Why the World Needs More Emotionally Healthy Pastors
Why the World Needs More Emotionally Healthy Pastors
By: Sabrina Peters
Emotionally unhealthy pastors often leave a trail of chaos in their wake, causing harm to both the individuals and organisations they lead.
Sadly, there are endless stories of leaders who operated with great spiritual authority, but fell morally, or pastors with world-wide ministries who swindled finances for personal gain.
At the core often lies emotional dysfunction and an unbridled ego.
And I say that with some level of insight, as a pastor myself (18 years and counting). Pastoring is not a career, it’s a calling, and one that comes with significant challenges. It’s a role marked by endless expectations and holds one of the most diverse portfolios of any vocation – spiritual leader, speaker, teacher, CEO, executive, administrator, counsellor, mentor, social worker. No doubt, it’s difficult, yet it will always be a great privilege, requiring a sober-minded approach.
Reflecting on a conversation with a colleague curious about my own pastoral background, I once admitted:
“Honestly, I love being a pastor, and when the church is healthy, it’s so good and beneficial for so many! But when it’s not, it’s really not, and can cause a lot of heartache.”
And largely that heartache flows from the top, with a dysfunctional leader at the helm. Unfortunately, such leaders are prone to misusing their power and engaging in spiritual abuse. Which is an absolute travesty and in complete contrast to the heart of God.
What Keeps Pastors Emotionally Healthy?
Now, hear me when I say, this isn’t the case in most churches or amongst the majority of incredible leaders I have the privilege to know or the church I call home. Most pastors are good-hearted, humble and authentic. But, what keeps them like that? What guides them toward staying true to their moral compass? Obviously, Jesus. But second to that?
I’d say it’s their commitment to not just spiritual growth but also emotional wholeness and character development.
Because when a leader lacks either, other people suffer. It’s not a choice between one or the other, but rather a commitment to both, firmly rooted in the foundational tenants of Christ-centered, theologically sound, and biblically literate leadership.
Emotionally healthy pastors build their spirits through practices such as prayer, studying the Word, partaking in communion, and speaking in the Spirit. They also steward their soul (their mind, will and emotions), by developing self-awareness, dealing with past hurt, engaging in therapy, nurturing emotional intelligence, and growing in relational maturity.
With this in mind, here are 5 simple markers of an Emotionally Healthy Leader.
1 – Committed to Personal Growth, Not Just Numerical Growth
Healthy leaders, hold a deep commitment to personal development, not just external success. They recognise that their motives and character are foundational aspects that demand just as much attention as the programs and ministries they oversee. While numerical growth and accomplishments are undeniably significant in leadership, these outcomes are often natural byproducts of personal growth rather than the primary goal. The recognise that by tending to their inner selves, they become better equipped to lead and inspire others effectively.
2 – Aware of Their Impact, Not Just Their Intent
While our intentions may be pure and well-meaning, it’s the actual impact of our words and actions that truly shape the people around us.
Healthy leaders recognise that their impact extends beyond their intentions, and they take responsibility for the effect their behaviour has on others.
This awareness is not about perfection, but about humility and growth. It means acknowledging when our actions inadvertently hurt or affect others, even if it was not our intention. It’s about actively seeking feedback, being open to constructive criticism, and valuing the perspectives and feelings of those we lead.
By becoming aware of our impact, we create a culture of accountability and transparency within our leadership. We inspire trust and respect by demonstrating our commitment to understanding how our decisions and behaviors affect the well-being and morale of our teams and communities.
3 – They Don’t Hide Their Mistakes, They Address and Confess Them
A leader who can’t admit when they’ve missed the mark is a ticking time bomb, often blaming others and justifying their own bad behaviour. It’s the antithesis of integrity.
Pastors who confess their shortcomings demonstrate accountability and integrity as leaders.
It shows that we take responsibility for the consequences of our actions and are willing to make amends. It also sends a powerful message to people that we are not infallible, that we, too, are on a continuous journey of becoming like Christ. When we acknowledge our mistakes, we create an environment of trust and honesty within our leadership.
I often say to my husband, “I want to be someone who tells my own secrets. I want to be someone that has nothing to hide.” And it’s true, I’d rather live a transparent life, not a perfect one. And the truth is God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He does invite us to be honest.
CONGRUENCE IS THE CALL OF EVERY CHRISTIAN, NOT JUST THE PASTOR.
James 5:16 (TPT) “Confess and acknowledge how you have offended one another and then pray for one another to be instantly healed, for tremendous power is released through the passionate, heartfelt prayer of a godly believer!”
4 – They Don’t Use People, They Serve People
For many years I have lived by this sentiment and still do. People aren’t just there to build the church, the church is there to build people. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for church members to feel like pawns on a chessboard, but as leaders, our mission is to serve people, love people and disciple people forward in their faith. Not to rule over them, or only use them, for the benefit of the organisation. I’m personally grateful to be part of a church where this is a cornerstone belief lived out in action.
1 Peter 5:2-3 (NIV) – “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” This verse beautifully reflects the essence of serving and shepherding with humility and love.
5 – They Don’t Just ‘Work For’ Christ, They Resemble Him
A hallmark of a great leader is not solely found in their service to Christ but in their journey of becoming more like Him, continually shaped by His character and example.
Scripture: 1 John 2:6 (NIV) – “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.”
Healthy leaders, seek to embody Christ’s compassion, humility, and unwavering love, becoming living testimonies of His character. Their pursuit isn’t limited to ministry success; it’s a relentless commitment to mirror the One they follow.
Good leaders keep Jesus on the throne and avoid placing themselves on a pedestal.
It’s His church, and they’re His people. We’re simply His stewards, let’s be good ones! Because the world needs more emotionally healthy pastors who preach the good news of Jesus Christ with passion, love and integrity.
About the Author: Sabrina is a writer, pastor and relationships blogger. She is passionate about Jesus and changing the way people think about God, relationships and sex.
Article supplied with thanks to Sabrina Peters.
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