Is Your Church Sick?

Here are some ideas on how you can lead a physically, emotionally and relationally healthy church.
Here are some ideas on how you can lead a physically, emotionally and relationally healthy church. (Lightstock)

As pastors, we know our job to minister to the spiritual health of our communities. But as you think about the spiritual health of the people in your church, do you consider their mental, physical, emotional and relational health as well? My guess is, if you're like most pastors, you probably don't.

Consider how the health of someone's marriage might have an impact on their experience of God and intimacy with him. Think about how depression—or perpetual anxiety—might impact a person's spiritual well-being (and vice versa).

When I spell it out like this, it seems so obvious. Of course these things are connected.

But it's easy to forget this as a pastor.

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If you want to pastor a healthy church (and my guess is you do; if you don't, that's a discussion for a whole different article), you have to take into account the emotional, mental, physical and relational health of the people you pastor.

If that thought scares you, don't let it. You don't have to be a therapist or a doctor or a life coach in order to provide this for the people entrusted to your care. There are some simple ways to support yourself, your staff and your congregation to be the all-around healthiest versions of themselves.

Here are some of those ideas:

Physical health. This is something far too often overlooked in church cultures. In fact, most often in church cultures, spiritual needs are elevated at the expense of physical health. Pastors work too many hours and are required to run on too few hours of sleep or don't have adequate time to workout or prepare healthy meals for themselves.

This lack of physical health can (and often does) spread to the rest of the community.

But consider this: without a healthy physical body, how can we really experience the tangible presence of God? If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, are we acting like it when we sleep too little, eat fast food to quiet the stress and fail to move our bodies they way they were designed?

For more thoughts on how to promote physical health—and the spiritual dangers of avoiding it—I recommend a book by Gary Thomas called Every Body Matters.

Emotional and mental health. Chances are, there are people in your community who have a legitimate desire and need for counseling, but either can't afford it, are embarrassed to ask for it, or don't know where to go to ask for help.

What if you compiled a list of resources—trusted counselors—to make available to everyone in your community? This would provide anonymity to those who are afraid to ask, and it would provide access to those who don't otherwise have it. In addition, what if you created a scholarship fund to support those in your community you know need counseling but can't afford it?

Another resource you could provide would be support groups.

Grief counseling, chronic pain groups, Celebrate Recovery—these are all examples of support groups you could form based on the needs and resources of your community. By providing these support groups, we will refute the common misconception about church: that people need to come and pretend to be perfect.

We'll invite people to get healing instead of hiding their brokenness. We'll help them do that.

Relational health. When was the last time your church community did a series directed toward marriages or toward healthy dating or friendships? Have you talked about what it looks like to live in healthy community with other people?

Scripture has so much to say about this—in fact, this is the majority of the New Testament, is it not? How to live in community with other believers. And yet we dedicate little to no time to it. Maybe a week here and there.

The health of the marriages in your community will have a major impact on the spiritual health of your community. The health of the marriages on your staff will have a major impact on the health of the marriages in the wider context. What have you dedicated to making those marriages healthy?

Is there more you can do?

Don't hesitate to focus on helping people achieve health in their emotional, physical and relational lives. It is part of your job. It is a worthy investment. It will make a difference in the long run. These areas will inevitably have an impact on the health of each individual and the health of your church.

With more than a dozen years of local church ministry, Justin Lathrop has spent the last several years starting businesses and ministries that partner with pastors and churches to advance the Kingdom. He is the founder of (now Vanderbloemen Search), Oaks School of Leadership and, all while staying involved in the local church.

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