Why are so many, not just in the world but in Christ’s kingdom, mentally struggling and on emotional edge in our day? We can blame external circumstances and events all we want, but the answer is often much simpler and more interior in its origins. Far too often how we take care of our health on many fronts, including counseling, is much more reactionary than intentional. We are driven by far too much, “Oh no, I’m in a full-blown emotional or relational crisis” instead of, “I need to maintain mental, emotional, and relational health with regular investments.” This is largely why, with all our sincere efforts to recover, counseling is so ineffective and even discouraging in the long run. As the prophet Hosea diagnoses the slippage in his people, “They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God” (Hos. 5:4a). We must shift from panic-mode counseling to preventative counseling.
What do I mean by preventative counseling? Let me provide two clarifying analogies. The first would be what is called preventative maintenance. Preventive maintenance is as one online forum put it, “The regular and routine maintenance of equipment and assets in order to keep them running and prevent any costly unplanned downtime from unexpected equipment failure.” As I observe in managing our home and church campus, successful maintenance strategy requires planning and scheduling maintenance of equipment before a problem occurs. The other analogy that we frequently use in our counseling ministry is the well exams of the medical community, that is, visits that regularly provide your doctor with a status update on your overall health. They can help guide you to make choices that promote better health, and they can catch health problems early. In fact, these are viewed as so essential to maintaining good health that many insurance plans covered 100% of the cost with no copays. Why is this word “preventative” so valuable in other contexts and how does that apply in counseling?
Instead of only seeking counseling after we lie shattered at the bottom of the cliff, we must address the underlying issues before we reach the edge or tipping point of regrettable consequences that could have been preempted. May I submit to you two arenas in which believers need to practice more preventative stewardship of their thoughts, emotions, and souls:
Those Who Lead the Local Church
By nature of its responsibility, leadership in the local church requires frequent withdraws of energy, unction, and interpersonal interactions that must be renewed with regular deposits. A maxim that many pastors and their wives attempt to deny but ultimately fail. God has hardwired our bodies, as several authors have put it, to “keep score.” You, no matter how self-sufficient and capable you view yourself, cannot outrun the burnout that ultimately comes without rhythmic body and soul care. I beg you not to wait until you hit the proverbial wall to scramble for a counselor; instead, own your humanity and the need for regular, frequent support outside of self to consistently process the ebbs and flows of serving God’s people.
A lack of planning in this area generates leaders who lack the emotional intelligence needed to recognize that they are often the reason for the perpetual issues in their congregation. Over lunch a few weeks ago, my pastor friend Jeremy Rands shared the following thoughts that he later posted online: “Often times we are disliked as leaders not because we follow Jesus but because we behave in a way that has hurt people. Don’t make excuses for your bad behavior, sooner or later you will start believing yourself. Then you will always be the victim in every story.” The behavior being mentioned is often not only lacking in self-awareness but also self-care.
Church leader, you do realize-I hope-that your church’s emotional and mental culture is largely a reflection of your own wellbeing or lack thereof? While this is a hard truth, it is what give us hope! We cannot change everything and everyone, but we can change us and how we manage our own vitality. Stop being so shortsighted in managing your own intrinsic energy and health. Take the long view-an obvious but oft-forgotten prerequisite for heaven-sanctioned and sustained leadership. Key statement: self-care is not selfish; it is strategic.
If you would like more information on joining/referring another leader to join church leaders who are scheduling a “Minister Consultation” with Inspire Counseling Ministry, visit here.inspirecounsel.com
Those Who Comprise the Local Church
What are the two things that churches are most negatively known for in world at large-individual hypocrisy and church splits. May I lovingly submit to you that both of those issues as well as a horde of other nuanced ones that regularly characterize our churches are the result of delinquency in regular soul-care. Soul care that could and would prevent many if not all of these external-over-internal focused malaises that are simply fruit of unhealthy roots in our minds, hearts, and homes.
Any organization, including the church, is largely defined by WHO its people are becoming as a result of its priorities and influences. Instead of blaming the unwholesome ethos of our church on our church members, we need to own where we are not providing and/or supporting regular access to teaching and coaching that promotes wellness. Craig Groeschel regular states, “A great leader never says, ‘Our people won’t.’ A great leader says, ‘We haven’t led our people to.'” Are we who are all-in on our local church willing to own the unhealth and move heaven and earth to regularly invest in ourselves and others, not just after we are poised to crash and burn but beforehand?
Church member, if every member of your local church were emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as healthy as you are, would that same church be better or worse off? A church is only as strong against the attacks of a destructive world, flesh, and devil as its weakest link. Are you doing everything within your power to avoid being that link and being on the lookout for others who are trending in that direction? Truly the best time to head off a persistent, divisive assault was yesterday and the second best time is this very moment! Unhealth never ages well. Don’t ignore it until you can no longer resolve it without irreversible detriment to you and everything/everyone you impact.
If you would like more information on joining other local churches who are scheduling a “Wellness Weekend” with Inspire Counseling Ministry, visit here.inspirecounsel.com
I recently saw a cartoon of two reception counter windows in a doctors office, one with the word “medication” above it and the other with “healthy living” above it. What was painfully telling was the long formed to get quick-fix pharmaceuticals with very few in the second line headed toward inconvenient, healthy changes in diet and exercise. While there are situations that honestly merit drug intervention and clinically-informed therapy, we all tend to choose the easier and passive response to unhealth in not only our bodies but also our souls. As Cary Nieuwhof says, “If you don’t intentionally choose the path of self-care, you’ll likely end up on the path of self-medication.” It’s your choice. A choice that will largely shapes the longterm health or unhealth of everything you lead and are member.
The efficacy of counseling relies upon not only the “who and what” but the all-important “WHEN.” Healthy local church leaders, their families, and their congregations demand require us to lead out with a significant increase in preventative counseling! Benjamin Franklin famously advised fire-threatened Philadelphians in 1736, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, preventing fires is better than fighting them. An earlier group of “Philadelphians” are addressed in the Apostle John’s letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. The local assembly at Philadelphia received only words of praise from the Lord. The saints had been faithful. They had been zealous for good works. In their own human weakness, they had trusted in the Lord. As a result, they had been able to preserve the truth by living it out in their lives. They had not denied Christ’s name. Therefore, He would set before them an open door of opportunity that no one would be able to shut. This thing of anticipatory health in our local churches is about more than feeling and looking good; the testimony of God’s truth is at stake before a watching world. We must lean into preventative counseling for the praise and honor of our soon-coming Bridegroom!
Re 3:9, 11 “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name…because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash