Pastors' Forum



How do you deal with stress in the ministry? Do you have hobbies? How much time do you take off, and what do you do when you’re off? What have you learned in ministry that has helped you deal with stress and pressure?


Pastor Jeff Jones – Kalamazoo, MI
Ministry can easily be a 24/7 occupation. That’s why Paul encouraged the early church leaders to “take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock” Acts 20:28. It seems like God is making it clear that were are to make sure that we keep one eye on us, and one eye on the people God wants us to lead. It’s all about learning balance. If we stress out, if we overextend ourselves, if we spend too much time working and not taking time off, then we’re not taking heed unto ourselves, and our people suffer for it.

It happened to me a few years ago, when I could best describe my heart as emotionally strained. I still loved the ministry and loved our people, but just did not have the energy to express it. So, we took our first summer sabbatical. We took 6 weeks away and “took heed unto ourselves.” It was a great time of refreshing and we’ve done it now for a few years. We take 4-6 weeks away, usually in July and everyone around here is super supportive and understands why we do it.

Pastor Jeff Walker – Palm Springs, CA
Stress is a reality in ministry no matter how tough you think you are. There are several ways I address this challenge. First, I enjoy quiet, prayerful, worshipful times of introspective reflection. Most preferably with music that soothes my spirit. Second, I do my best to live in the reality that I am an undershepherd, Jesus is the Great Shepherd, and the people I pastor are ultimately Christ’s responsibility. Third, I maintain good friendships with people in whom I can confide and to whom I can vent my frustrations. Fourth, since I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders, I get a massage once a week. Finally, I walk two miles 3-4 times a week.

Hobbies include motorcycling with my wife or with other men. I also enjoy shooting handguns and long guns with my sons. Additionally, I volunteer as a chaplain with my Sheriff’s Department and I am a clinician in a County Mental Health outpatient clinic. The change of view helps me stay grounded and balanced. Looking at the world through the windshield of a cop car or treating seriously mentally ill individuals really puts my “issues” in perspective.

For the first eighteen years of pastoring my church, I never missed a service unless on a rare vacation. The past eight years have been much different as I have truly adopted a philosophy of team ministry. Though everyone is quite clear regarding who the leader of the team is, my pastoral staff functions as a team. I am much more comfortable taking time off, because trust has been established with my staff. My pastor advocates taking a three month sabbatical every five years. I plan to take my first this summer to go learn to speak Spanish. One last note, at our weekly staff meeting, each member gives themselves a grade (A to F) on three areas: self care; family time;  and, peace level. If anyone has a grade below a C, we investigate, encourage and pray for that individual. I believe this keeps stress at a lower level, because it can be dealt with rather than festering.

Pastor Scott Robles – Fremont, OH
I schedule to fast and pray 4 times a year, once every quarter. I like to go to Charm, Ohio where the Amish people live. Life seems to be at a little slower pace and the pastoral surroundings are peaceful. I spend time alone with the Lord and scripture reading. I take about 2-3 weeks of vacation. I like Civil War history and take many of my vacations visiting Civil War battlefields.

I’ve learned in ministry that in order to diminish the stress and pressure I must not sweat the small stuff, and when I trust God to lead me, everything is small stuff. Also, that I don’t have to get everything I planned in my daily schedule done. If something legitimately interrupts my schedule and I have to change to accommodate the interruption, e.g. phone call, emergency etc., that’s ok, because it’s all ministry related and it’s what the Lord wanted me to get done that day. What I don’t get done will be added to the next day, understanding that ministry calls for changes because ministry is people and people will always have on-going needs—change is here to stay.

Pastor Jim Overbaugh – Missoula, MT
I try to keep fit by working out at home. This seems to help a lot with the stress. We watch old movies, which we collect. My hobbies include spending as much time with my wife and kids as I can; we do everything together. We schedule regular vacation time off during the summer about 5 to 6 weeks.

