Emotional Health & Spiritual Formation

Emotional Health & Spiritual Formation


Mike Boland is an assistant pastor at City Church Eastside in Atlanta, Georgia, and has trained in the Seattle School of Psychology and Theology. He grew up in a children’s home before receiving a football scholarship from The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, and beginning a life in ministry. Mike, Jennifer and their four kids love their neighborhood and enjoy gathering with friends and neighbors around the dinner table. Mike enjoys playing most sports and journeying with people as they investigate their own stories and questions of faith.

Q: Does emotional health matter when it comes to the Christian life, to churches? Why should it be important to pastors and other ministry leaders to consider emotional health in people’s lives?


Tim Keller talks about the “sin under the sin.” Loneliness is a prime example. It’s is one of the top reasons people engage in unwanted sexual behavior. It’s the “sin under the sin.”

So much of sexual sin comes from a legitimate longing that gets distorted. If we just preach, “Men, stop looking at porn!” but don’t look at those inner workings—if we don’t see why people are struggling—we miss people and it becomes moralism.

The marketers in the porn industry are students of human desire. They know where people are struggling, and they’re ready to exploit those struggles for profit.

We must also become students of human desire, in order to help people grow in godly maturity. As we preach the gospel, we could leave it at “follow Jesus” or we can try to go after the stuff underneath. The lens of emotional health shows us the desires, idols and struggles that are down below. And as we preach and lead into those deeper things, people gain a greater awareness of who they are and who God is.

I love the proactive nature of pastoring. As a counselor, someone comes in and you have to start where they are. But as a pastor, I’m already proactively pursuing the image of Christ in them; I don’t have to wait for them to come up with something. I’m living life with them. I’m instigating. I’m pursuing their maturity in every way. As a pastor, I feel like my job is more holistic. I’m not only thinking about that person and what has shaped them, but also how to steward the gospel in their lives.

I couldn’t do that as effectively without paying attention to emotional health.

Q: What part should emotional health play when it comes to leaders themselves? 02

If a leader is emotionally unhealthy, the culture he or she creates is unhealthy. Emotionally healthy churches start with leaders. And that’s why I think Jesus, in John 17, spends an entire chapter praying for his disciples, the ones who would continue his mission. He prays for them and for their health. That’s his desire for the Church.

Pastors need to take our own stories seriously. One of our core values as a church is emotional health. As a leadership team, we know a lot about each other’s struggles. We spend a lot of time together, talking about how we are doing.

What would it look like to make emotional health a normal thing to pursue, to make a part of your faith community? There’s a lot of pain caused by professionalism, the untouchableness of the pulpit. That stuff doesn’t help in crisis, it doesn’t help in the normal everyday hardships that people face. Let’s take pastoring out of the professional world and bring it to reality, bring it into our everyday lives.

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