Planting a Church without Losing Your Soul: Nine Questions for the Spiritually Formed Pastor

By Tim Morey

Forward by Scott Sunquist (President of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary). “Leadership is absolutely critical, but it is not just a matter of what a leader does.  Of greatest importance is who a leader is and what a leader is becoming.” A strong and competent church planter addresses the “deep personal work in the life of the church planter- to prevent depression, failure, and even suicide.”

“Lesslie Newbigin, missionary to India and to England, said on a number of occasions that the local church must be a sign post of the kingdom.  However, this will happen only if the churches are led by leaders whoa re being made more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  Tim Morey is a helpful guide for us on that journey.” 

Introduction: What does a spiritually formed church planter look like?

“The bigger need was my spiritual readiness…there were areas where I didn’t know it yet but God needed to further develop my spiritual competencies if I was going survive the church planting gauntlet.” P3

“My insecurities topped the list.  The ways they manifested are painful to think about: my need to be noticed and praised; my shortness of patience with those I shepherded; my need to appear ‘successful’ (whatever that means); my tendency to overmanage our lay leaders lest they make a mistake, and under -praise them lest credit for successes get diverted away from me.  There was, and is so much that God needed to work out in me.” 

“What God needed to develop in me were not stronger ministry skills but stronger spiritual competencies.”p.4

It is important that church planters cultivate spiritual readiness; consider these questions:

“*Am I being formed in such a way that I am capable of carrying out this work, and carrying it out well?

*Am I ready to minister for the marathon, and not just the sprint?
*Will I be experienced as a blessing and not a curse by those I lead?  By my family? By myself?

*Can I minister from a place of deep joy, even in times of real difficulty?” 

Chapter 1: How to be both a pastor and a person

p. 11

“Pastors have higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population.  They have poorer lifestyle-related health markers, including higher rates of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.  Research would indicate that at any given time, one-third of pastors are experiencing burnout and or depression.  Only one-fourth of pastors, finish well with vitality.”

P. 13 “Elijah syndrome”  Pastors routinely find themselves physically and emotionally spent come Monday morning…the adrenaline dump that follows a significant ministry event can leave one’s mind and body feeling heavy and sluggish.  Thoughts of discouragement and inadequacy seem to carry more weight.  Anticipation of the coming work week can feel daunting…I may find myself markedly tired-physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  On those days, I should be especially cautious in trusting my already fickle emotions.”

I Kings 19

P. 13“Do you hear any of yourself if Elijah’s cry?  I’ve expressed to God, in slightly different words, each of his sentiments at one time or another:

Fatigue: I’m exhausted, burned out! I can’t go on doing this!

Discouragement, tipping into despair: this job is sucking away in life!  I am too ashamed to quit, and I don’t’ know what else I would do. 

Self doubt: I’m not any good at this- not better than these who have tried and failed before me.  I certainly don’t’ compare to _____.  Am I really accomplishing anything?

P. 14

Into this struggle, God provides care for Elijah in four distinct ways- areas of care that we need as well. 

Physical- “Get up and eat, “ the angel says to Elijah.  God invites Elijah to eat and rest.  Sometimes the most spiritual thing you and I can do is take a nap.

 “The physical is spiritual. Do you notice that when Elijah is at his point of exhaustion, God doesn’t even bother speaking to him?  Before he does anything else, God just attends to Elijah’s basic, bodily needs: food, water and sleep.”

“…it is vitally important that we treat ourselves as human persons-bodily beings who simply cannot get on without proper rhythms of rest, work, hydration, and nutrition.” 

“…the average pastor has poorer health markers than the general population, including higher raters of obesity, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.  While for some, heredity is a is a contributing factor, we have to note that for many of us, these are directly related to lifestyle choices. 

“…attending to diet, exercise, and sleep should be thought of as spiritual disciplines, not just physical ones.  In fact, in recent years when I have spoken on self-care, attending to our bodily health has become one of the top five disciplines I prescribe for every church planter.”


Twice God invites Elijah to speak, and twice he listens while Elijah rants.  (I Kings 19:10,14). But God does not rebuke Elijah for his outburst; God is not disappointed with Elijah… “Like a loving parent, God simply invites Elijah to tell him what is wrong. God hears Elijah’s anger, fear, and sorrow, and he hold it.” God allows us to cry out to Him; to pour out all our emotions. “God is ready to meet and minister to us in the midst of our strong emotions.” P. 17

It is important the church planters regularly talk with God, but it is just as important that church planters receive support/counsel through a therapist or a spiritual director.  It is essential that we address what is going on in our emotions.


P 18

God does not meet Elijah in the way he expects…it comes in a gentle whisper.

P. 19  “When God is ready to speak, are you willing to hear what he has to say?  Are you ready to have him minister to you spiritually, even if it entails him saying things or leading you in ways that differs from the story you are expecting?”

P. 20 “God does not always meet us in the way we are expecting or wanting, but he always meets us in the way that we need.”


While Elijah thinks he is alone, God prepares partners and others who were committed to the Lord.

Acts 18:9-10 “I have many people in this city.”

“Jesus promises that he will be with us as we go about his work, and we can be confident he will.  But we need to remember that one of the ways he cares for us is by providing us with other people too.”

“The number one hazard for pastor is isolation…”

p. 21 “Church planters, as a subset of pastors are almost by definition isolated…it means that you and I must actively combat isolation.  One way we do that is to make the practice of community a non-optional spiritual discipline in our lives.”

It is important that we have friends in and outside the church.  We also need to develop friendships with other pastors and church planters.