I try not to work more than 40 hours, however it seems that we are at church a lot. Our children are home schooled, so they are always with us which has worked well for us as a family unit. I tell them that “we” are in the ministry not just mom and dad. We do a lot of RV camping when we are off. We thought it was a good investment to make to create lots of great memories for the family.

As far what I have learned about dealing with stress and pressure; I would say honestly that sometimes ministry can seem a bit overwhelming to all of us. What I try to do is separate myself unto the Lord. Sometimes I go in the woods or take a drive in the mountains just to pray and speak my faith out-loud. Other times I may get up in the night and pray. I try to take regular time just to feed on the word for myself and try to keep things in the right perspective. God wants us to enjoy what we do for him, not die because we were tortured in ministry.

Pastor Dave Williams – Lansing, MI
Stress in the ministry can be very serious. One person says, “The temperature is too hot” while another person says, “The temperature is too cold,” “The music is too loud,” “The music is not loud enough,” “There are too many hymns, not enough choruses,” “The sermons are too long,” “The sermons are not long enough.” If a minister is not secure in his position to which Christ has called him, these stresses will pull him apart.

It has been my observation that pastors who are secure in their calling and are willing to delegate tasks to others—and who can take time off from the ministry without feeling guilty about it—seem to deal with the stress better than those who are workaholics.

Dr. Don Colbert has a great book on toxic stress that every pastor should read.

Pastor Rob Wynne – Linden, AL
1. I work to stay built up in the Word and prayer.

2. I have other ministers with whom I can talk.

3. When someone says, “they don’t like ____________ [whatever]. I found out that they are the minority.

4. I have found that physical exercise is very helpful. Depending on your capabilities anything from walking etc. will help to alleviate stress.

5. I play golf in my off time. Even though I am not that good it is an interesting type of exercise and I can do it alone.

6. I take mental holidays while I am at church during the week occasionally.

7. I have an awesome wife as my best friend.

8. I honestly do not vacation enough but I do try to relax.

Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, Missouri
I have a note card that I wrote to myself inside of my desk. It simply says, “Lighten up and smile.” This seems to help me when I am starting to stress. Physically strenuous activities are great stress relievers for me. I lift weights a bit, play tennis and basketball, hike trails and run a little. I especially enjoy bike riding, particularly mountain biking on challenging trails. On Wednesdays I almost always get a work out in the afternoon. This way I come back refreshed and ready for our evening service.

I work in the office Monday thru Thursday from 8 to about 5 or 6. Then I take off Friday and Saturday. Of course there are weekend outreaches, weddings, final sermon prep, etc. It is still better to work from home in a more relaxed mode.

We try to take a 10 day to two-week vacation in the summer months. I am not the best at taking my vacation. I know it is good for me and my family if we take the longer vacation and get completely away for a couple of weekends. I have a great staff. They always do a wonderful job while we are away. We take shorter 3-5 day breaks throughout the year.

Over the years I have learned to share the responsibilities of the ministry with my staff and key leaders. Almost every important decision (new building, creating new staff positions, starting a new church location) is a consensus group decision. At our weekly staff meetings, we discuss sermon topics, illustrations, music, visuals, drama, titles. We have shifted to a team mentality. It is so much more fun and less stressful on everyone. We share victories and challenges. Everyone gets an assist on every good thing that happens.

Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia (Africa)
In sports, most athletes make their greatest contributions before the age of 40. From a Biblical and practical perspective, the greatest contributions you will potentially make will be in the second half of your life. The trouble is, many ministers do not survive to get to the second half, or they are so jaded or bruised, that they are not too effective.

Stress in ministry is unavoidable, but dealing with it will keep you sane and give you longevity in ministry so that you can have a profound impact in the kingdom of God for good. A few things that can help along these lines are:

1. Have a life outside of ministry. Have a hobby or join a club where you are not around Christian people. This is not to sin or compromise, but to give yourself a reality check. Hanging out with families who are not saved from our kids’ school is quite refreshing for my wife and I.

