Each year, our deacons insist that I go in for a thorough health examination. Usually the doctor will greet me with a statement like, “Deacons sent you again, huh?” He gets it.
A day or two after the exam, the doctor sends me his baseline evaluation that covers the most vital areas of health: vital signs, blood counts, cholesterol levels, and a variety of basic, measurable indicators.
The reality is that we can feel healthy without actually being healthy. I suppose all of us have known someone who seemed fine—and a short time later were diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The same thing can happen in leadership. We can think we’re doing okay, especially if we see outward signs of ministry success. But if we do not give attention to the most basic relationships of our lives, we may be very unhealthy spiritual leaders.
In a way, these three relationships seem so basic, we may just assume we’re okay. But without health in these three relationships, we have no real ministry.
1. A Vibrant Relationship with God
Without a vibrant, growing relationship with God, we have nothing to give others in ministry.
Is your relationship with God passionate? Purposeful? Are you seeking God, or simply seeking success?
These are questions we must regularly ask ourselves, for as William Booth said, “Look well to the fire of your soul; it is always the tendency of fire to go out.”
God calls us to love Him first and wholly. We are to love Him with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. That is a vibrant relationship with God.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.—Mark 12:30
Some of the most toxic ministry environments are led by a leader whose personal walk with God is suffering gross neglect. Unless we daily humble ourselves before God, walk in His Spirit, and depend on His grace, we become proud, hard, and demanding leaders.
It’s not the absence of knowledge or skill that makes poor shepherds of God’s people, so often as it is the absence of following the Shepherd ourselves.
When we purposefully and passionately seek God’s face for ourselves, we easily dispense His grace as we lead others.
2. A Growing Relationship with Your Family
If you are married, your relationship with your spouse is, humanly speaking, your highest relational priority.
And if you are a parent, your relationship with your children is your next highest relational priority.
This is so important, that God included these relationships in the qualifications for pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:2–5, 12).
Years ago, an older pastor, seeing the complete attention I was giving to our church family and the danger of doing it to the neglect of my own family, admonished me with a statement I have never forgotten: “The church is Christ’s bride, but Terrie is your bride. The church can get another pastor, but she cannot get another husband.”
There is a balance here, for sure. Of course a pastor is to fully engage in what Ephesians 4:12 calls “the work of the ministry.” And I’m grateful for all the ways in which Terrie has encouraged me to passionately invest in ministry and has helped to involve our family in serving together. But I’m also thankful for her reminders over the years to slow down and create family memories.
Healthy spiritual leaders do not neglect those for whom God has given them direct responsibility in order to lead others.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;…And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.—Ephesians 5:25, 6:4
3. A Resilient Relationship with Your Church Family
In today’s social media culture, it’s easy to gain a virtual following without real leadership credibility. This vulnerability makes the transparency and accountability that God designed to be part of the local church all the more valuable.
Simply put, a healthy spiritual leader prioritizes hands-on, personal local church ministry and service—not distant, electronic social media traction.
I’m thankful for the tools of technology and the ways in which social media can augment ministry. But when social media becomes our ministry, our spiritual and leadership health is in jeopardy.
Outside of my walk with God and responsibility to my family, my greatest calling in life is to be an undershepherd for Christ’s church, equipping them to fulfill the Great Commission of reaching the world with the gospel (Matthew 28:19–20). If my ministry activity, then, revolves around anything other than soulwinning, discipleship, and equipping those in my local church for the work of the ministry, I’m moving into dangerous territory as it concerns my leadership health.
At the end of the day, healthy ministry is about healthy relationships. It is about loving God, loving our families, and reaching people with the gospel.