Thoughts on Burnout, Sleep, Adrenalin, Stress, Sex and Eating

Right now, I am on my summer preaching break. I am very grateful for an elder team who makes it a priority for me to get rest, refreshed, have time to work ahead. I am also grateful for a leadership team who doesn’t miss a beat while I am taking a break from preaching. During this month off from having to prepare a weekly message, I have the opportunity to think about some big picture things for Revolution (things like, what does Revolution look like this fall after we move, in 2011? What is the next mountain for us? What needs to happen for Revolution to continue growing past 200, 300, 500 and beyond?), I’m working on upcoming sermon series and study guides (The Perfect Kid, Ultimate Fighter (2 Timothy) and The Blessed Life (Philippians), our Acts 29 application and I’m jotting out ideas for a book.

Today I was taking a break from studying and writing and I was thinking about stress and pace. Someone left a comment on the blog the other day asking some questions about it and so I thought I would give some thoughts. Right now, one of the books I’m reading is Archibald Hart’s book Adrenalin and Stress and Katie is reading his book on Sleep (I can’t recommend these books high enough). One of the topics I read a lot about in books or magazines has to do with stress, anxiety, adrenalin and ultimately, burnout. The stats on pastor’s making it to the end of their ministry career are dismal. Here are some stats about pastors and their wives according to George Barna and Focus on the Family:

  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriage end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and bible college graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the word is when they are preparing their sermons.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive even that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

Those last two kill me.

What I’ve learned personally, through reading and watching other pastors is that we forget the basics in life. When it comes to stress and adrenalin, we live off of those things in our culture. In fact, according to Hart, not all stress is bad. Some stress can be good, but our bodies need to come down and recuperate. When we have stressful seasons of life and ministry, we need to be aware of it and not stop doing certain things.

Think about it, when we get busy, we cut things out of our lives. It makes sense because we are busy. But the things we cut out first are the things that can help us the most to get through those seasons. For couples to survive marriage without stress, they need a weekly date night. To survive stressful seasons, this becomes even more important. For guys, when the stress level goes up in ministry and life, they need sex for that connection to their wives and that release. Yet, this is one of the first things to go because of being tired, not having date night so their wife is not in the mood, not feeling relationally connected because they are tired. You see how the circle goes. When we are stressed, we eat terribly. We eat quickly, late and do not eat food that is healthy. We drink more caffeine and we drink it later in the day. Even if you claim that caffeine doesn’t affect you, studies show we should not have caffeine after 4pm. Every person needs to have at least 8 – 9 hours of sleep. When a person tells me they can get by on less I look at them and know burnout is not far away.

What about a day off. Even though every pastor preaches Sabbath is good, studies show that pastors rarely take one, let alone a vacation. Our bodies have to have that down time. I have learned that it doesn’t matter if I work 7 days, I actually get more done and better quality of work done if I am taking a day off. Our bodies need it. It reminds us that we are weak, that we need God and that we are not in charge. All good things for leaders to remember.

What is interesting about all of this is that we all know this. In fact, God created us this way. I think it is interesting that many Christians try to prove God wrong. We will be the first human to show God how we can work against his creation when it comes to our health.

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts on Burnout, Sleep, Adrenalin, Stress, Sex and Eating

    • I’m not sure why there aren’t more support mechanisms. I don’t know if it is the fault of churches or the pastors or both. I think many pastors buy into the superman identity that they think they should have, yet church history shows that many of the people God used the most struggled with the depression and burnout. I think many leaders aren’t willing to admit they need a break or many churches aren’t willing to give it to them. I know many pastors have the idea in their head that if they aren’t at their church it will fall apart. That is poor leadership.

  1. Awesome post!! I really needed to hear that & will use it to get more of our church to pray for us as pastors.

    • Glad to help. I’m glad more and more pastors are talking about this, hopefully it will lead to healthier leaders and healthier churches.

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