2. Do things that make your mind focus on things other than ministry. This is a great way to have a “mind vacation.” A four hour golf game will allow you to concentrate on something other than your sound department or how the church budget is doing.

3. Do outside activities that will get your heart pumping and adrenaline flowing. Whatever does it for you—cars, motorcycles, wave-runners, sports or needlepoint. Find something and have fun.

4. Schedule time off at the beginning of each year. Put your vacation and family above the rest of the calendar and guard it.

5. Get away. Leave physically from your town and don’t feel guilty. Jesus did it frequently and thankfully He did not carry a cell phone or Blackberry.

Another great source of stress for ministers are ridiculous self-imposed expectations that did not come from heaven. You will never bat 1.000 in ministry. Paul, Jesus, Moses and the greatest leaders of the Bible all had crazy people who refused to change and walked away. Do your best, keep growing in God and operate from His grace and not your ability.

Pastor Mike Camenti – Canton, OH
We all deal with stress, my wife and have determined after 24 years of ministry we want to last through are time as Pastor’s. So we take several vacations throughout the year and we take a few days here and there throughout the year, this seems to help greatly!!

Pastor John White – Decatur, AL
Every pastor or minister is a visionary or at least should be. When we can see what God wants to accomplish and face the problems trying to position ourselves and our congregations to achieve those accomplishments it can become very stressful. Many years I struggled with the stress of ministry. I tried everything I learned from other ministers and tried to implement their suggestions. I tried golf, hunting, vacations, the whole works. What I found that when I was on the golf course, beach or in the woods my mind was at the church. Actually in my case those things just added to the stress. Then one day the Lord spoke to me and said,” John one day you will fulfill the vision I have given you only to look back and realize that you forgot to enjoy the journey. I want you to enjoy the journey on your way to the vision.” From that day forward my thinking has changed, my church has changed and so has my stress.I believe it is very important to exercise and eat healthy but to also enjoy what you are doing. I enjoy life. I continue to golf, hunt and take great vacations and have even taken up scuba diving, the difference now is that I enjoy it. That one word from God changed my life. There are some things I can’t change, some things I can. I have decided to let God do what I cannot do and delegate to others most of what I don’t like doing. This has made my life so much better. The church is growing, more people are committed to the vision and I take off as much as I want to. I am enjoying the journey!

Pastor Anthony Storino – Toms River, NJ
I’ve been in full time ministry for 23 years and sometimes it seems like a lifetime. And there can be times where it can very stressful and you can question your calling. One of the things I learned very early on in ministry is to roll all the care of ministry off on the Lord. I know that it seems simplistic but non-the-less it is the absolute truth. We’re familiar with 1 Peter 5:7. The question is how in the world do you do that. Hobbies are on way to relieve the stress, taking a vacation, spending time alone, although, can be counterproductive because you have too much time to think. So what I do is take time off—not long stints—but just some days where me and my wife can get away for a couple of days and just be ourselves. It might be a ride into the country for a couple days. I have son that lives about 8 hours away in the country and we’ll go stay with him. I am fortunate to have a condo in south Florida and the airfare is extremely inexpensive. The airline runs outrageous specials to and from. So we’ll get an email offering these incredible low rates. And we’ll go down on a Sunday night or Monday morning and come back on Thursday or Friday and really all we do is unwind. Jesus paid the price for His church, He has placed us here as stewards of His ministry and if allow ourselves to get stressed out then we cannot fulfill the assignment He has given us.

Pastor Mike Webb – Lake Forest, CA
The best stress reducer I have is exercise. I get to the gym 3 times each week and take out my frustrations (ministry and personal) on weight lifting equipment. It helps me think clearer, and I believe it enables me to hear from God better.

