8 Habits of Healthy Church Leaders

Matt Brown: “We are called by a great God. May we never be stagnant or half-hearted in that calling!”

God calls, prepares and empowers spiritual leaders to lead his church. Spiritual leadership is not a job for everybody. While every Christian is called to follow Christ wholeheartedly and make an impact on the world—some are specifically called to equip the body of Christ as spiritual leaders.

Spiritual leadership is vitally important. People rise and fall to the level of our leadership. People are drawn into the kingdom, and drawn into Christian service because of faithful, healthy spiritual leadership.

It is so important for those God calls to spiritual leadership to be eager to grow into everything God calls them to be. We are called by a great God. May we never be stagnant or half-hearted in that calling!

Here are eight habits every spiritual leader should develop:

1. Walk with God.

Spiritual leadership is primarily about walking with God. It is God’s kingdom and his reign that we are seeking to establish, not our own. We must keep our hearts daily submissive to his Word and rule in our lives. We should seek to know him more, and then make him known to those we lead.

The primary way we walk with God is through engagement with his Word: reading, meditating, applying his eternal wisdom to our daily lives of spiritual leadership.

Spiritual leaders need to seek God more than they seek ministry. Their first priority every day should be to know God more, to follow him more wholeheartedly and to grow in their knowledge of him.

God may have called them to influence others for the sake of the gospel, but they know closeness to and obedience to God is the prize they are after. If Jesus isn’t the prize, you are running the wrong race.

2. Take in more than you give out.

As spiritual leaders, we should seek inner growth of character, wisdom and obedience more than outer growth of ministry impact. Yes, we want both, but we need to watch closely that we are in the Word of God, reading good books and spending time around mentors, as well as watching the overall health of our soul, relationships and emotions more than we are giving out.

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This can be tricky for pastors who preach every week. Sundays come with surprising regularity. But simple ways to work toward this end would be:

Set time for healthy growth habits once a week.

Plan growth time in your schedule just like you plan out your to-do list.

Schedule another pastor to preach once or twice a month in your place to give your more time for intake than giving out.

What we don’t want as spiritual leaders is to sound like broken records. Yes, we have specific gifts we will camp on, and we drip vision continually, but God forbid we preach on the same themes week after week because we aren’t growing. This is one reason why expository preaching is so beneficial. We move beyond our personal gifting and into God’s abundant Word, which covers areas we would never think to cover.

3. Set healthy margins.

We must realize and admit that we cannot do everything. For everything we say “yes” to, we are inadvertently saying “no” to something else. So be careful what you say “yes” to. Try to say “yes” to more of the right stuff—stuff in your strength zone, stuff that only you can do—and then either delegate the rest to other leaders or say “no” when appropriate.

Margin in the life of the leader allows space for creativity to flourish, for thinking and decision-making to be possible. It helps highlight the important over the urgent and keeps you enjoying life and leadership over the long haul.

For some of you, you need to do way less unimportant work. For others, you just need to plan an hour or two a day where nothing is scheduled, and be mindful at how much overcrowding you are doing on your daily task list. Does it overflow into all hours of the day, every day? Are you keeping healthy expectations for how much you can accomplish each day?

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At some point, you have to happily put your unfinished work down until tomorrow, and head home to be fully present with and fully enjoy your family.

4. Establish healthy rhythms.

It is not good to go through life and leadership always in fifth gear. We need to be mindful of our exhaustion and motivation levels, and refill our tank with rest, connection with others and healthy rhythms so that we can be effective spiritual leaders for the long haul.

There will be seasons that are busier than others, and in those times we need to watch for and guard our rhythms (healthy habits, time with family, etc.) There will be seasons that are slower than others, and in those times we should not simply watch them go by, but instead soak in rest to prepare for the next stage of the journey.

5. Find healthy outlets for stress.

We are often slow to realize that we need a break or are living at an unhealthy pace. As spiritual leaders, we need to live out what we believe and teach. This is our greatest test.

As stress builds and work hurls at us at a consistently overwhelming pace, we can find ourselves exhausted, discouraged and unable to fully process pain or rejection. We need healthy, godly outlets for the daily stresses of spiritual leadership, or else we may find ourselves in unhealthy or ungodly outlets.

More than a decade ago, a pastor in Colorado told us a story about how they were running on all cylinders for an unrealistic period of time. Their spiritual tank was overflowing, but their relational, physical and emotional tanks were near empty, and this pastor found him or herself secretly wanting to drive off a mountain.

We must be mindful of these tanks in our lives. It is not enough to simply fill our spiritual tank. God in his Word has also called us to community, to steward our bodies and to find rest, rhythms and margin.