Too many pastors are living in constant frustration, anger, depression and burnout. Many have given up. Many more who would give up if they could.
Whether our churches are growing, static, sick, healthy, big, small or any combination of those, Pastoral ministry is increasingly seen as a detriment to our spiritual and emotional health.
But it doesn’t have to be this way as long as we live by this essential principle: Healthy pastors always match their output with an equal amount of input. Spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Many church-goers engage in too little spiritual output. Many pastors have too little input. The first leads to laziness, the second leads to burnout.
Here are 11 principles will help any pastor receive enough input to match your output:
1. Worship When You're Not In Church
When we’re pastoring, we’re always on stage. Even if we sit in the congregation during worship, we're in work mode.
When we take regular times to worship outside the church, we remind ourselves that it’s about putting God first, not our church.
‘Dance like no one is watching’ is about abandonment to unselfconscious glee. ‘Worship when no one is watching’ is a wonderful pastoral equivalent.
2. Pray When You're Alone
Worship is directed to Jesus. Prayer is a dialog with Jesus.
Worship is celebrating Christ. Prayer is having a conversation with him.
Our relationship with Jesus needs both.
3. Read the Bible Without Looking for Sermon Material
If worship points to Jesus and prayer is conversation with Jesus, Bible reading is hearing from Jesus.
Too many pastors use the Bible almost exclusively as a source of sermon material. When we do that, it doesn’t feed us, it empties us.
We need to let it fill us, encourage us, challenge us and excite us again.
4. Work On Your Marriage as Much as Your Church
Too many pastors are living as roommates with frustrated and increasingly angry spouses and kids. They’re angry that they’ve been put a distant second to the church. And that anger is spilling over on their relationship with Jesus.
The truth is, our family should be our second priority – second to Jesus, not second to the church.
I’ve never known a pastor’s family to be ruined by a pastor who puts Christ first. As long as the family comes second. And the church comes third.
5. Develop Friendships Outside Your Church
We all need people who can encourage us when we’re down, laugh with us when we’re happy and call us out when we do something stupid.
We need people who feel more comfortable hugging us than shaking our hand, and who would never dream of calling us ‘pastor’ because they know us too well for that.
6. Take Regular Days Off
It’s called Sabbath. And it’s not a suggestion. It’s in God’s Top Ten List.
Check out my post, Pastor, What Do You Do for Fun? for more about this.
7. Find an Enjoyable, Physically Engaging Hobby
On our Sabbaths, we need to do some physical activities. Play a sport, get into gardening, go hiking. Whatever works for you.
Most pastors take better care of our church buildings than our own bodies, even though our theology tells us that our bodies are where the Holy Spirit lives. One of the great ways we honor God is by treating our bodies like the temples that they are.
In addition to physical health, engaging in physical activities allows us to get outside our own heads. Something wonderful happens when we get so involved in a physical endeavor that we stop thinking for a while. Then, when we get back to thinking again, we think more clearly.
8. Understand Your Life Rhythms
Everyone has times of the day, week, month and year when we function best. And others when we don't do well at all. We also have times when we're more creative. Or more distracted.
As we mature, we need to understand how our bodies and minds function. A lot of burnout happens because we’re working when we should be resting, organizing when we should be creating, meeting with others when we should be quiet and alone, and so on.
Are you introverted or extroverted? Cooperative or competitive? Creative or administrative? If you don’t know, find out. We need to pay attention to the way God created us and utilize those rhythms of life for their greatest effectiveness.
9. Sleep More
According to most recent studies, highly-driven people aren’t getting nearly as much sleep as we need. Pastors are no exception to this.
10. Laugh More
Joy is under-rated in the lives of most pastors.
11. Listen More
It’s too easy, especially after we’ve spent several years in pastoral ministry, to stay in the mode of teacher and forget how to be a student.
There’s always more to learn. From books and blogs, from spiritual mentors, from our friends and more.
Learning new things – especially from new and unexpected sources – is one of the greatest ways to stay fresh. In heart, mind and spirit.