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The Role of Pastors in Fostering a Healthy, Biblical Self-Image

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Developing a sound mind and self-image is crucial to mental and spiritual health. As God-appointed shepherds, pastors should care for people's spiritual and mental health. This, in turn, will be vital in assisting believers in discovering their life's meaning in accordance with their objective, unchanging, and eternally secure identity in Christ.

People may think the concern for mental health and a proper self-image is a fairly recent phenomenon, but it is not. In the pages of the Bible, the apostle Paul displays a consistent concern for the mental health of his associates and people in the churches. He expresses this concern most poignantly through the recurrence of the Greek word group, sōphro-, typically translated into English as “self-control.” But a more accurate translation would be “sound or healthy mind.” In his letters to Timothy and Titus, Paul urges church leaders (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 1:7; Titus 1:8), older and younger men (Titus 2:2, 6), older and younger women (Titus 2:5; cf. 1 Tim 2:9, 15), and every believer (Titus 2:12) to pursue a sound mind.

Mental health, biblically speaking

As mentioned, the English translation “self-control” captures only part of the meaning of the word in the original, which more broadly refers to a sound or healthy mind. This has important implications for pastors seeking to help their people develop a proper sense of identity and accurate self-image. Cultivating a healthy mind includes being sensible, having good common sense, and setting proper priorities. For example, Paul tells Titus that the mature women in his congregation should teach the young women to love their husbands and children and to be workers at home. They are to prioritize their God-given roles as wives, mothers, and managers of their households (Titus 2:4–5).

In our day, we define mental health primarily along psychological lines, that is, in terms of combating depression, anxiety, and various other emotional challenges and disorders. In Scripture, however, thinking in a healthy manner about one’s life carries a more positive and broader connotation, in the sense that people’s healthy minds align themselves with God’s creational purposes for them. This kind of mental health, in turn, is part of one’s spiritual life and relationship with God. We learn to see ourselves as God sees us, and we shape our self-image on the Bible’s teaching of God’s image recreated in Christ’s image.

What follows from all of this is that helping people with their mental health and self-image, biblically speaking, is not exclusively, nor even primarily, the domain of therapists and counselors. Instead, it is an integral part of the responsibilities of the pastor and shepherd of God’s people. Speaking about the Lord as our shepherd, the Bible says, “he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps 147:3). Elsewhere, God promises, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (Ezek 34:16). Here we see clearly that the role of the shepherd is much broader than our sometimes narrow perception of pastors in our day.

Reframing the pastor’s role as a shepherd caring for people holistically

The question presents itself, therefore: What can and should pastors do to help the people in their congregations stay, or increasingly become, spiritually and mentally healthy? And as a subset of mental health, how can they help people in their congregations align themselves with God’s purposes for them and develop a healthy self-image and self-esteem commensurate with their true and unchanging identity—who they are in Christ? This involves setting a godly example and providing explicit biblical instruction and mentoring.

Rather than delegate counseling to specialists and focusing narrowly on preaching, therefore, pastors will do well to reframe their roles in such a way that promoting and nurturing their church members’ spiritual, mental, and emotional health becomes part of their role as shepherds of people’s spiritual and overall wellbeing. Such an enlarged vision will lead to a commitment to help church members grow in Christ and encourage them to cooperate with the Spirit’s work of remaking them in Christ’s image.

Self-image vs. God’s and Christ’s image

Pastor, make it your priority to assist your people to understand their identity in Christ and to develop an accurate self-image. Self-image is essentially how we view ourselves, while self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves. Unfortunately, many people allow their view of themselves to depend on their feelings based on external factors, such as whether they look good, wear name-brand clothing, or have achieved something worthwhile. However, we should not base our self-image on any of these things. Instead, Scripture tells us that God created us in His image and likeness to reflect His character and holiness (Gen 1:26–28).

This brings us closer to what a godly self-image should be based on—to see ourselves the way God sees us. At the Fall, however, we marred God’s image in ourselves so that we can no longer fulfill the purpose for which God created us. Yet God has seen fit to restore his image in us, by his Spirit, if we believe in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. How does this happen? By abiding in Christ. This is sometimes called sanctification and results from the Spirit’s work in us as we yield to him in obedient trust.

We no longer depend on changing circumstances or other people’s opinions of us for our self-worth. Instead, our self-image is centered on God’s image restored through our relationship with Christ, an unshakeable spiritual reality. We are worthy because of Christ and his unchanging love for us. Thus, we bind up a proper self-image by recognizing the work of the triune God in us. The holy God created us in his image. Now, in Christ, who is the perfect image of God, the Spirit is restoring us to God’s holy image (2 Cor 3:18). Rather than being unduly preoccupied with self, believers’ focus should be on God and his gracious work for, in, and through them.

Pastors’ role in nurturing a healthy and biblical self-image

God created us in His image, and we are now recreated in Christ’s image! Pastors must teach believers precious, affirming, objective biblical truths, such as that they are children of God—even heirs—through spiritual adoption into God’s family (Rom 8:14–17). Since they are God’s children, they can have unshakeable self-worth and security. They can place their confidence in being children of God, not in their performance or any status the culture may hold up as desirable. Not only were believers created in God’s image, but they are also predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image (Rom 8:29).

Moreover, believers can take great comfort that Jesus died for them. He considered us so precious that he spilled his lifeblood for us (1 Pet 1:18–19). As a result, we have been redeemed and forgiven (Col 1:13–14).

Practically, pastors should teach believers to “put off” vices and “put on” virtues, like one exchanges old clothes for new ones (Col 3:12). This pertains particularly to living lives of integrity and controlling one’s speech, temper, and physical appetites (Eph 4:17-32). In a very real sense, believers are part of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17) in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph 2:10) and can be confident that the one who began a good work in them will carry to completion until the day Christ returns (Phil 1:6). Believers have been crucified with Christ; they no longer live, but Christ lives in them (Gal 2:20). During their time on earth, God calls them to proclaim His’s excellencies (1 Pet 2:9).


Developing a sound mind and self-image is crucial to mental and spiritual health. Pastors must understand that the biblical concept of “self-control” is considerably broader than merely controlling one’s speech, temper, and appetite. It also extends to how people think about themselves and their God-given calling and priorities. As God-appointed shepherds, pastors should care for people’s spiritual and mental health. This, in turn, will be vital in assisting believers in discovering their life’s meaning in accordance with their objective, unchanging, and eternally secure identity in Christ.


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