Ministry is draining. So often we can walk away from a small group, service, or event feeling tired, rejected, or like a failure. I know of the anxiety that comes with not feeling “good enough.” I have gone into the office depressed, weighed down by the unending uphill climb of reaching kids and completing tasks.

And now, having moved into the field of counseling following 18+ years of student ministry, I have gained a greater appreciation for the importance of valuing my own mental, emotional and spiritual health. The emotionally regulated pastor is one who can constructively deal with his or her own personal pain, understand what is true about oneself, and benefit from having a clear mind to make good decisions.

So…the question is how to we get to a place of emotional regulation? Techniques from Restoration Therapy and the Relate Strong Curriculum can be helpful in guiding us.

Step #1: Recognize Your Pain: We all carry pain, but we don’t all cope with it in the same way. Knowing how you cope with the pain you carry is the first step in helping you self-regulate.

Step #2: Find What is True: If we are feeling depressed, the message behind that depressed feeling might be “I’m a failure.” That’s the pain we are feeling. But what is true about you? While it’s possible a person may experience some sort of failure in a task or event, is it true that the person, as a person, is a failure? Not likely.

And this falls right in line with what we believe as Christians.

Step #3: Replace the Pain with Peace: After discovering your pain cycle and the greater truth of who you are, the final step is to replace the negative message. Our brain has a link of neural pathways that go from our emotional pain straight into an automatic coping behavior. The goal is to start building a new pathway. This can happen through a mindfulness tool called, The Four Steps, which was developed by Dr. Terry Hargrave from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Youth ministry so hard on a person’s emotional, mental and spiritual health, but it remains a worthy calling. And it deserves you at your best. Prayer and meditating on Scripture helps you discover what is true about God and God’s love for you. The steps of Recognizing Your Pain, Finding What is True, and Replacing the Pain with Peace will help you own those truths that can often escape when emotionally activated.

In God’s infinite wisdom and goodness, a person is able to be transformed, no matter the age. The brain is capable of developing new neuropathways. In a very real way, following these steps is working to accept the message of goodness God has for you!

Jason Wilkinson lives with his wife and two kids in Portland, Oregon. After 18+ years of leading in various student ministry roles, Jason recently transitioned into the profession of mental health therapy where he runs Wellspace Counseling, a private counseling practice in Tualatin. You can read more about Jason at or contact him at [email protected].