2 Key practices for emotionally healthy church planters

By Bradley Bennett

It all seemed to be coming out of nowhere.

I still remember the shock and confusion I felt hearing my good friend say, “Things are going really well, but I’m miserable. I’m burning out. And if I’m being honest, I don’t want to be me right now.”

I was excited for this lunch and to hear how his church plant was been going, but things were taking a left turn fast.

My friend and his wife planted almost a year earlier and the congregation was growing, people were giving their lives to Christ and they were becoming known in their community. It seemed like he was living the dream of every church planter!

But as he continued to share — more and more — it seemed like he was really living within a nightmare.

I left that lunch with a heavy heart for my friend and confusion about what had happened.

How does a dream God has placed in someone’s heart turn into a nightmare that had the veneer of success?


In my experience with church planting (I’ve served in two church plants over the past six years before leading my own church plant six months ago), the difference between nightmare and dream comes down to one thing: whether or not the pastor guards his heart.

In the midst of the constant pressure, the financial realities and the fact that the kid’s church leader didn’t show up again, it’s easy for a pastor’s heart to get burdened and injured.

I consider guarding my heart the top priority on my job description because the longevity and impact of Christ through my life flows from the condition of my heart.

Proverbs wisely reminds us of this: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).

Guarding your heart sounds simple, but any church planter can tell you that’s not the truth when giving is low for the third month in a row, or another key leader tells you they are moving.

Planting a church is tough. It’s brutal. It will push you beyond what you can handle. But it doesn’t have to leave you living in a nightmare with a jaded heart. It can be the most life-giving thing God could ever ask you to do. The difference rests on guarding your heart.

Guarding your heart requires getting on your face before the Lord. It requires intentionality. And in my case, it sometimes involved late-night tacos with my wife.

But one thing that often gets overlooked is the role of emotional health. Understanding emotional health will change your life and how you lead (I encourage you to read Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazzero).


Two practices that my wife and I use that help us remain emotionally healthy and guard our hearts:

1. Love your limits.

We all have limits in our life. They may look different, but we’ve all got them.

If you’ve ever had the thought, “I could do more if it wasn’t for (fill in the blank)” then — congratulations! — you just found yours.

It’s easy to resent the fact that you can’t do more because of limitations, but pastors who guard their hearts understand the limits God has given them. They joyfully receive whatever situation God has graciously given. They desire to be faithful and serve God the best they can rather than compare their life or church with someone else’s in a different season.

After all, God called you. He called you into this church plant. He wasn’t ignorant of your situation or forgot you had kids. He knew exactly what He was doing.

Loving your limits doesn’t mean choosing to slack off. It means choosing to lead from your limits, not despite them.

A pastor leading despite their limits is left tired, frenzied and covetous, trying to lead a life God never intended. They become overextended and become unfaithful in other important areas of their life.

A pastor who leads from their limits is marked with contentment and joy as they are faithful in all areas within the season God has placed them.

One of my favorite Andy Stanley quotes comes from him talking about a season of life where he and his wife were raising three kids under the age of 3. His time was constrained, and he was limited in what he could do at Northpoint, the church he pastors.

“I realized I only had 40 good hours to give Northpoint when I was used to giving 55+. If I was to love my wife and lead our family well, then it’s all I had. So, I chose to slow down, be as faithful as I could with those 40 hours and trust God would multiply my efforts.”

A pastor who loves their limits is ultimately trusting God with the result. They are opening up room for Him to receive the glory as He moves as only He can. They receive with joy and contentment what God does through their faithfulness.

2. Become broken and weak.

One of the unspoken rules I picked up was that pastors have to be perfect. They can’t possibly deal with sin. They can’t be weak. They always have to have the right answer.

I found out the hard way that living like this leaves us on an island. It didn’t take long for me to begin dealing with things I felt I couldn’t tell anyone, and I realized it was poisoning my heart.

It wasn’t until I decided to drop the pretense of perfection and become broken and weak that I found the freedom to lead authentically.

Pastors are people too. Like everyone else, we have fears, struggles and areas of growth. Pretending like we don’t doesn’t just leave us alone, but it also robs God of the opportunity to receive glory through our weakness.

When we are weak, He is strong. But when we pretend to be perfect, we take away the opportunity for His strength to manifest in our life.

Like Paul, we should learn to “boast in our weakness” so that God’s strength is even more evident in our lives.

Becoming broken and weak will transform the way you disciple and preach. These things will become life-giving and effective as God moves through your authenticity.

You no longer have to be the perfect “chosen one” who has all the answers. You can simply be the broken, redeemed follower of Christ who is doing their best to love Him and lead His church.

God has called you to this. Prioritize guarding your heart because everything flows from it.

Published July 1, 2020

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Bradley Bennett

Bradley lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his wife, Amanda. Bradley is the lead pastor of TheCity.church At Bartram Park — a church he and their amazing team planted in 2019 with a vision to see revival in their community. Before planting, Bradley served as an associate pastor at another local church plant in Jacksonville.