Soul Care for Pastors

If you search a bookstore or the Internet for resources to help pastors most of what you’ll find will be strategies and methods to be more successful as a pastor, preacher, or leader. Of course, these things are important but the source of our ministry as pastors and our effectiveness as leaders is our own intimacy with Jesus and soul care.

The churches and organizations that we lead suffer if we don’t care for our souls in Christ. Our families especially suffer. The statistics on well-being of pastors and pastors’ wives are dismal. (See “Pastor Stress” and “The Pastors’ Wife.”) It’s because professional ministers are prone to care for everyone else first and not save enough time and energy for their wives, children, and own self.

Watch Over Your Soul and Your Teaching

“Give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NASB). This word is especially for pastors. (In referring to “pastors” I mean to include others who serve Christ as pastors’ wives, ministry leaders, Bible teachers, and caregivers.)

When we pastors and ministry wives neglect the care of our souls under God then we and the people we lead will lose touch with God’s love, power, and wisdom. This was Moses’ warning to Hebrew parents in ancient times and it’s just as true for us today.

The Apostle Paul said the same thing to Timothy, the young pastor that he was guiding: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you ensure salvation both for yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16, NASB). Yourself and your teaching: the two are inseparably connected. For better or for worse, your personal character and the health of your soul are transmitted to the people you guide and care for.

Jesus taught us, “Abide in me and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). When our union with Christ is “intimate and organic” (is the wording in The Message Bible), not just theological, but prayerful and practical also, then we will bear fruit for God naturally and easily. The way of the Spirit of Christ in our lives is to work inside of us and then overflow out from us to others.

Pastor Burnout

Soul care for pastors and other leaders and caregivers is essential, but it’s easy for us who are in ministry to operate as “professionals” who rely on our abilities and personality to perform our service well. We’ve been gifted by God. We’ve been trained. We’re experienced. We become good at what we do. We know how to preach, help people, or lead our organization. We know how to make people happy.

It’s as if we don’t even need the Holy Spirit!

Our problem isn’t just pride and self-reliance it’s also our desire to help people, which, of course, is a good thing. The needs of people are so great and compelling that we’re prone to become swallowed up by our ministry.

If our affectionate reverence for God wanes and we neglect the care of our own souls then eventually we’re likely to burnout or “fall” into sin.

This is why in the ministry of Soul Shepherding seeks to cultivate intimacy with Jesus for pastors. In counseling, spiritual mentoring, soul care groups, retreats, and classes we help pastors and leaders like you draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ so that you can overflow with his loving care and wisdom to the people in your circle of influence.

Soul Care Articles for Pastors and Ministry Leaders

We have hundreds of free Soul Shepherding articles to encourage pastors, caregivers, and ministry wives in their intimacy with Jesus and soul care. Some are under these popular tags (subjects): PastorsPastors’ WivesLeadershipMinistry Stress, and Prevent Burnout.

We’d also like to share with you some articles written by others which we’ve found to be helpful for the pastors, pastors’ wives, and other ministry leaders we care for. Each of these articles is written by a pastor (many of them very well-known) who has learned, often through great personal struggles and pain, that each of us must care for our soul under God in order to be effective in loving our neighbor and carrying out the special ministry that God has called us to do.

Addiction: Recovery for Pastors Caught in Compulsive Behavior

Beyond Pornography” by Dallas Willard. Many pastors and Christian leaders struggle with pornography and lust, which can become sexual addiction. Here is a spiritual formation perspective for understanding this and a plan for overcoming it with God’s help. This article is based on Dallas Willard’s seminar at the “Christian Spirituality and Soul Care” conference at Talbot School of Theology in September 2008.

Breaking Point” by Darrell Brazell. Published by Leadership Journal. A pastor’s gripping personal story of pain, porn, addiction, and redemption.

Burn Out: Hope for Pastors Running on Fumes

Depressed, Stressed, and Burned Out” by Archibald Hart, published by the Enrichment Journal. Arch writes, “Pastors tend to become overly involved emotionally, overextend themselves, and then feel overwhelmed by the emotional demands imposed by others. And the more people there are to feel responsible for, the greater the opportunity for burnout.” He diagnoses the problem and offers guidance to pastors on recovery from burnout and preventing burnout.

Dark Night of the Soul: Loving God when He Seems Distant

A History of Darkness” by Chris R. Armstrong, published in The Leadership Journal. This article explores the Dark Night of the Soul experiences of C.S. Lewis, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther. Their spiritual struggles yielded surprising results.

My Soul’s Dark Night” by Chuck Colson, published in Christianity Today. Chuck shares his personal experience that receiving the best evangelical Christian training didn’t prepare him for his experience with the Dark Night of the Soul.

