In last week’s blog we looked at 5 Common Stressors Pastors Face:
- Difficulty separating from work
- Wear and tear of spiritual warfare
- Societal dysfunction
- Raising/maintaining church budget
Today I’d like to offer some practical ways pastors can 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 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 a minister. He or she has to learn ways to intentionally flip the switch from work to home. How to achieve this flipping of the switch is probably different for all leaders, but here’s what works for me:
- Inject some boring. Pastoring can be intense. People problems are complex and weighty, and at times it can feel like you’re running 100 mph with your hair on fire, with no relief in sight. Regularly injecting some boring into our lives helps us flip the switch. Weather permitting, go plant some flowers, 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. But doing something boring can help you separate from work.
- Get to the gym. When I’ve had a stressful day, pounding weights at the gym brings relief. Walking outside is effective too. Exercise is a good use of your time and can help you put space between your professional life and personal life.
Stressor 2: The wear and tear of spiritual warfare
I stated in last week’s blog that every Christian has to wrestle 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 are two things that help me:
- Friendship. Barna produced a report in January 2017 that surveyed 14,000 lead pastors in the United States. 66% of those leaders reported they have no deep friendships. Part of the devil’s strategy is to isolate you. It’s much easier for him to get the upper hand when you’re alone. Get intentional about building friendships. Schedule replenishing people into your calendar.
- Rest. It’s easier for us to believe Satan’s lies when we’re exhausted. Multiple sleep studies affirm the need for 7-9 hours of sleep each night. The principle of a weekly day off runs throughout the Bible from beginning to end. Vacations aren’t a luxury—they’re a necessity. Rest can help you deal with spiritual warfare.
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. So how does a pastor deal with this stressor? Let me give you one idea:
- Reject the idea that the pastoral call is a call to fix people. Ultimately, only God can fix people. But even He only can if they let Him. If you’re a 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 get around to your real assignment: vision development and casting; planning and strategy, pouring into your leaders, and preparing great content for your people. 30 years ago I had a Messiah complex. I felt I could swoop into people’s lives and save the day. If you’re a pastor, your job isn’t to fix people. It’s to love them, teach them, lead them . . . and let God do what only He can do.
Stressor 4: The pressure of raising/maintaining a healthy church budget
This stressor hounded me as a lead pastor. The church I led was financially sound, but I still felt pressure about money. I worried about the budget when a family or two decided their season with us was over. I fretted over how we were going to replace their giving. Here’s a couple of ideas to handle this stressor:
- Understand the local church’s resiliency. The local church can survive the departures of people. In fact, some departures are necessary, preparing you for new growth and increased fruitfulness. I blogged about growth by subtraction a few weeks ago. You can find that content here . People leaving your church doesn’t change God’s plan. The local church is more resilient than you imagine.
- Remember. Carve out time to recall the 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 met your needs time and again. 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 your emotions alive. Of all the stressors we’ve considered today, this one for me proved the most troublesome. Here’s one way I try to wrestle with sensitivity:
- Getting in touch with my real identity. The more you learn to work from your identity instead of for your identity, the better prepared you’ll be to deal with the personal side of ministry leadership. Listen: your ministry is not your identity—your identity is rooted in an unshakable relationship with Jesus Christ. Leading from your identity will temper your enthusiasm when people behave, and lessen the sting when they misbehave. Ephesians 1:5 states: “In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His will and pleasure.” Paul links our identity to adoption as sons into Father God’s family.
So pastor, I hope you find the above ideas useful. Stress is part of any leadership position, especially the lead pastor role. The good news? Stress doesn’t have to destroy you. You can’t totally eliminate stress from your life, but you can manage it.
I’m rooting and praying for you!
P.S. Our newest book—Putting the Good in Goodbye: A Healthy Conversation About the Comings & Goings of Church People—is now available! Putting the Good in Goodbye will help you process in a healthier way the departures of people from your church.