5 Habits of a Healthy Leader

We’ve often heard axioms which point to the immense impact leaders have: “Speed of the leader, speed of the team” and “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” These are both attributed to international leadership guru John Maxwell. I believe all three are true—the two axioms plus John being a total guru! Now if they are true, they should point us to this fact: the mantle of leadership is heavy.

I propose that we can better steward our leadership influence by ensuring that we have both impact and sustainability. For those of us in church leadership and also for those of us in roles alongside senior church leaders (elders and close friends), we must take care of ourselves and our leaders, encouraging rest, margin, and an overall healthy, sustainable approach toward life and ministry.

I suppose what I’m getting at is this axiom of my own: “You can’t have healthy churches without first having healthy leaders.” The order is important.

“You can’t have healthy churches without first having healthy leaders.” —@_seanmorgan, Vice President of Leadership Capital

Healthy leaders and teams don’t just involve having a positive, encouraging culture. In fact I’d argue that a positive, encouraging culture at the cost of a leader’s personal health—mental, physical, emotional, spiritual—is a cost that’s too high.

As a part-time Air Force pilot, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of flying jets around the world and serving in four combat tours. One of the best examples of health I’ve seen in the aviation world is called SOAPS. Like most military jargon, there’s a sophisticated acronym behind it, but the thing I want you to know is that SOAPS is a way of ensuring that we look at the daily wear of an engine and measure it for health. SOAPS analyzes an oil sample from every jet engine after every flight for the smallest of metal fragments. You see, any metal fragments in the oil are a sign that engine wear is causing irreversible damage to the engine’s health, and we set ourselves up to react to the first warning signs of ill health.

Healthy Leadership

Have you evaluated your health lately? How are you reacting to improve it? If you’re a leader in ministry or you just happen to know one, I have a few recommendations:

  • Create more margin.

    Get out of the urgent and focus on the important. A great way to do this is to write down your goals. Practical tip: Don’t be afraid to disappoint people who attempt to pull you from those goals by filling your inbox with demands.

  • Set marital guardrails.

    Discuss with your spouse: Where is work creeping into your marriage? Practical tip: Mutually agree on a list of things you need to say no to on a routine basis.

  • Define family rhythms.

    Sit down with your family and discuss what activities are life-giving. Practical tip: Put things on the calendar and budget financially for them.

  • Get a hobby.

    What do you love to do when you’ve got time on your hands? Practical tip: Discover what helps you unwind and find peace. I have several senior pastor friends who have taken my advice and now paint, play the guitar, sculpt, and more.

  • Take a routine sabbatical.

    Routinely carve out time to decompress, reflect, pray, and let God speak to you. I once read an article that a noted megachurch pastor prayed for four hours a day. Wow! My first response was disbelief, followed quickly by the thought that he could never get anything done.

    As I’ve reflected on that, I can see that the clarity achieved by his time with God actually serves to keep this pastor focused only on the most important things—what a wise choice for a leader. Practical tip: Take a half day each month to unplug from the office, disconnect from tech, and get alone to achieve clarity.


Hopefully you’re sensing God speak to you about an area of your life where you can become healthier. Perhaps it’s something I’ve suggested or the Spirit is prompting you in other ways. Regardless, I hope you’ll prayerfully consider being receptive to your own SOAPS testing by engaging with your spouse, loved ones, and team—and at the very first sign of problems, take steps that allow you to thrive in healthy, sustainable ministry for a lifetime.