The Elder's Soul

By Bob Thune

Elders are charged to watch over people’s souls, as those who will give an account (Hebrews 13:17). But who watches out for the elder’s soul? 

Burnout, fatigue, and emotional exhaustion don’t “just happen” — they happen as a consequence of inner neglect.

Soul care is a vital but often neglected aspect of church planting. Starting a church demands a great deal of external leadership — vision, strategy, evangelism, preaching, discipleship. On top of this, the landscape of a city-culture is constantly changing, which means pastors have to be more nimble than ever in adapting to contextual factors. Many church planters focus all their time and energy externally and fail to take stock of their own soul. Burnout, fatigue, and emotional exhaustion don’t “just happen” — they happen as a consequence of inner neglect.

The terrain of the soul is deep and complex. And this terrain has its own “high places” which are fertile ground for idolatrous worship. With good coaching and training, most leaders can become aware of their basic heart-idols. But like God’s people in the Old Testament, we are prone to trade one false god for another. And we are opposed by a spiritual enemy who knows how to use every vulnerability against us: “The tempter… has long practiced fighting… against the shepherds, that he might scatter the flock… Take heed then, for the enemy has a special eye on you. You are sure to have his most subtle insinuations, incessant solicitations and violent assaults” (Richard Baxter).

For lifelong gospel-centered ministry and leadership, we must become careful students of our own souls. And we must allow ourselves to be known by others, creating an ethos of soul care within our leadership teams and churches. I’m excited to share some of the insights and questions the Lord has provoked within our leadership team as we’ve pursued this goal together.