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I am fed up.

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. A whopping 66% say they have no deep friendships. 40% are not energized by ministry work. Expastor.com reports 47% of pastors suffer from depression.

As bad a picture those stats paint, here’s what really gets me upset: many of the moral failures 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 because they were tired.

One of the key contributors to this mess? Overscheduling, overcommitting, and rest-deprivation. Workaholism continues to be tolerated, and in many circles, celebrated.

I am fed up. And I want you to be fed up too.

I’ve heard almost every excuse in the book regarding why pastors ignore the need for regular rest, refreshing and recharging: Here are some of the most common reasons they give for disregarding the clear command of Scripture to rest:

I love what I do

If you love what you do for a living, you’re at more risk than most of ignoring your need of regular rest. You’ll tend to overestimate how much emotional fuel is in your tank. When you do work you love, you tend to feel energized, exhilarated, and fulfilled. A false sense of invincibility can overtake you.

When you love your calling and assignment, you can work for long stretches without feeling tired. The danger is these positive outcomes can mask the need to catch our breath.

Good outcomes are not permission to avoid practicing Sabbath rest as directed in Scripture.

I can’t get everything done

Ever considered this possibility: perhaps one reason you’re struggling to get things done is due to exhaustion? Research attempting to quantify the relationship between hours worked and productivity found employee output falls sharply after a 50-hour work-week, and drops off a cliff after 55 hours. Exhausted pastors who put in 70 hours weekly produce nothing more with those extra 15 hours, according to a study published in 2014 by John Pencavel of Stanford University. My book Unshakable You, 5 Choices of Emotionally Healthy People, outlines a strategy to deal with exhaustion.

Here’s the truth if you’re a pastor: you’re in the relationship business, and relationships are never done. There will always be more work to do. Accept that truth and get some rest!

I can’t stand sitting still

This excuse should frighten you. It may indicate addiction—adrenaline and/or cortisol addiction. These hormones being over-released due to elongated stress affect your brain much like crack cocaine does. You get hooked on the rush of busyness, and rest makes you fidgety and uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable is never an excuse for disobeying God. He urges us in Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”

I don’t have enough people helping

That may be true, but take a step back and analyze the situation for a minute. Is it possible your pace has gotten in the way of people-development? How many leaders don’t have enough help because they’ve bought into the myth that “if I want it done right, I have to do it myself?”

If you’re a pastor, one of your top priorities is releasing people to serve where their passion, pain, and proficiency intersect. Leaders who learn to share the ministry load with others find it easier to decelerate on a regular basis.

I’m afraid things will fall apart

Pastoring is a faith venture. It requires faith to believe you can get more done in six days than in seven. You need faith to believe God is minding the store while you take a day off. That He is still working even while you rest. (It’s His church after all). You can’t pastor effectively without faith. Regular intervals of rest are acts of faith.

Being a busy pastor was modeled to me

If running 100 mph with your hair on fire is the model you cut your leadership teeth on, it’s time to trade in that clunker for a healthier model. The principle of rest is pervasive throughout Scripture. Jesus rested, and admonished His disciples to do the same. No other way around it.

Pastors: enough excuses. Enough explaining away why you consistently ignore Sabbath. Enough workaholism. It’s time to learn the priority of rest, to cease striving, to appreciate the power of stillness and quiet reflection. It’s time to adopt a healthy rhythm of work and rest. It’s time to reject the notion that pastoral ministry has to result in the negative stats outlined by the Barna study.

It’s time to get fed up.

I’m rooting and praying for you!

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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