This topic is adapted from PursueGOD Network YouTube channel. This is part 2 of 5 in the Self-Care for Pastors series.

Healthy Self-Care Requires Emotional Management

One aspect of managing our emotions is to be able to notice and identify them. We see this in the Psalms. David is willing to name the emotions he is feeling.

Psalm 13:2-3 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?…Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.

Another aspect of healthy emotional management is handling our emotions appropriately. We see that David also handles his emotions appropriately, by talking them out them in the presence of God.

Key Emotions in Pastoral Ministry

Certain emotions are especially problematic for pastors. It’s easy to get frustrated because people and plans don’t live up to our expectations. We often get discouraged when we compare our ministry to others or to our own hopes. Discouragement can spiral down into depression. While depression is a complex issue, it often helps simply to voice it. Pastors might suffer from dryness – an empty lack of joy or motivation. It’s important not to set your value before God based on how you feel. Whether you feel great or you feel down, the gospel reminds us that you are loved by Jesus unconditionally.

How to Gain Emotional Sspace

To stay emotionally healthy in ministry, pastors need to learn “differentiation”. This is the ability to remain connected in relationship to significant people in our lives, and yet not have our reactions and behavior determined by them. We are able to hear and empathize with others’ concerns, while not necessarily agreeing with their perspective, or not taking their critique (or attack) personally. Differentiation involves caring for others while not taking responsibility for their emotions. It is the capacity to be engaged without being absorbed. Differentiation is a lifetime process,  not a goal to be achieved. Regular, specific prayer helps. It helps to talk to safe people to gain perspective. It helps to set boundaries. Don’t be more emotionally invested in someone’s problem than they are.

As you pay attention to practices and boundaries that maintain your emotional health, you will have a longer and more fruitful ministry.

[Related Series: Emotional Intelligence for Pastors]

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. What are the three most common emotions you have felt in your ministry in the past 3 months? Explain.
  4. Read Psalm 34. Make a list of the emotions identified in this psalm.
  5. What does Psalm 34 suggest about how to handle emotions appropriately?
  6. What frustrates you? How do you typically handle frustration?
  7. What discourages you? How do you typically handle discouragement?
  8. What are some healthy ways to set emotional boundaries?
  9. Explain the concept of “differentiation” in your words.
  10. Is differentiation an appropriate response for a pastor? Explain.
  11. Is differentiation even possible for people in ministry? Explain.
  12. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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