When I first added the gym to my schedule (6 years ago) I couldn’t afford the time. Now, I can’t afford not to take the time. It provides opportunities for meditation, prayer, and personal witnessing. It is invaluable to me.

Pastor Judi Tillett – Waynesville, MO
If you had asked this question when I was younger in the ministry, I would have had absolute confidence in the opinion of my answer. Now that years have passed, I can only give you the perspective of one who has far too frequently visited the juniper tree; not to de-stress, but as a result of denying or not recognizing stress. The “CAKE” of the juniper tree visits has led me to strive for a non-stressed life by:

C ast all my cares on God, every day… lots of times during the day.
A sk for help and then allow it to happen, without the insertion of my perfect execution.
K ayak! I now explore the rivers (of life) from a different perspective.
E xpress my self to someone I trust (find somebody) and do not suppress real frustrations.

Frankly, a demand on me to do this or a variation thereof is the only way I can have my “cake” and feed others, too. (ref. 1 Kings 19:4-6)

Pastor Rick Renner – Moscow, Russia
When I was younger, I easily got stressed out and worried about everything. I would toss and turn at night, lose sleep, and pace the floors 3/4 particularly if I was worried about finances. I used to look at my wife sleeping at my side and wonder how she could just lie there and sleep so peacefully when I was always so upset, uptight, and worried! But over the years, I’ve learned to relax and truly trust the Lord with every challenge of life and ministry. Today I can honestly say that stress and worry are not a part of my life in any shape or fashion. I can’t even remember the last time I worried about something!

That was a very important lesson to learn, given the extremely demanding ministry schedule Denise and I have. Living in Moscow, one of our biggest challenges is traffic. It can take us two hours to get from our apartment to the office, so we have to constantly calculate how much time is needed to get from place to place.

Traffic becomes a very significant factor when a person has to travel as much as I do. Let me share with you a sample week for me in this season of my life. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are days I work in Moscow. On Monday mornings, I arrive at the office by 9:00 a.m. and touch base with my associate pastor and administrator at 10:00 a.m. Then I conduct a pastoral staff meeting that usually lasts a minimum of two hours. Immediately afterward, I meet with our financial director, TV director, pastoral care director, associate pastor, and my assistant to answer other key questions. These meetings usually last through the afternoon. Because we are presently in the middle of a building project in Moscow, my Tuesdays are mostly dedicated to questions concerning the building program.

On Wednesday mornings, I hold another staff meeting for the pastoral staff and then leave the office at 1:00 p.m. to drive 2-1/2 hours to the airport. There I catch a plane to our second home in Kiev, Ukraine, so I can arrive just in time to conduct a membership meeting on Wednesday night. All day Thursday, I meet with my Kiev staff members. On Thursday night, I meet with new people in our church. On Friday I meet with individual staff members. All day Saturday, I conduct multiple services at the Kiev Good News Church, and then Denise and I go out to dinner alone every Saturday night. On Sunday morning, we get up at 4:00 a.m. so we can leave our Kiev apartment by 5:15 and catch our flight at 7:00 a.m. Our flight arrives at 9:30 a.m., and we immediately drive to the Moscow church, arriving just in time for me to step on the stage and receive the offering after the worship concludes at the first service. I preach the first service, counsel between services, and then conduct the second service. After the second Sunday service, Denise and I usually schedule time with whichever pastoral team member in Moscow needs our attention most. Then we go home and start the process all over again on Monday morning.

In addition to the weekly activities listed above, Denise and I periodically conduct special evening sessions for new members or for visitors to meet the pastoral staff, and Denise oversees and conducts meetings for her large outreach to women in both Moscow and Kiev. I also frequently travel to various nations in the former Soviet Union to conduct training sessions for pastors who are members of our Pastors’ Association. In addition to all of this, we minister at approximately 25 churches in the United States every year. For the past two years, I’ve flown more than 200,000 miles each year!

