There is a moment that every pastor knows well, but many Christians might find surprising.
It is Sunday morning and you will preach or lead worship in less than hour. You feel into your pocket and feel your keys and think, “What if I left right now?”
The same thing happens to men and women at work everyday. It isn’t that you are unprepared or don’t love your job, it is just that you don’t feel like you have anything left to give.
For pastors, they are prepped, ready to preach, they are just running on fumes and don’t have the stamina for what lays ahead.
I recently talked with a student pastor who told me, “I’m just not sure I have anything left to give. I love my church and my students, but I’m beat.”
If it hasn’t happened to you yet as a pastor, that only means you are new to ministry.
When it does, here are 6 things to get out of this funk, but also to protect yourself from it:
Get a good night sleep. The stats on how poorly Americans sleep and how many sleeping pills they take are staggering. It seems like no one gets a good night sleep anymore. Get to bed early on a Saturday night and strive to get into bed by 10pm every night. Yes, it is hard to get a good night sleep when you have kids, but you can try. Don’t drink caffeine late in the day. For me, I stop drinking caffeine at 2pm. It keeps me up. Same with sugar from chocolate or ice cream. Your body may not react like mine, but if it does, cut back.
Eat better. Most pastors do not eat well and are paying the price for it in ministry. They fill up on fast food, energy drinks, carbs and then lack the motivation and energy. On Sunday morning, eat tons of protein. By the time I preach, I have consumed over 50g of protein. If I don’t, I will be too tired to do anything else the rest of the day.
Let go of hurts. One of the main reasons pastors burn out is not the physical strain of working, but the emotional side of ministry. Walking with people through their hurts, counseling, being stabbed in the back by a friend, church discipline situations. All of these stack up and unless a pastor lets go of them, they will pile up and he will eventually explode. You must have a system for how you give those things up to God and let him carry those burdens.
Have some friends. Pastors seem to be bad at friendships. We don’t know what to talk about if we aren’t talking about church. We struggle to have hobbies outside of church and our only friends go to our church. Get some friends that are other pastors, people in your neighborhood who don’t expect you to be perfect. There are times that I have dinner with someone from church and tell them, “When you come over, we aren’t talking about church or ministry. If you can’t do that, we can’t hang out tonight.” If you aren’t careful, ministry can become all encompassing and take over your life. You have to turn it off and let your day end at some point.
Have a recovery plan. Sunday after preaching, you might take a nap, have dinner with friend, workout, do yoga, take a hike, read a novel or play with your kids. Whatever will fill you back up after preaching, do that. Preaching is hard work, it is a war for the souls of people. It will take everything out of you.
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It’s tempting to think you’ve paid your dues, worked long hours and have some accumulated wisdom that everyone should be grateful to benefit from, but this attitude is also your death sentence. Nobody likes to be around a leader who thinks they’ve arrived, and your value to the organization plummets when you adopt this attitude.
Here is the heart of my response: Why is the Senior Pastor the one expected to administer all the pastoral care? Doesn’t that presupposethe very “cult of personality” for which multi-site churches are often criticized? “I need to be known by my pastors” is a legitimate request. “I need to be known by that pastor because he is special” is not.
Brothers, churches are not stepping-stones. It is wrong to pastor a church looking out the window for a bigger or better opportunity to come a long. The souls over which the Lord has made you an overseer deserve your best. For that matter, the Lord demands your best.
Tomorrow is thanksgiving and then Black Friday and then Christmas will be here. In the midst of the holidays, it is easy to fly through them and miss what matters most. I thought I’d take a minute to share some things I am thankful for this year.
My wife. It is hard to believe that Katie and I have celebrated 18 thanksgivings together from marriage and dating. It never gets old. Everyday I am blown away by her patience with me and our kids, the determination she shows in teaching them and her growth in godliness. She wakes up while it is dark out just to read her bible and pray for me and our kids and other needs. Her generosity challenges me everyday. She opens our home up to people, makes them feel welcomed and loved whenever they are here. I love being with her, watching her grow and do things and seeing how God uses her.
My kids. It is hard to believe that I have 5 kids. While transitioning 2 new kids in the last 2 years into our family via adoption has had its challenges, the joys have far outweighed those challenges. Each night as we sit around the table as a family I’m blown away the noise our family can make. I’m also wondering what impact our kids will make in the world. God brought each child into our family for a reason, given us 18 years to train them and disciple them into adults who love Jesus and I can’t wait to see what they do with that. It is humbling and an overwhelming task.
