For those who labor in service of the church, the ministry can become all-consuming. You never feel as if the job has been completed, because it never is. Every time you close out the day and lay your head on the pillow, you do so with the knowledge that there are more people to share the Gospel with, more believers to be discipled, more biblical passages to study, more books to read, more prayers to pray, and more leaders to develop.
When left unchecked, this constant feeling that there is more to do can push you to the brink. Then add to this the feeling of responsibility that we feel for the church and the constant concern that there may be some kind of disunity or controversy on the horizon and you have a recipe for exhaustion, frustration, and depression.
Paul says something in 2 Corinthians 11 that has always caught me off guard when I read it. In this chapter, Paul chronicles the struggles he has faced in the spread of the Gospel and for the good of the church. He walks through the physical suffering he has faced on his journeys. He lived in danger, knew hunger and thirst, spent the night in the cold, was shipwrecked, and toiled through many sleepless nights. He also reminded them of his persecutions. He faced mocking, beatings, imprisonment, and stoning. Then he says that beyond all this, there was “the daily pressure on me of anxiety for the churches.” In a list of sufferings, hardships, and persecutions, he includes the concern he had for the churches. That means this stood out to him as much as the tangible physical suffering.
How can those of us who serve God through the local church order our lives so that the ministry does not break us?
Take Off a Whole Day Every Week
Confession time- I only took one day off during the month of June. I could go through my list of excuses, but I’ll just be honest and admit that by Independence Day I was not a fun person to be around. The remedy for this has been three straight Saturdays in which I did absolutely nothing related to my job for at least 24 hours.
Pastors, we serve Jesus, but we are not him. He never stops working, so it is okay for us to rest from our labors, give ourselves to our family, take a nap, read a good book, play a round of golf, cook on the grill, or whatever else gives our souls a break. We were not made to labor day in and day out with no respite. You are not the exception to this rule, so for the sake of your sanity, your health, your family, and Jesus’ kingdom, take a day off.
Embrace Your Limitations
We acknowledge that the church is a body with many different members, but pastors are often tempted to think that they should have some kind of facility with every spiritual gift. We are tempted to try to be spiritual supermen who can do it all. We can’t, and when we try to we sacrifice an opportunity that another Christian may have had to serve. We need to learn to know what our gifts are and entrust the rest to the people the Lord has placed in our midst.
Also, we should embrace the limitations of our energy. God never slumbers or sleeps, but we are unable to keep up the same pace that he does. When we run on little sleep, we have trouble concentrating, struggle to feel empathy for other people, and will notice our fuse getting shorter. Embrace the fact that you need probably need 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night. This isn’t laziness. It’s good stewardship and a reminder that we aren’t God.
Read the Bible for Your Own Soul
“I’m a pastor, so of course I read the Bible.” As Charles Spurgeon once counseled, though, we can fall into the trap of reading the Bible like a professional clergyman and not like a Christian. We face the temptation to study the Bible for sermons and Bible studies without reading it for the sake of our own souls.
My best advice on this issue is to spend time every day reading something in the Bible that is not related to a teaching responsibility in the next two months. This helps us to refrain from reading the passage with an eye towards how we are going to preach it in front of people. Instead, it draws us in to read and meditate for the sake of our own souls.
Do Not Neglect Your Family
Ordinarily, you would think that having four kids under 12 would be a drain on your energy and contribute to your anxiety. There are plenty of times that this can be true, but I have noticed something lately. When I put down what I think I need to be doing for work and give undivided time to my family, it replenishes me. Even if we are doing things that involve running around or working around the house, my family gives me energy and makes me forget about what I have going on with the church.
Pastors, we need to write the words of D.A. Carson on our foreheads. “Don’t fritter. When you work, work hard; when you are not working, quit entirely.” Carson’s advice saves us on two fronts. First, the admonition to work hard when we are working keeps us from falling behind with the tasks we have to accomplish. Then, we must heed his warning to quit entirely when we quit working. If you come home and “try to get a few things done,” your kids will be frustrated with you for not giving them your full attention and you will be frustrated that they want it. When you get home, shut down.
Take a Retreat
Last year my wife gave me a great gift when she told me the best thing I could do was to just get away. Thankfully, there is a Christian retreat center less than an hour from our house. I could go for a few days to pray, rest, plan, and study whatever I wanted. There was only one stipulation- I had to leave my phone at home. Now I try to do this every six months.
This was so beneficial for me because I was able to get away from the grind of phone calls, texts, emails, and meetings. A getaway presented me with the opportunity to work in a quiet place with no distractions for several days while also getting more sleep than I get in my normal routine.
Many states have denominational campgrounds or retreats. You can also talk to friends or family members who have second homes or condos. Also, look into what state or national parks may be close by that have overnight lodging. Whatever you do though, take the time to go away to pray, plan, read, and rest. It will be one of your favorite weeks every year.
Honestly, there are many more issues we could get into. I haven’t talked about prayer yet and how God beckons us to pour out our hearts to him. I could also mention the importance of having good friends who are walking through life with you. So now, I’ll turn this over to you. What are some other things that you need to remember in order to help you maintain sanity in the midst of serving in Jesus’ church?
“48 Scattered Thoughts about Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor“
For Further Reading:
Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp
The Imperfect Pastor by Zack Eswine