By DR. MARCUS J. CARLSON
Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries
Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage notes that “organizational health trumps everything.” Not only have I found his premise to be true in the church to a high degree, but I have also found it to be true for the leaders of the church as well. Outside of the Gospel, the most important factor in the effectiveness and longevity of a church is the health of the church. Outside of the work of God, health is the most important factor in the effectiveness of pastors, staff and ministry leaders. Health trumps. At least 29% of pastors in the United States seriously considered leaving ministry (not just their current call) in the last year. Pastors, church staff and ministry leaders are struggling deeply.
There are five key principles about leader health that have been essential in my leadership journey, both successes and failures. Understanding these principles can help any leader discern what health looks like for them.
1. You cannot give what you do not have
In my office is a print of a painting of a man holding large chalice. Below him and the chalice are the shadows of a large number of people. Above him is a heavenly image, representing God. From heaven, oil pours out over the man’s head, over his body and into the cup. The cup overflows and pours out onto the shadows of the crowd. It is an image of the Scripture, “you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” All that we have comes from God. Often, as leaders we try to do things with our own effort and only rely on God in times of desperation. If we do not intentionally allow God to pour into us, we have nothing of value to offer others.
2. No one will do it for you
Churches are filled with wonderful people who love their pastors, staff and leaders. No church wants an unhealthy pastor. The hard reality, however, is that no one will do health for you. No one else will protect your health, set boundaries for you or make your health a priority, no matter how much they might want to. No one will do it
for you: it is something you must do. It is an intentional commitment that requires effort (not works).
3. You cannot do it alone
One of the many beauties and joys of the Christian faith is that it was never meant to be experienced and lived in isolation. We cannot fully follow Jesus and experience the abundant life He promised us without the help of others. As Luther is often quoted, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.” Most pastors, ministry
staff and church leaders live lives of deep loneliness and isolation and are in need of others who will care about their health and wellbeing. Transformational health is impossible without the help of others. We need others to hold us accountable, help us set and maintain boundaries, and make health a priority and a reality.
4. It’s a matter of obedience
Health is a matter of obedience. Every human being is created in the image of God and is loved by God. Every human being is invited to be adopted into God’s family. Self-care, health and boundaries are a natural part of love. One key aspect to leader health is embracing sabbath. Sabbath is not a suggestion: it is a command. It even made the top ten list of commands! Most pastors, church staff and ministry leaders blatantly ignore sabbath. Our culture worships work and performance, abandoning the rhythm of rest. Sabbath is not always about doing nothing, it is about not doing our normal work and doing only those things that give us life. It is a rhythm of rest, one day every seven, not two weeks every year. Sabbath reminds us that we rely on God and that God does not need our work. In Sabbath, we delight in God and step away from self-dependence and the worldly idol of busyness. God rested. Jesus rested. If sabbath is good enough for God, then who are we to think that we do not need it. Health is a matter of obedience.
5. Unhealthy leaders are toxic
One of the areas of focus for the ministry I lead is helping churches revitalize through health. I have worked with many churches over my career as a volunteer, youth pastor, children’s pastor, associate pastor, senior pastor, intentional interim pastor, and consultant. When churches and other organizations have leaders who are unhealthy, it has a negative and often dramatic impact on the organization. This is why it is critical that churches care about the health of their pastors, staff and leaders. Unhealthy leaders can cause churches to become unhealthy. Unhealthy leaders often have unhealthy families. Unhealthy leaders reproduce unhealthy disciples.
The ministry I lead has an inventory for Christian leaders to do some self-evaluation of their own health. This free inventory has questions organized in seven different categories and can be found by visiting inventory.amazed15.org. In this season of ministry, I am doing some of the best work and ministry of my career. Why? It is not because I am older, wiser or more educated (though none of that hurts). The reason I am finding the greatest effectiveness, joy and peace in ministry in this season is because I am the healthiest I have ever been, in every way (with plenty work still to do). Health trumps.
Leader health matters. For those who lead churches and Christian organizations, as well as for those who are Christian leaders in secular settings, health trumps. Health trumps skill set, education, programs, preaching and just about everything else. Outside of the work of God through the Gospel, health is the most important factor in the effectiveness of any leader who follows Jesus. Pastors, church staff and ministry leaders must make health a priority if they want to make the kind of Kingdom impact they desire. Churches must come alongside their pastors, staff and ministry leaders to ensure that they are able to experience lasting and transformational health so that all our churches may be the light that the world so desperately needs.
Note: This is the 2nd in a 4-part series focused on the health of pastors, staff and other ministry leaders. The next article will examine the nature of church health and how congregations can emphasize organizational health.