P. 22 “Physical, emotional, spiritual, relational…do you believe that God wants to care for you  in each of these ways?  If we are involved in the rigors of church planting, we need to be sure to receive from him.  How do we do this?  God is the primary actor here, but as we will in the next chapter, it requires intentionality on our part as well.”


  1.  In what ways have you experienced Elijah Syndrome?  What have you found helps you navigate this?
  2. How would you rate your current physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational health?
  3. What is one thing you cand o in each of these areas to better let God care for you?

Chapter 2

Growth: how Can I Plan for My Own Spiritual Formation?

“The main thing you will give your congregation is the person you become.”  Dallas Willard

P. 24 “Every one of us has to be replenished somehow- to do something to alleviate being hurt, stressed out, tired, discouraged.  And those who don’t learn to take care of themselves in healthy ways- a strong spiritual life, good work-life balance, quality time with family and friends- inevitably end up taking care of themselves in unhealthy ways.” 

“The most important thing you can do as a young pastors is develop healthy habits and strong spiritual life.”

p. 25  “There are three key truths I try to keep in mind that help motivate me toward intentionality in my spiritual formation and prevent me from allowing my spiritual life to slowly devolve into something haphazard.

Truth 1: church planting is a marathon, not a sprint.  As church planter, it is crucial that we regularly ask oursel4ves, ‘Is my pace sustainable?  Yes, there are seasons in a church’s life, including those first harried months of a church’s beginning, here we are going to be putting in a ridiculous number of hours in positively erratic ways.  But we must come to some season cognizant of the fact that such seasons need to be the exception rather than the rule. …if we want to still be in ministry ten, twenty, fifty years from now, we need to learn to run a ta pace  that is sustainable.” 

Truth 2:  My health and my church’s health are inextricably linked. 

…my church does follow my example, whether I like it or not. .. our church’s strengths and weaknesses largely mirror my own…our ministry is never just a function of what we do, but of who we are and who we are becoming.  Consequently, whatever is in us overflows into those nearest us, and eventually into our congregation as a whole.

I Timothy 4:15 “be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”  That the church will see Timothy’s progress implies that he is not only to let the church see the example of when he gets things right but of his failings as well.  His modeling will not just be of glowing successes but also his stumbles along that way.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a pastor who is unhealthy to have a healthy church.

Unhealthy pastors will grow unhealthy churches. 

Truth 3: Training takes you further than trying. 

P. 29  It’s only in training ourselves to be godly that we will slowly develop sufficient maturity to think, feel, and act like Jesus in those moments…Physically or spiritually, trying harder gets us more of what we are currently getting.  Training, on the other hand, enables us to do what we cannot currently do by merely trying. 

“It’s only in training ourselves to be godly that we will slowly develop sufficient maturity to think, feel, and act like Jesus.”

P. 30  Plan for our spiritual formation

Think of your rule of life as your personal plan for spiritual formation.  It consists of those practices, relationships, and experiences you believe God is leading you into for you to grow as an apprentice of Jesus.  Many find utilizing the rule as a spiritual discipline to be very helpful in bringing one’ spiritual life from haphazard to intentional.

The author’s “rule of life”

  • Set aside twenty to forty minutes each morning for solitude, prayer and scripture
  • Take a monthly day of solitude and a twenty-four-hour solo retreat annually
  • Practice the prese of God daily
  • Observe the Sabbath (worship, rest, play with people I love) weekly.  Limit ministry nights to one or two per week, with a maximum of three.
  • Meet weekly with spiritual friends for confession, prayer, and accountability
  • Meet monthly with s spiritual director or mentor
  • Regularly read good books
  • Eat dinner with my family five times per week, keep a weekly date night with my  wife, and find at least one time each monthly to play with friends
  • Exercise four to five times per week
  • Serve the poor monthly

Pastor Mia’s “rule of life”

  • Set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour of prayer and scripture reading daily
  • Set aside 1 day a week to pray and read the scripture for an extended time
  • Write down the Bible passage for the day and my brief thought in my journal daily
  • Meet with my psychological therapist 2 times a month
  • Go to Tae Kwon Do classes at least 2 times a week
  • Go on walks, 4 days per week (at least for 10,000 steps each time)
  • Go on dates with my husband 2 times a month
  • Meet with colleagues to talk about ministry and pray together (once a month)
  • Meet my older daughter for a meal in her city (once a month)
  • Go on a trip with my husband three times a year
  • Take a half day Sabbath (I’m trying to get to a whole day)

P. 31 “Be realistic”

“Commit to what you can do, not to what you think you should do.  Take into account your season of life with the benefits and limitations this season brings, your current state of spiritual fitness, and plan accordingly.”

“Be balanced”

“…we want to be sure our rule reflects a balance of disciplines that dome naturally to us as well as those which may be more stretching.” 

P. 34  “The context is grace” 

“We need to be careful to let our rule be a guide and a friend, not a law or a taskmaster.”

Reflection and discussion

  1.  What disciplines are best suited to the natural ways God has made you to connect with him?  What disciplines may be less natural, but address specific areas of need, sin areas, or harmful internal scripts?
  2. Which disciplines do you need to practice daily? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly?  When and where will these take place?
  3. Does your rule include both solo and communal disciplines?
  4. What changes do you need to make to your schedule in order to make your rule a reality? How will following your rule impact others in your life/ what conversations do you need to have it hem?
  5. Is there a friend, mentor, or coach you can share this with for counsel and countability? 
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