Dealing with the Stress of Ministry

If Wayne Cordeiro says this, then it deserves consideration: “I wish this book had been written sooner.” Which book? That Their Work will be a Joy: Understanding and Coping with the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry  (ed. Cameron Lee and Kurt Fredrickson). Two parts to this book: the context of ministry and the principles. The Context involves discussion of the joy and burden of being a pastor, understanding stress and burnout, the real and the ideal congregations, and the calling and job of being a pastor.

Elder boards or deacon boards in churches need this book; they need to read it together and discuss it.

Seminarians need to read this book. There’s stuff in here just for you.

But here’s the major contribution of this book, a book born out of a groan, and here we need some pastors to weigh in:

What have you learned about stresses and burnout and how to deal with the challenges of ministering?

The authors propose five principles, and I leave them open for you to fill in the spaces — what would you say about each?

1. Pastors need to cultivate a sabbath heart:

2. Pastors need to take care of the body God gave them:

3. Pastors need to embrace wise limits:

4. Pastors need to nurture healthy relationships:

5. Pastors need to make the family a priority:

Then follows a bundle of “response letters,” including one from my colleague, David Fitch and his co-pastor, Matt Tebbe.

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  • Thanks for this Scot it will be read soon!

  • Scot, do you know why it isn’t availed in a lot of places? Christian book, book depository and amazon themselves don’t have it in stock.

    As an aside, Kurt visited Tabor many years ago to set up the partnership they have with Fuller. Nice guy.

  • bsr

    Kurt was the speaker at our ECC Central Conference pastor’s retreat. He presented from that book and it was quite good. The book is available in Kindle and also from the publisher. I am reading it now.

  • Andy Holt

    I recently chose to walk away from my church plant in order to better care for my family. My youngest son has been having seizures and is about to be diagnosed with autism, and the strain of bi-vocational ministry on top of that was too much for us. The actual ministry was not stressful during this season, and I wish I could have given more of myself to it, but unfortunately it was pulling me away from my family during a crucial time. So I guess my point is that sometimes you have to choose between ministry and family.

  • scotmcknight

    Andy, i’m sorry to hear of all this and pray God’s blessings and guidance for you and your family.

  • MatthewS

    Andy, that takes real courage and deserves respect.

    As a bi-vocational guy (I am one as well) I guess you have a job at present to provide for the family?

  • Pat Pope

    From the stresses and burnout I’ve learned the things to do and not to do and if put into a leadership position again how to better deal with those situations. I think a lot of my stress had to do with me and my own personal baggage. Now that I’ve worked through some of those issues, I’m a better person and I think would have better reactions and internalize a lot less of the stress and criticism.

  • Andy Holt

    Thanks Scot, it’s been a difficult time. Matthew, the church hasn’t been paying me since February, so it’s a smooth transition financially. God bless you in your bi-vo ministry – it’s one of the hardest things to do!

  • i once heard something as a young pastor, “the ministry is not my life, my life is my ministry.” consequently, I have made it a priority to be in the gym, spend quantity time with my family and cultivate good friendships. pressure often comes from peers, from the image of “popular pastors,” and even from church members. Sometimes the type of balance I look for does not lead to the success we see in some leaders, but it can make for a healthy family and a ministry that bears fruit.

  • Clay Knick

    Thanks for this, Scot. As much as I try to keep up with books this one slipped by.

  • Bob Smallman

    “2. Pastors need to take care of the body God gave them”

    I told my physician (as well as good friend and fellow elder) not too long ago, “You doctors have all this education — can’t you come up with something more creative than ‘Eat less and exercise more.’!”

    As I think about how I survived the burnout stage of ministry (I’m now well into the wear-out stage!), I would add a number 6: “Pastors need to lean heavily upon their leadership teams.”

    For too many years I shouldered most of the pressure and pain of ministry, and then somewhere along the line I discovered that God had blessed me with an amazing group of elders who were willing to shoulder it all along with me. It’s impossible to put into words what their wisdom and support have meant to me. They’ve been life-saving and career-extending.

  • Dennis #9, it was encouraging to read your response. My husband and I are both pastors, and share your sentiments. Yet, at times, it feels like we are moving counter to the ‘norm’.