Besides all these responsibilities, I am constantly writing letters and emails to our partners, besides working on several book-writing projects simultaneously. I begin working at 8:00 a.m. when I begin to receive phone calls from various people. Then the moment our office in Moscow and Kiev close, our office in Tulsa opens across the ocean! As a result, our phone continues to ring into the evening hours, often until midnight. I don’t sleep a lot and often spend entire nights writing on new book projects.

In addition to everything else mentioned above, I am a husband, father, grandfather, and son ¾ and I regard all these roles as serious responsibilities to which I give 100 percent.

You’d think that a person with a schedule like this would feel stressed! But the truth is, I rarely ever feel stressed. I have truly learned to cast the weight of everything on the Lord and to schedule small interludes of free time that help me breathe and enjoy life, such as lunch with Denise, a walk down the street, a half hour to watch the news, or other activities that take my mind off my duties and help me enjoy the sights and sounds of life.

As for personal hobbies, I don’t have a lot of them. However, I do have a taste for culture and art, and when I have a pocket of time to do it, I enjoy browsing through museums or art galleries. I even attend art auctions¾ not to buy, but to learn more about art.

Denise and I were so focused on doing what God had called us to do in the ministry that we didn’t take a vacation until we’d been married 15 years. (Please note that I’m not recommending you do the same!) But in the past six years, we’ve endeavored to take a yearly vacation with all our immediate family members, and this has been a great blessing for all of us.

My advice to someone young in the ministry is to work hard and play hard and to do both in balance. It’s very difficult for someone else to tell you what balance should look like in your own life and ministry. It’s between you and God to find out what constitutes a healthy balance for you and then to stick to it as much as possible. Above all, don’t neglect your relationship with Him!

The schedule I’ve described is our present schedule, but it isn’t so different from the way Denise and I have lived for more than 26 years of marriage. We’re not tired or worn out, and we’ve never come close to burnout. I believe that the primary reason for this is that our relationship with the Lord has remained fresh and vital and the most important priority in our lives.

Pastor Matt Beemer – Manchester, England
When we first started, I was working about 14-16 hours each day! We’ve always worked really hard and been willing to do what ever it takes to get things done, but as the ministry has grown we’ve tried to build in balance.
I now work about 50 hours per week. I don’t have a particular hobby, but I do a lot of different non-ministry related things.

I take Fridays/Saturdays off. This is because the training centre is Monday-Thursday and I normally teach Sunday-Thursdays.

There are several things we do to minimize stress and keep a good work/life balance.

1) I make my times with God a priority. Sounds obvious, but in the times when I’ve let this slip over the years, my stress level has shot right up.

2) I work out 3-4 times each week. I teach about 450 times a year and do a lot of traveling so before I made this a priority, I was really struggling to keep up with the pace of things on a physical level. I was nearing burn out. But for me about an hour work out followed by 30 minutes in a hot-tub makes all the difference! The hot-tub is a real emotional rest stop for me and helps me untangle everything I’m balancing.

3) I keep a long-term perspective on things… I have learned that killing myself a few extra hours every day probably is not going to bring Jesus back all that much sooner, so why not stop for the day and wait tell tomorrow to pick up again.

4) Every year I set a ‘fun goal’… this is something that may be a little crazy, may have something to do with ministry, or it may not. For example one year I set a goal to climb the three highest mountains in the UK—squeezing in the last one on December 26th of that year! This year I’m ridding my motorcycle from coast to coast in the USA with a group of guys as a fund raiser for world missions. I pretend it’s ministry, but it’s REALLY, just fun.

5) We take holidays (vacations)… Living in England I was shocked the first time August came around and it seemed that the entire country left for 3-4 weeks! Europeans have a much better appreciation for taking vacations, this is born out by the fact that the EU requires employers to give a minimum of 21 days holiday to their employees from first day they come to work. We normally take two family holidays each year and one short break with just Julie and me. As a missionary it is easy to feel guilty about taking holidays, maybe even more so than pastors, but I have seen the fruit of making these holiday times a priority in the success of the ministry.

