One of the hardest things to do for most lead pastors is to separate from work. Pivoting from their professional life to their private life. I know this from personal experience. I had to work really hard as a lead pastor to shut off work once I entered our home.
According to an extensive Barna research study of 14,000 U.S. lead pastors, published in January 2017, 37% of lead pastors are at medium to high risk of burnout. 40% are not energized by ministry work. Barna reported that in 2020, 50% of pastors were suffering with depression. Many of the moral failures by pastors we read about (and those that never make the news) can be traced to exhaustion. I’ve lost count of the number of talented leaders who’ve done incredibly stupid things simply because they were tired.
One of the key contributors to this mess? Failure to pivot. The devious idea that a pastor always has to be “on.” Failure to pivot leads to overscheduling, overcommitting, and rest-deprivation.
Jesus has called every Christian, including leaders, to pivot. In Matthew 11:28-30 He invites us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Notice Jesus didn’t say when we come to Him weary and burdened that He would give us more to do. He said “I’ll give you rest.” He invites us to pivot.
The work of pastoring is a gift from God. Workaholism is a perversion of that gift. So here is the question: How do we work hard, how do we fulfill our calling, without running ourselves into the ground? We learn how to pivot.
You may be thinking, “I’m not sure I know how to pivot.” Here are four ideas that will get you started:
Clock out at a reasonable time every day
“And then there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” ~ Gen.1:5. This sequence speaks to daily stopping and starting points. When you’re tired after a solid day of work, accept it as a God-given stop-signal. Give yourself permission to clock out. If you love what you do, you’re at more risk than most for ignoring your need to pivot, because often, work for you doesn’t feel like work. But beware . . . just because it doesn’t feel like work . . . you’re still expending energy.
Protect your weekly day off
After completing the work of creation, God rested on the 7th day. He didn’t rest due to exhaustion. He rested to set an example for us ambitious humans. This weekly reset was established from the beginning of time, and is highlighted throughout the entire Bible. If we want to become good pivoters, hitting the weekly reset button of a day off will really help. Protect your day off like your life depends on it, because in many ways it does.
Walk by faith
Pastoring is a faith venture. In fact, in Hebrews 11, we’re told that without faith, it’s impossible to please God. It requires faith to pivot. It requires us to believe God is minding the store while we take a day off. That He is still working even while we rest.
Learn how to play
Many leaders (and I was one of them), have forgotten how to play. How to stop for moments to enjoy life. To have fun. To laugh. When I was in the fight of my life, struggling with suicidal depression, my father-in-law Jim told me, “John, you need a distraction in your life.” He was essentially telling me I needed to pivot.
At the time, I was an ambitious, workaholic lead pastor, the father of four young boys, and had no clue how to pivot from all of that responsibility for moments to catch my breath. Jim helped me learn the value of healthy distraction.
Find a hobby or a recreational activity that distracts you and schedule it into your calendar. Here are some ideas:
- Take a walk in the woods
- Play 18 holes – if you golf like me, you can walk in the woods and golf at the same time!
Some pastors think, “Who has time for such trivial pursuits?” And while that may sound noble, here’s the truth: Learning how to play actually helps you to be more productive at work. Pivoting from work to play extends your leadership shelf-life. You’ll even become more fun to be around.
Now . . . why does all of this pivoting stuff matter?
Because when we fail to pivot, the most important disciples in our life—our spouse and children—suffer. When we fail to pivot, we’re at risk of developing an over-inflated sense of importance. And often, when pivoting is not part of our rhythm, depression and anxiety are waiting to pounce. When we do choose to live this way, our life gets better on multiple levels.
My dear leader friend, I encourage you to learn this most important leadership skill—the art of pivoting. It will help you run the marathon God has called you to run.
Rooting and praying for you,