Pastors and church planters are often overwhelmed with ministry. I spoke to the widow of a pastor who committed suicide. It was sobering. She said that her husband didn’t just come home one day and kill himself. Instead, she said, “his soul faded out slowly—just like the song by Casting Crowns:”
It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
I have found these six indicators of a troubled soul.
- Minimal longing for Jesus
- Minimal joy and gladness
- Minimal dependence upon God
- Maximal thoughts of self
- Maximal burdens of ministry (dependent upon your work)
- Maximal outbursts of anger (masked fear)
Look these over carefully and ask yourself if these are patterns in your life. Of course, you will have episodes of all of these, but look for destructive and unhealthy patterns.
Seven Possible Solutions to a Troubled Soul
Many pastors—especially church planters—are out of balance. An inordinate ambition plus insecurity times aggressive ministry goals takes its toll on the pastor and his family. Your marriage may never (appear to) waver and your family may appear managed, but your soul may be troubled. Mark 8:36, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?” It is rarely intentional, but pastors pursue ministry “worlds” over the nourishing of their soul. You normally enter into ministry with a focus on the gospel’s work in your life. Often your soul fades slowly away until your focus becomes the gospel’s work in other’s lives without nourishing your own soul at a healthy pace.
To restore your soul, I am suggesting seven possible solutions.
1. Renew your mind with prolonged Scripture reading
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. (Psalm 16:8-9).
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16)
A faded soul is often the result of listening to your own advice and ignoring God’s promises to you. Nothing instantaneously happens but rather a day-by-day renewal of your inner self.
2. Pray with an unhurried heart
First, pray—really pray. A troubled soul has difficulty praying. Pressures of ministry and demands of those around you are barriers to prayer. I have only met one church planter who said he didn’t struggle with an adequate prayer life. Allow God to speak to you as you sit quietly beside the still water (Ps 23; Ps 42).
3. Confess the hidden sins of your heart and repent
“But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).
God is after your heart, your thoughts and your deepest desires. Learn to once again trust him with every little thought and feeling and desire.
4. Live in true community with others and allow them to completely know you.
How many people actually know you—the private person, not the public minister (finances, marriage, anger, and sins)?
We need others to help us in the battle against sin (Heb 3:12-13). Paul David Tripp said that without a [true] community, one would listen to their own lies and buy into their own delusions (Instruments in the Hands, p. 54).
5. Review your calling by God.
Os Guinness said, “Calling is the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion, [enthusiasm], and direction lived out as a response to His summons and service.” Guinness said, “The notion of calling is vital to each of us because it touches on the modern search for [personal] identity and an understanding of [two crucial questions: who am I? Why am I alive?]” (The Call, 1998).
Your calling must begin with adopted sonship granted by Christ. Pastors and church planters superimpose their ministry titles over their sonship with God. When that happens and trouble comes (and it will), it affects our (perceived) identity: Who am I? Why am I alive? Failure in ministry does not mean God is displeased with you or that your identity has changed. Your sonship is secure in Christ.
6. Learn to Sabbath
Most church planters do not properly Sabbath. God gave a Sabbath to us as a gift (Mark 2:27). He wants us to rest and to stop striving long enough for him to build us, strengthen us and renew us and form us. Peter Scazzero in The Emotionally Healthy Church Planter wrote, “Keeping the Sabbath is like having a heavy snow day every week. You have the gift of a day off to do whatever you want.” God gives you 52 snow days every year with no obligations, pressures or responsibilities.
7. Rest in God’s grace, love and acceptance
This is hard for me. I have mentally understood that I do not have to earn God’s love and acceptance but I functionally have acted as though I did not believe it. Through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus to impute to me His righteousness, I am a beloved son of God in whom God is well pleased. I can’t earn more favor from God. He doesn’t demand more than the substitutionary atonement of His Son Jesus Christ to declare me righteous. I don’t have to be/act like “Super Pastor.” I am already God’s adopted son through the finished work of Christ. His grace, love and acceptance (in spite of my actions) allows me to rest in Him.
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8:36-37, NLT)