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If you’ve answered the divine call to pastoral ministry, you’ve signed up for both a fulfilling and stressful journey.

In last week’s post 5 Surprising Stressors Pastors Face we outlined some major contributors to the stress load pastors experience:

  1. Difficulty separating from work
  2. Wear/tear of spiritual warfare
  3. Societal dysfunction
  4. Raising/maintaining church budget
  5. The sensitive nature of ministry

It’s one thing to know what forces create and sustain stress in your life. It’s another thing to know what to do about them. Today I’d like to offer five practical hacks pastors can use to address these five stressors:

Stressor 1: Difficulty separating from work

When I worked in the marketplace, I disconnected from my job as soon as my foot hit the sidewalk outside our office building. In an industry (the IT industry) infamous for working nights and weekends, I built the “Great Wall of China” between work and my personal life.

Disconnecting from work is not as clear-cut for pastors. They have to work harder to intentionally flip the switch from work to home. How to achieve this flipping of the switch is probably a bit different for all leaders, but here’s a hack that works for me:

  • Hack 1: A little bit of boring. Pastoring can be intense. People problems are complex, weighty, and at times it can feel like you’re drowning in dysfunction. Regularly injecting a little bit of boring into your week can help you gain separation.  Weather permitting, go plant some flowers, or play 18 holes, or take a walk on the beach. Visit a museum or an art gallery. None of these activities are scintillating. They’re boring (at least to me). But a little bit of boring distracts you, and can help you detach from work.

Stressor 2: The wear and tear of spiritual warfare

Every Christian wrestles with the devil occasionally. But for leaders, the wrestling matches seem more numerous. Again, how you address this particular stressor may differ from another leader, but here is another hack I’ve found useful:

  • Hack 2: Rest. “You mean I fight back against the devil with rest?” Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. It’s easier for us to fall for Satan’s lies when we’re exhausted. Exhaustion lowers our defenses and weakens our resistance. We tend to do stupid things when we’re tired. So how can we rest better?

Sleep: Multiple sleep studies affirm the need for 6-8 hours of sleep each night.

Sabbath: The principle of a weekly day off runs throughout the Bible from beginning to end.

Annual vacations: These aren’t a luxury—they’re a necessity.

Rest can help you deal with spiritual warfare. My book, Unshakable You: Five Choices of Emotionally Healthy People, deals        at length with the subject of rest. You can find it here.

Stressor 3: Societal dysfunction

A tidal wave of our culture’s mess is overrunning the church. And pastors, if they’re not careful, can get swept up in the tsunami. If you have compassion for people, this flood of dysfunction can drown you with compassion fatigue. So how does a pastor deal with this third stressor?

  • Hack 3: Stop trying to fix people.There’s a big difference between trying to fix people and showing compassion to them. When people are hurting and need help, our role is to love them, lead them, teach them, and resource them. It’s not to fix them. Only God can fix people. But even He only can if they let Him.

If you’re a lead pastor whose ministry is built around trying to fix people with deep dysfunction, chances are you’re a frustrated leader.      You’ll probably struggle to pay attention to other components of your assignment: vision development/casting; planning/strategy,             pouring into your leaders, and preparing great content for the people you pastor.

30 years ago, I had a Messiah complex. I mistakenly believed I could swoop into people’s lives and save the day. If you’re a pastor, your     job isn’t to fix people. Let’s leave the fixing to God.

Stressor 4: The pressure of raising/maintaining a church budget

This stressor hounded me as a lead pastor. The church I led was financially sound, but oddly enough I still felt money pressure. When a family would decide that their season with us was over, I often fretted over how we were going to replace their giving.  Here’s a hack to handle the financial stressor:

  • Hack 4: Remember. Remembering can be a powerful antidote to the stress that finances can present. Carve out time to recall past instances where God met your needs financially . . . both personally and corporately. Write these miraculous moments in a journal. Rehearse the multiple ways He’s come through for you. And then remember—God never changes. He may make you wait, but He will deliver the goods.

Stressor 5: Sensitivity

Pastoral ministry is extremely personal. If you are a sensitive person and a people-pleaser—look out—pastoring carries the potential to eat you alive. Of all the stressors we’ve considered today, this one proved the most troublesome for me. Here’s a hack I use deal with this stressor:

  • Getting in touch with my real identity. The more you learn to pastor from your identity instead of for your identity, the better prepared you are to deal with the personal side of ministry leadership. Your ministry is not your identity—your identity is rooted in your adoption. The apostle Paul wrote: “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.” Paul links our identity to our adoption as sons into Father God’s family. Leading from your identity as a child of God will temper your enthusiasm when people behave, and lessen the sting when they don’t.

So pastor, I hope you find these five hacks useful. Stress is an inescapable part of your role. The good news? Stress doesn’t have to destroy you. You can’t totally eliminate it from your life, but you can reduce its negative impact.

I’m rooting and praying for your health and longevity!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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