Dallas Willard’s Articles on Soul Care for Pastors

Personal Soul Care” by Dallas Willard. Published in The Great Omission. “[The burdens of ministry] can be fruitfully born and dangers triumphantly overcome. But that will not happen unless the minister’s ‘inner person’ (2 Cor 4:16) is constantly renewed by accessing the riches of God and His kingdom in the inner person.”

A Cup Running Over: Why Preachers Must Find Deep Satisfaction in Christ” by Dallas Willard for The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching. “Men and women in ministry who are not finding satisfaction in Christ and likely to demonstrate that with overexertion and over preparation for speaking, and with no peace about what they do after they do it…”

The Key to the Keys of the Kingdom” by Dallas Willard. Published in The Great Omission. “We must seek out ways to live and act in union with the flow of God’s kingdom life that should come through our relationship with Jesus.” Dallas explains that especially for pastors the disciplines of Sabbath, solitude, silence, and fasting (all vastly underutilized today) are essential for our growth in Christ and the care of our souls.

Becoming the Kinds of Leaders Who Can Do the Job” by Dallas Willard. Published in Cutting Edge Magazine. Dallas says that our impact on other people for Christ has little to do with our method and everything to do with our character. He offers ten practical suggestions for pastors and ministry leaders on becoming the kind of person who God is readily able to use to expand his kingdom.

Emotionally Healthy Pastors

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Bridging the Counselor/Church Divide” by Pete Scazzero. Pete was the pastor of a successful megachurch and his wife told him, “Pete, I’m leaving the church. I can’t take anymore of this stress — the constant crisis.” Pete says, “Entire areas of my life were untouched by the Lord Jesus by my first seventeen years as a devoted follower of Him. – e.g. the ability and permission to feel deeply, the skills to process anger and conflict maturely, the inability to process loss in a way that enlarges the soul, speaking honestly, clearly and respectfully, and the enormous power of our family of origin to impact our present. I finally admitted that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable.”

Pastor with ADD” by David Slagle. Published by Leadership Journal. A highly distracted and frustrated pastor tells his story that, “Seeking help for my distractions yielded tremendous blessings.”

Failure is Not Final

The Fall” (A Pastor Falls Ice Climbing) by Nathan Conrad as told to Matt Woodley, Leadership Journal. “How a near-fatal climbing accident forced me to rethink ministry — and the rest of my life.”

Epic Fail” by J.R. Briggs, Leadership Journal. “How can pastors be encouraged to embrace their failures and redefine ministry success?” This article is the antidote to the typical pastors’ conference that overloads them with information, pressures them to do more, and leaves them feeling inadequate.

Pastoring a Small Church

How Dallas Willard Befriended Rookie Pastor Richard Foster” by Richard Foster, Leadership Journal. Richard was pastor of a small fellowship that included Dallas Willard. He had many challenges leading his small church. Here’s what he learned from Dallas about living in the rhythms of the Spirit of Christ. This is an encouraging example for any pastor — especially small church pastors, which is most pastors.

Pastors’ Wives (and other Ministry Wives)

Heart to Heart with Pastors’ Wives” by Lynne Dugan, Regal Books © 1994. This book is available to read online for free! Twelve ministry wives and leaders share their personal stories and insights from living in the fishbowl of being a ministry wife. “Slowly I began feeling like an unpaid assistant pastor,” writes Lynn. “I felt as if I were on a treadmill and could not reach the stop button.” Fortunately her husband (a pastor) was sensitive to her feelings and encouraged in a dual role of supporting his ministry and having a ministry of her own.

Sabbath Rest for Pastors

Sabbath as Praying and Playing” by Eugene Peterson. Eugene’s example and teaching on Sabbath have had a profound impact on my life and ministry. This article features Eugene’s story and insights on Sabbath from Working the Angles.

Cut and Sharpen” by Gordon MacDonald, Leadership Journal. “One of God’s underused gifts is time to sharpen.” Gordon presents Sabbath rest as a way to trust God to sharpen you for life and ministry.

Taking Care of Busyness” by John Ortberg, Leadership Journal. John was a pastor at Willowcreek Community Church moving at a fast clip that wasn’t good for his heart or his family. He sought counsel from Dallas Willard who told him, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Here’s what John has learned about the importance of being unhurried in life and ministry.

Women Pastors and Leaders

How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership” by Dallas Willard. Dallas was asked to write on this subject and he said he didn’t change his mind — he’s always believed that women make great pastors and leaders. He offers a Biblical and common sense view that affirms gifted women. This is needed. So many qualified women have been disrespected in their role as ministers or not given the chance to lead.


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Listening for God’s Voice

We want to bless you with this free guide for 11 methods to hear the Lord’s voice in your life. Learn Biblical teaching, insights from other Christian writers, wisdom from Dallas Willard, and practical ways to discern Jesus’ voice above the noise of the world.