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Being a Leader Means Dealing with your Stuff

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Getting Real About Our Struggles
What impact does leadership have on mental health? Being a good leader will require transparency, self-care, and dealing with the past.
6 Minute Read

By Sue Brage

As we finish our focus on mental health, I want to issue one last perspective.

For leaders, pastors, those looking to serve in missions or another way, I need to warn you. Leadership can be a raw, rough deal at times. It will require you to grow, learn and heal in ways you may not have considered before. Like marriage and parenting, ministry is a crucible. It will bring to light issues we may or may not realize are issues. It will push us in ways we’d rather not be pushed.

I don’t mean to scare you, but if you are serious about making an impact for the kingdom, in missions, ministry or in your own church or family, you will have to get real about your stuff. Your stuff may be a physical challenge you have not addressed, concerns about your mental health and your ability to cope, emotional baggage that has been hidden away for years. The truth is: to become everything God wants and needs us to be, we have to deal with our issues.

Deal with Your Stuff

I’m not saying God won’t use us in spite of our issues. But the longer we stay on the journey, the more he will ask of us, the more authentic and real he will need us to be. I believe God is calling us to become more transparent in our journeys, even in the difficult places. Will we allow him to take us deeper and make us stronger through the process?

As leaders and believers, it can be hard to lean into this. We often feel the need to hide our true hearts, our true selves; possibly out of fear, shame or lack of confidence in who we are.

It takes courage to dig deeper and be willing to let God deal with us, to take us to a place where we can we lead with authenticity and trust.

Is this easy? Nope. It is probably one of the hardest part of leadership—this tension between being transparent and genuine and being what and who we think others need us to be. Yet, God calls us to be real, to live from our hearts. Craig Groeschel, author and founding pastor of Life.Church says, “People would rather follow a leader who is always real rather than a leader who is always right.”

So, let’s get real about what’s really going on in our mind, will and emotions for a few minutes. Let’s ask God to help us deal with anything that might be hindering, harming or preventing us from being who he wants and needs us to be.

Guarding Our Hearts

Consider Proverbs 4:23: “Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life” (AMP).

Guarding our hearts doesn’t mean living a guarded life. Jesus isn’t asking us to keep our thoughts and emotions to ourselves. He’s asking us to be aware of and address those things that affect our hearts with all vigilance.

Biblically speaking, the heart is more than just our feelings; it’s actually made up of our mind, our will and our emotions. In other words, when we talk about our heart, we are taking about our thought patterns, mindsets, beliefs, expectations, feelings, reactions, even decisions. This is key as we consider mental health from a ministry or leadership perspective.

 “with all vigilance…”

Vigilance is the act or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties. I love this definition! This is exactly what God is asking us to do: to watch out for possible danger or difficulties. Perhaps the danger is ignoring warning signs: symptoms of depression, burnout or not being able to cope with the stress and demands of life or ministry. Perhaps we have been too busy to deal with a physical issue that needs addressing. Or we have allowed our thought life to become increasingly negative. Each of these areas can take their toll and we can find ourselves struggling, often pretending that we have everything under control.

Let’s start by being brutally honest about our own physical and mental health.

I believe God wants us healthy! We may need to slow down, make time for exercise, cut back on caffeine (what?!), eat better, or making other lifestyle changes. I know, you don’t have time, you won’t be as effective or productive. I get it. But all of these factors affect our ability to lead and to serve well.

Many believers are diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorders, even personality disorders. There is no shame in seeking help if you have thoughts, feelings or other symptoms that interfere with your ability to function. There could be underlying physical, physiological or even hormonal causes to feeling down, defeated or unable to cope.

It is also important to face emotional issues as God reveals them to you.

I call this “owning your brokenness.” Instead of pretending that you have it all together or that the issues of your past have no influence on you today, owning your brokenness means you are willing to face them. With God’s help, you can work through these issues and find healing, restoration and reconciliation. I know from personal experience how difficult and yet how freeing it is to receive healing in these areas.

Dealing with your issues, whether physical, mental or emotional, are actually part of your leadership journey. God wants to use them to bring healing to your heart. He cares about your willingness to go to the hard places with him in order to be more effective for his kingdom. (If this relates, I encourage you to seek out a grounded, biblical counselor to walk through these things with you.)

Consider your thought life.

Perhaps you don’t have physical, mental or emotional issues in your life. Each of us can examine our own thought lives to see if they are healthy, positive and in alignment with God’s Word. This process is necessary to be sure we aren’t railroading our own effectiveness and peace simply by allowing negative thought patterns. How we look at life, process situations, respond (or react) starts with our thought life.

There are many books, podcasts and teachings out there to help you go deeper in this area. One great study is The Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Dr Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain takes a scientific, yet Christian look at how our thoughts shape our lives and influence our health.
In all of this, remember to be gracious toward yourself.

One of my favorite sayings is: Be gentle with yourself. You are doing the best you can.

We all deserve grace and patience as we walk through these difficult places. As we practice acceptance and show love to ourselves and others, we will guard our hearts from pride, discouragement and even judgment.

Realize that God accepts and loves you—just as you are. He sees where you struggle, yet he doesn’t reject or disapprove of you. He doesn’t see you as weak or a failure. That’s huge, isn’t it? We are truly free to own our brokenness, ask for help, examine our thoughts and our true selves knowing he is on our side.

As a leader, spouse and parent, I have a vested interest in living a healthy life, relationally, emotionally, mentally. I’m sure you do, too. We want our lives to reflect wholeness and balance and to inspire others to live openly and honestly with Jesus and with each other.

Together, let’s agree to watch over our physical, mental and emotional health in a way that brings us closer to Christ and to each other, and helps us lead and serve better.

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