BP Toolbox

Strategies for managing stress in ministry

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I have been in pastoral ministry for more than 30 years and have seen many ministers burn out, quit when they shouldn’t or even disqualify themselves because they never learned how to deal with the inevitable stress that comes with ministry. Serving the local church, or any type of ministry, can become a grind if you don’t adopt some strategies to deal with stress. Here are some essential things I have found to be helpful for reducing my stress as a pastor:

Plan your preaching in advance. I set aside a week every year (usually in late August or early September) to plan my preaching for the coming calendar year. By the end of that planning week, I have all my sermon series, along with working titles and preaching texts for every individual sermon, laid out for the coming year. Annual planning relieves me from the weekly stress of deciding what to preach next. My book “Planning Your Preaching” shows you how to do this, step by step.

Start sermon preparation early. Every Monday I do something (even if it’s something relatively small) to begin preparing for my message on Sunday. Some weeks, that may mean nothing more extensive than reading over my preaching text several times. But anything I do on Monday to get started puts me significantly ahead for the rest of the week and relieves the stress of thinking, “I need to get started on my message.”

Build and trust your team. Effective ministry always involves working with a team of people, whether church volunteers or ministry staff. Gather trustworthy people around you and delegate wisely. Work to build a committed and high-capacity team and then empower team members through training and dele- gating ministry assignments to them. Resist the opportunity to take tasks you have delegated back into your own hands.

The “85 percent rule” of delegation is helpful: Effective delegation happens when something is done 85 percent the way you would have done it yourself. Trusting your team decreases pressure and stress.

Prioritize rest and downtime. Getting a good night’s sleep consistently is crucial. Take your day off and vacation time. I am never impressed by pastors who tell me they work 24/7 or never take a vacation. Working all the time is a weakness, not a strength. God created us to live in a pattern of work and rest. Violating that pattern becomes detrimental to you, your family, your relationship with God and your ministry.

Engage in physical activities and hobbies. Find forms of exercise and recreation you enjoy, whether it’s walking, weightlifting, golf, basketball or something else. Regular physical exercise relieves tension, and it also keeps pastors from becoming overweight and unhealthy. I have discovered the most effective exercise is whatever physical activity I enjoy enough to stick with and not quit. Reading, fishing, woodworking or intentionally hanging out with your family, unplugged and undistracted, will also provide the mental and emotional relief you need to reduce stress.