My church. Revolution Church celebrated 5 years this past September. Many churches don’t make it past year one. The things God has brought us through have prepared us for what is ahead. Today, we are stronger than ever before. Our staff and leaders are more talented, gifted and passionate than ever before. Our staff and elders are stronger as a team than we’ve ever been. We are healthier, financially stronger than ever and on track to plant Revolution Church Midtown next year.
God’s protection in our lives and church. While difficulties come every year and I’ve grown to expect them in life, it is amazing to see how God protected us as well. Friends have moved out of our lives, people have left Revolution and those always hurt, no matter what. They are also reminders of God’s protection and his perfect timing. Looking back, I’m able to see how God moved in the perfect way. He brought Judah into our family at the right time.
The Steelers play on Thanksgiving night. While I’m not sure they’ll win, the fact that they will play is a great way to end the day.
My parents living close. My dad is one of my best friends and I love my mom. It was hard living apart from them for so many years and it is awesome having them less than a mile from our house. I love watching the relationship they have with our kids.
Time off. Many pastors either don’t take time off because of ego or because their church won’t let them. I love that I have some down time this weekend and have a great friend preaching for me (seriously, he is really good and you don’t want to miss it). Thanksgiving also means it’s almost Christmas which is a little bit more time to catch my breath and enjoy my family.
Homeschooling. This has become a serious blessing to our family. I don’t talk about it that much because what we do for our family works for our family and I don’t believe homeschooling is the only way to educate your kids. It works for us, our rhythm, allows to be together more and be on mission more strategically as a family. This past year has been a real blessing for that.
Life changing books. Every year I read a ton of books and I’m on pace to reach my goal of 75 this year. I read 3 life changing books this year: Start with Why (the best leadership book I’ve ever read), A Praying Life, and In Search of Deep Faith. If you want a book to read this month, pick one of those.
A full house. Tomorrow, we will have a full house of family and friends. It never gets old having people into our house to enjoy a good meal. One of the things we want is to use our house to be open to people, to be hospitable. I love how our kids get this vision and ask who is coming over and how excited they get when people are here. A house is a gift from God and is meant to show people his love and grace. I’m hopeful that will happen tomorrow.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I rarely if ever post anything that is related to politics. While this post is about the shutdown, it is not about who caused it or a way out.
As I watched the news this past week and read through twitter I was struck by this question, “What does this shutdown say about leadership in our country? And, as pastors, what can we learn from this shutdown?”
So, here are a few things I think pastors can learn about leadership from the government shutdown:
You give up something when you have a team. If you are a part of a team, which is almost every pastor, you don’t always get your way. That doesn’t mean you lose as a leader, it means your church or organization wins. I see a lot of pastors who want their church to do exactly what they want all the time and throw tantrums if they don’t get their way or they leave and find a church that will let them get their way. Revolution does not do everything I want it to do. There are things some of our leaders do that I think, “I wouldn’t do it that way.” A lot of times those leaders are right and it looks better than if I got my way. Being a part of a team means having a higher goal than getting your way.
People respond to vision not reaction. The saddest thing for me about our government from a strictly leadership perspective is the lack of vision everyone seems to have. The ideals, hopes, dreams, etc. that are talked about are all in the past. There is nothing moving into the future to rally anyone to. Yes, we live in a divided country. When things are divided, leadership is needed. Leadership that will paint a picture of the future and not simply react to things. Leadership is about spending time painting that picture, not reading twitter and reacting to what you read. Often pastors see a crisis and then try to rally the troops. That rarely works. People do not start volunteering because their are openings. People do not start giving because the budget is falling short. They give, they serve, they are involved because of vision.
Don’t whine about how hard leadership is. Leadership is hard that’s why everyone doesn’t do it. Leadership is hard. Leadership can be lonely. People take shots at the leaders because they are usually standing by themselves on an elevated platform so everyone can get a clear shot. If you don’t like that, you shouldn’t be a leader. No one feels sorry for a leader when it is hard. Why? Because everyone knows the leaders chose to be there. Pastor, when it gets hard at your church and it will. When people are critical of you, your vision, a staff member leaves, another leader is caught in sin, know that it is hard and you are the leader. Act like it. Show people the way forward. Leadership will take years off your life. It is stressful and at times painful. If it was easy, everyone would be a leader.
Every week, pastors work on their sermons. They stand in front of their churches and preach (hopefully with passion). Yet, very little change happens because of those sermons. Most people leave, unchanged. If you look around the world, very little impact is being made by Christians. Most stats show that those who attend church are just as likely to live and act like those who don’t attend church.
Why is that?
I think the problem rests in the end of sermons.
