But for now, here are two choices I wish I had made much earlier in my life. They may seem far removed from what caused the emotional hit in the first place, but they are key to ensuring you have a full emotional tank and can keep putting gas into it for the long haul.

Clear Boundaries Regarding Giftedness 

First, how you serve is critical. Ministry is tough enough. But if you consistently serve outside of your primary areas of giftedness, you won’t last very long under the stress and strain that comes with the territory. I really don’t hear this talked about very much, if at all. But there’s something about large amounts of time spent serving against the grain of your natural gifting that saps your emotional and spiritual energy.

I do not rank very high with the spiritual gift of mercy, not to mention how that plays itself out in, say, extended pastoral counseling. If I had to invest in that area with ongoing, regular blocks of time, it would wipe me out. I’ve had to learn to be very up front with folks about my areas of giftedness and how those gifts are supposed to operate in the mix with other people’s gifts in the body. That’s because what happens  in a church, even one where spiritual gifts are taught and celebrated, is that the pastor is still expected to have them all—and to operate in them all. The danger is that you’ll let yourself try, and soon you’ll be wiped out with little or no reserves for the daily toil.

Related to this is operating outside of your personality type. A surprising number of pastors are, ironically, introverts. It’s not that they don’t love people or aren’t good with people—most are even charismatic in terms of their leadership and speaking ability—but they are, in fact, introverts in terms of emotional makeup.As a result, many pastors get their emotional energy from being alone. If such realities are not acknowledged and managed, you will find yourself emotionally spent and soon burned out.

Yes, even as a pastor, you need to guard how you serve.

Emotionally Replenishing Experiences 

Second, I’ve had to learn to intentionally pursue emotionally replenishing experiences. When you hurt, if you don’t find something God-honoring to fill your tank with, you’ll find something that isn’t God-honoring. Or at the very least, you’ll be vulnerable to something that isn’t. I am convinced this is why so many pastors struggle with pornography—it offers a quick emotional hit.

To prevent that, I’ve had to learn to do things that channel deep emotional joy into my life. For some folks it’s boating, or golf, or gardening. For me it’s travel, reading, time alone with family, and enjoying anything outdoors—particularly the mountains.

Several years ago, a man I had invited into my life in a mentoring relationship asked, “Jim, what do you do that really puts gas back into your tank? If you could do one thing that would rejuvenate you spiritually and emotionally, what would it be?”

I didn’t have to think very long or hard. I knew the answer: 

“I would go to the mountains and be alone.” For as long as I can remember, the mountains have held significance for my spirit and emotions that I cannot explain. Being there alone is particularly rich, as I gain my deepest emotional energies apart from others. 

He said, “Good. You should do that once a month.” 

I laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding. Once a month? The mountains? I don’t have the time! My life is too busy, too full, to put something like that into my schedule.”