If you’re not careful, stress can lead to burnout. Stress is unavoidable. Burnout doesn’t have to happen. When ministry stress builds, you can take one of two paths. The first path is one leading to frustration and anxiety. On this path, you expend the energy created by stress on yourself. Frustration and anxiety are exhausting. The second path is a better choice, one where you channel the energy created by stress into a more productive response.
Productive use of stress lowers stress. When leaders use stress to focus on others (rather than themselves), something remarkable happens. Stress becomes a way to solve problems rather than the problem itself.
What’s the trigger? How can pastors reduce ministry stress? Compassion.
The way you counter rising stress levels is to raise your level of compassion for others correspondingly. This mentality is not natural. I have about as much compassion as a boxing champ stepping into the ring to defend his title when I’m stressed. Since the point of ministry is not to beat people up, something has to give. Here are some practical steps to raise your level of compassion during a season of rising stress.
Let go of ideals and unachievable goals. Pure idealists make terrible pastors because they halt progress at the expense of perfectionism. A pure idealist pastor will have 500 bulletins reprinted because someone omitted an Oxford comma. Don’t be that person. (I have to work hard not to be that person.) When ideals are not attained, the perfectionist pastor often stresses and then blames the stress on the congregation. For the sake of others, stop being a perfectionist. You can show compassion to your church simply by demonstrating a willingness to let go of ideals and unachievable goals.
Bring trusted people in closer and serve them. Don’t go at it alone. When you’re stressed, go to the people you trust most. Sure, unload on them if needed. Every church leader needs friends who listen. But your friends are more than release valves. When your stress levels rise, figure out small ways to serve them. Send a note of encouragement. Buy someone a small gift. The biblical principle of It is more blessed to give than to receive actually works!
Pray for others—especially your antagonists—at the times when stress tends to peak. We all live in some sort of rhythm, with weekly patterns and daily routines. When stress levels tend to go up, schedule a time to pray. But pray for the people who cause your stress. Serve them in prayer.
Call someone with few friends, a widow, or a homebound person. Call and listen. Just listen. Listening is one of the best ways to serve others. Listening with compassion is a discipline that will help minimize your stress.
Take a day off and bring joy to your family. Your family will feel your stress by greater degrees than your church. Demonstrate how they are first, not the church. And do something they like, not something you like. For example, you don’t serve your family by dragging them through one of your hobbies. Instead, take a day off and make their idea of fun the priority.
The big way to reduce ministry stress is to show compassion. It’s not natural—well, at least for me. The inclination is to move inward, be selfish, and do things that please just you. An inward focus is ultimately self-defeating. Channel the energy of stress in a positive way. Use it to serve others.
Posted on April 20, 2022
As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
More from Sam