s my husband’s boss. I don’t feel safe opening up to anyone on staff, because they’re his coworkers. And on and on. Also, when you leave a church job, you lose friends and your community. That doesn’t happen in many other careers. Thank you for this blog post! Looking forward to the next one.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 24, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Thanks AL and Shelley. I just read my own thoughts…funny how we all have so much more in common than we think!

  9. Shelly C on January 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

    This is all so true. I think the hardest thing for me is not bringing things home and being able to separate my life as a mom and wife, with my struggles in ministry. Everything is all so connected…and while you need to be able to share at home – you also need to be careful because your family is also part of the church and you want them to love the church (especially your kids!) It’s a hard balancing act. Hard to keep it real sometimes, yet still protect the ones you love from your struggles…

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