Most sermons are not clear. There is not a time when a pastor clearly articulates, “because this passage is true, here is what this means for us today.” There is little challenge to change or live differently.
Put another way, most pastors fail to help people imagine what their life would be like if they applied the Bible.
Here’s what I mean: if you preach on giving, how do you help people imagine what their life would be like 1 month, 1 year from now if they applied the verses you preached on. How would their life be different?
If you preach on marriage: how do you help couples see how their marriage will be different if they applied Ephesians 5. Pastors are usually good at saying what the Bible says and being prepared in that way. But struggle with, “now what.”
Before you pray and close your Bible to end your sermon, help your people see how their life would be different if they applied your sermon.
At some point in life, ministry and leadership you will be hurt. Someone will do something to you, say something to you, about you and it will hurt. While many leaders burn out because they don’t handle physical boundaries well and rest, many more burn out because they don’t let go of ministry hurts.
Here are some hurts pastors deal with:
Being stabbed in the back by someone.
Being talked about by someone.
Angry emails about preaching or ministries.
An associate pastor leaving to plant a church without the blessing of the church.
Counseling sessions that end with people fighting, not taking advice.
Too many funerals or tragedies in the church.
When we started Revolution, I took everything personally. I still feel very personally invested in Revolution Church, but I don’t take things as personally as I did before. I’ve heard everything about our church: “we don’t use enough Bible, we use too much Bible, I love that you don’t have a women’s ministry, I hate that you don’t have a women’s ministry, why won’t you fund my personal pet project, my last church did __________, I’m going to leave and plant my own church as this doesn’t look that hard, God doesn’t want Revolution Church to exist.”
I remember a season where it seemed like I had a conversation each week that sent me over the edge. I was stressed out, not sleeping well, we were losing leaders, and the church wasn’t growing at the rate I had hoped. I was miserable. I took it out on those closest to me, I didn’t serve Revolution well and in the end, wore myself out.
Through that, here are a couple of ways to separate yourself from that hurtful email, conversation, leader leaving or counseling session not going well:
Exercise. One of the best ways to deal with stress is exercise. After a long day or meeting, an hour of Crossfit is just what I need. My headphones blasting, just me and some weights. Perfect. Maybe you like to run or bike or take a walk. Do it.
Take a nap. Go to sleep. You will make a better decision after sleeping any way. If you are tired and try to make a decision, it will more than likely be the wrong one.
Write an email and delete it. If you are really angry, respond to that person who hurt you and then delete the email. Then, repent to Jesus for what you said as there was some truth in it and some sin. Sometimes it helps to write out what you are thinking and then let it go.
Have times when you are unreachable. Turn your phone off, don’t read your email or look at social media. I do this on the weekend’s, vacations, etc. You have to have times that you are unreachable. As a caveat, have one person on your staff that can reach you if there is an emergency.
Signal the end of the day orseason. For me, turning my computer off, going to the gym signal the end of thinking about church and ministry. It is how I let go. I avoid evening commitments outside of my MC at all costs for this reason. I do pre-marital counseling during the day now. It is hard for me to relax if I have something in the evening going on. Is this harder for some people? Yes. In the end though, it serves my church and my family better than having evening commitments.
Have a breaker that is not your wife. When we started Revolution, I would unload onto Katie every stressful meeting or conversation or email. That wasn’t fair at all. After I unloaded it onto her, I would feel great. The problem was she had nowhere to go with it. I moved on and she still felt the affects. Now, I have some other guys who are my breakers. When I’m angry, need some truth spoken to me, I talk with them. Katie is often my 2nd or 3rd conversation and by that time, my anger has waned, my crazy notions of retribution are gone and I can talk in a more civilized manner.
Don’t share everything with your wife. I used to do this but now see the wisdom in keeping some things about the church from her. This doesn’t mean I hide things from Katie but she doesn’t get paid by the church and she doesn’t need to know everything that is going on there or everyone that is mad at me or creating frustrations for me or the staff. I want her to be able to show up at church and talk to people without thinking, “This person just sent a mean email to my husband.”
Have people you have fun with. If you don’t fun, you live a sad life. Many pastors I know live a sad life. They have no hobbies and no friends they have fun with. Have people you watch sports with, play games with, go to concerts, movies or art shows with.
Read something that isn’t ministry or sermon focused. I’ve talked about this before, but one of the best ways I let go of a stressful season in ministry is a read book about spies or assassins. Something totally unrelated to ministry, that takes my brain off church mode and allows me to rest it. Try it some time.
What would you add? How do you let go of stress and hard seasons in ministry?