6) Planning Ahead… My stress level always goes up when I feel I’m behind the curve. Kind of like driving behind a large truck on the motorway—I can’t see where I’m going and I don’t like it! When I do not feel I have the proper information to make important decisions because I’ve not kept up with the pace of the ministry it stresses me out. So, I make sure I have significant time to think and ‘see’ the future.

8) Have realistic expectations… Being a leader means you must always be out in the future in your heart and mind in order to lead others… the challenge is that if you are not careful you can get impatient with yourself and with your staff putting undue stress on yourself and all around you. You know where you want to be, but then you see today and you get impatient because it’s not moving fast enough.

Having a realistic expectation means you see far enough into the future to lead your people, but keep a realistic eye on today and rest in doing just what you can today, and let tomorrow bring you more opportunities knowing that you will one day arrive at what you have seen in your heart.

9) I have a high Word intake… In addition to devotions and studying for ministry, I listen to 3-4 hours of teaching each week. I normally combine this with working out. I listen mostly to Brother Hagin’s teachings while running on the treadmill. In fact, I normally use it as my ‘timer’. I stop when he stops :-)

10) Sabbatical… We have instituted for the executive level leadership that every five years we get an extra 30 days for sabbatical. So after 10 years we have 60 days, 15 years 120 days, etc. This has to have a ‘value outcome’ for the ministry—but just getting away from the normal cycle of things helps so much. This year, for example, I have still taught on Sundays, but I have brought in someone to do all the Bible school teaching and Julie and I have focused on prayer and strategy for the next 10 years….

11) Laugh a lot and enjoy the journey… Living in a large city comes with all the challenges you would expect we’ve had cars stolen, houses broken into, church vandalized and all our sound system taken, times when living by faith has been a little more faith and a lot less living, etc., etc, etc. I’m sure others have had it a lot worse, but there have been some extremely difficult times living overseas. But even with all of these things, we’ve been able to laugh and enjoy the journey. We have a lot of fun!!!

Pastor Eddie Trayers – Springfield, VA
How do you deal with stress in the ministry?
To say there is no stress or pressure or opportunities to worry in the ministry would be like saying because you live in the Deep South there are no real season changes…seasons come and seasons go so it is with stress!  When faced with a season of pressure I have found four things to shorten the season and help me rise above that season…

1. My prayer life
2. My word level
3. My confession
4. My wife/partner in life

Do you have hobbies?

I enjoy working with my hands, projects completed give a feeling of accomplishment and during seasons of pressure you can tend to feel you are not going anywhere, so a good project can clear the mind. I also ride a motorcycle both street and dirt, nothing is better then riding down the street and pulling off into the woods and going on an adventure. Coach /play soccer, Driving around and shopping with my wife are always a winner.

How much time do you take off, and what do you do when you’re off?

I try to take three family “none ministry trips” a year these would be 5, 7 to 10 days each and a few husband/ wife retreats a year to keep our relationship sound and on course. Family trips always include adventure like hiking in the mountains, walking the streets of New York City, scuba diving in the Cayman Islands; husband/wife trips are a quite weekend at a bed and breakfast in the deep county type trip. This would include long walks and picnics.

What have you learned in ministry that has helped you deal with stress and pressure?

I have learned to have accountability and good friends who are in the ministry who can relate to the areas I deal with. I believe every minister should have a pastor who they can openly discuss the pressure with. Also, it is important to have one, possibly two good, faithful, and trustworthy ministry friends. We must also remember to give no place to the enemy; godliness is profitable in all things! Living right is another attribute you and your friends need to have that way Satan does not have any room to accuse you of sin which can only exasperate your pressure.

