One Big Way to Reduce Ministry Stress


Sam Rainer

November 27, 2016


It’s busy season in ministry right now. From the Fall Festival to New Year’s Day, a pastor can feel the stress build like air in a balloon animal—one more twist and something may pop. A hectic ministry schedule is expected this time of year. One holiday rolls into the next, and the church calendar is filled with special events. When church members take vacation at the same time, the emails and phone calls seem to increase. It’s not a conspiracy, I promise.

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 actually 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 correspondingly raise your level of compassion for others. Obviously, this mentality is not natural. When I’m stressed, I have about as much compassion as a boxing champ stepping into the ring to defend his title. Or worse, I want to go full Bob Newhart on people in my counseling sessions. Since the point of ministry is not to beat people up, something has to give. Here are some practical steps in order 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 home-bound person. Call and listen. Just listen. Listening is one of the best way to serve others. Listening with compassion is a discipline that will help minimize your own 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. You don’t serve your family by dragging them through one of your hobbies. Rather, 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.


3 comments on “One Big Way to Reduce Ministry Stress”

  1. Melissa Vargas says:

    Boy Sam…You hit the nail on the head w/this one!! Very well stated.

  2. Jim Caswell says:

    Agree. A trip to the hospital or nursing home does me more good than those I visit. Always leave feeling blessed to be serving my Lord no matter how busy I am.

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