Pastor Rich Huston – Arvada, CO
Getting out of the office and doing something active works the best for me. I love to get outdoors and hike in the mountains or take a ride on my motorcycle and most recently enjoying playing with my granddaughter. Jan, my wife works with me at church and she likes to enjoy the same outdoor stuff I do and getting away from the office and doing something together helps us get a fresh perspective and reminds us not take our ourselves and our work too seriously. I take Monday’s off without exception and we spend the day together whatever we do. I am learning the lesson that overwork will not accomplish more, and some things are beyond my ability to change. Understanding the cause of the stress and learning how I can adapt, adjust, delegate and learn from it, so I don’t face the the same issues over and over is the goal.

Pastor Rick Sharkey – Spokane, WA
The obvious is to not ignore the cause of the stress. Avoiding only increases the stress. Beside the obvious of prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit, having a proven, trusted, experienced voice or voices with whom I can vent and give clear honest emotion to regarding the issue at hand is critical. I also find that building, creating and accomplishing non-spiritual things gives me a real sense of accomplishment. Working on landscape projects, auto projects or home improvements puts me in a different zone that’s been healthy for my total being. When I’m non-productive I feel I’ve wasted my time, money and ability. Too much idle time for me isn’t healthy.

Pastor Mike Kalstrup – Oakland, IA
When we first pioneered our work, we rarely took time off at all. It was the result of wrong thinking and inexperience. We ‘thought’ that was the appropriate approach to ministry in order to be successful at what God called us to do. After years of ‘no time for ourselves’, at the recommendation of other seasoned ministers we finally started taking some time off. We discovered that it was not only necessary, but it was rejuvenating as well. Now, after nearly 30 years, we have a minimum of 4 weeks a year that is our own time. It’s not tied to conferences we may attend, nor is there ministry we’re providing included; it’s time off. We also see to it that it includes having two Sundays in a row off, so that you’re not thinking about the Sunday service you’ll be ministering in ‘when you get back’. I have heard of church boards recommending their pastors have a 30 day Sabbatical every year, or every five years. But however you choose to do it, every minister needs to have time away; and I would recommend for an extended period of time.

Two things I might mention about the issue of stress. Ministers need to give themselves permission to go and do things they enjoy. Sometimes, stepping back and doing something you enjoy can actually help you know what to do. I would encourage ministers to pursue things that they have interest in. It may creative artistry, motorcycling, horseback riding, woodworking, perhaps its research/study in a non-ministerial field. Secondly, some great advice I heard Tony Cooke share many years ago that was very liberating to me was simply, “You’re not responsible to solve everyone else’s problems.” And let’s face it, dealing with people can be stressful at times, especially if it involves confrontation and you’re mercy motivated. [as many ministers are]  It isn’t that you don’t care, because you do, but at the end of the day the responsibility to solve the problem is theirs, not yours. You simply help them to navigate through their options and hopefully they make the right choice.

Pastor Bob Yandian – Tulsa, OK
Stress in the ministry is an occupational hazard. Paul told the ministers from Ephesus to take heed to themselves, then to the flock (Acts 20:28). Vacations and hobbies are needful and necessary. Jesus took time off from the ministry to relax at meals as did Paul.

Stress may be a symptom and not a cause. Something is below the surface causing the frustration and it needs to be dealt with. I know ministers who only work a few hours a week, play golf and socialize with others and are still tired and stressful most of the time. I also know ministers who put in many hours a week, take little time off and are happy and fulfilled in their calling. Stress, frustration and burnout are not a result of working too hard and not taking enough time off for yourself. They are a result of legalism, getting your eyes off the Lord and onto yourself. Isaiah tells us “even he young (strong) men shall utterly fall and faint. But those who wait on the Lord shall renew (exchange) their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not e weary they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30, 31). When you are working in the Lord’s strength, you can work and be fulfilled, truly enjoy your hobby or take a vacation and have a wonderful time.

Pastor Jim Herring – Ft. Worth, TX
How do you deal with stress in the ministry?
Some of the most effective ways that my wife and I deal with stress are:

  • Make sure that we spend time together NOT talking about church
  • Working out on a regular basis
  • Scheduling regular dates
  • Spending time with our children doing what they choose

Do you have hobbies?

We believe hobbies are an important part of maintaining longevity (and sanity) while serving in the ministry. We enjoy going to an occasional movie, working out, going for a walk, and taking our children to the park. We also love to read and visit bookstores.

How much time do you take off, and what do you do when you’re off?

Not enough! We may catch up on house choirs, spend time with our kids, or go out on a date.

What have you learned in ministry that has helped you deal with stress and pressure?

There are three things that we have learned while serving in the ministry that has helped us deal with stress and pressure.

1) Realize that we are not responsible for the poor choices that people make. We endeavor to do the best job that we can to teach, pray for, and guide others but ultimately they are responsible for their own choices.
2)  Distinguish between the things that will fade away with time and things that most be addressed. Ignoring a problem or hoping it will disappear only creates more stress. Being proactive in problem-solving and confronting the issues that need to be addressed is never joyous in the beginning but it often leads to a higher degree of peace and tranquility.
3) Make a point to spend some fun casual time with your staff.

Pastor Dennis Cummins – Puyallup, WA
About six months ago I was dealing with a very stressful and frustrating situation at our church. The giving declined radically without anything to attribute it to. So during my private journaling time with the Lord, I vented my frustration regarding the lack of commitment and faithfulness our current culture seems to have. In that moment the Lord spoke some words to me that changed my life.

Here is an excerpt of that journal entry:

My son, fear is a dangerous thing when considering completing my work. Your frustrations are based on the fear that if something doesn’t change, my plan won’t come to pass. That is conditional faith, which is fear based and has nothing to do with me or my power. When I placed my plan in your hands it was not based on the conditions of men…

So don’t focus on what isn’t there, and focus on what is there. Don’t rely on the things in the natural, but rely on me. For I will carry this through if you believe in me to do so.

Now I approach stress at the ministry differently. Now, “I care, but not that much.”  So I enjoy the moment I am in and do not allow the potential pain of the ministry rob me of those moments. I never realized how I allowed the ministry to choose weather I was happy or sad, weather I would interact with my family or not. Not now; I care about the church, the ministry and vision, but not that much to where it dictates my emotional state. So now I can take time off and realize that God is big enough to take care of the church. I take about three man trips a year, about four days to go do man stuff. We ride quads at the dunes, I go fishing in Alaska, and snowmobiling in the mountains. I also work out three to four times a week and try to eat right. This has made a big difference in my sleep and stamina. Some of these things are with my family and some are just guys trips. Believe it or not though, I probably don’t take enough time off. I am only gone two Sundays a year, and I should be gone at least four considering what we are doing. For me it is a delicate balance. Too much work makes Jack a dull boy, and too much play leaves Jack unemployed. I work hard enough through out the year that when I do take time away, people don’t begrudge me of taking some time off.

We as senior pastors carry much more than the preaching and administration of the church. We also carry the weight of the “Buck Stops Here” load. If we are too stressed out and overloaded, then it is more difficult to hear the voice of the Spirit. If we are playing too much, than we become too disconnected from the ministry to know how to lead. I have some pastor friends who I think the only reason they pastor a church is so they can have enough free time to coach softball.

Currently we are going through a remodel and building expansion. We are doing it via cash, as the money comes in. And right now I am at peace because of the balance that the Holy Spirit continues to lead me in. It is still a work in progress for me, but I can say that I am at peace pasturing this church and loving it. The Lord showed me four areas that he wants to prosper me in: Faith, Family, Finances, and my Physical health. He also showed me that if I have a deficiency in one of the areas, it will show up eventually in the other three. So it is a delicate balance, especially when I can only concentrate on one area at a time—and too much time in one area will bring deficiencies in the other three. It was a great picture that I have been preaching on now for the last six months.