Three Warning Signs Stress is Starting to Impair Your Leadership

Sam Rainer

March 26, 2017


Every pastor gets overwhelmed. The pressures of ministry are real and many, and seasons of stress are bound to occur. Personally, I’ve dealt with legitimate death threats (twice). The weeks surrounding each of those times were intense. I’m sure many of you have stories of severe storms in which the stress was overwhelming. However, when ongoing stress starts to define a pastor, it becomes a contagion that spreads to others.

Unresolved stress can ruin church leadership. In fact, it can turn normally humble pastors into tyrants. When the causes of stress go ignored, when a pastor refuses to deal with the root of stress, then leadership becomes impaired. What are some warning signs ongoing stress is starting to impair your leadership? I’ll offer three that are often blind spots for pastors. Please add your own thoughts in the comments.

  1. Questions are viewed as attacks. I’ve been guilty of treating questions from people as an interruption to my schedule, when in reality my role is to serve them. It’s understandable pastors will feel this way from time to time. When stress builds, however, an impaired pastor will view questions from church members and staff as attacks. When stressed out pastors start thinking every question is an attack, paranoia will drive them away from the very people they are called to serve.
  1. Mistakes become personal. Church members, staff, and other leaders will make mistakes. Often. So will pastors. Churches—even healthy ones—are glorious messes where imperfect people serve a perfect Savior. Stress starts to impair leadership when a pastor takes everyone else’s mistakes personally. If you feel like every mistake in the church is an indictment on you, then stress might be impairing your leadership.
  1. Withdrawing from key problems. Pastors should not feel the burden to solve every problem in the church. Super hero pastors are neither super nor heroes. But church leaders impaired by stress have a tendency to withdraw from the problems they should help solve. At times these problems are among the causes of the stress! Withdrawing from key problems creates a vicious cycle in which stress builds even more. Running from stress only creates more stress.

Stress in ministry is inevitable, but unchecked stress is dangerous. It can impair your leadership. It makes you selfish. If you start thinking every question is an attack, if you take the mistakes of others personally, and if you withdraw from key problems, then stress is likely impairing your leadership.


4 comments on “Three Warning Signs Stress is Starting to Impair Your Leadership”

  1. Pastor Sam,
    So thankful you are aware and share the problems stress can cause pastors. As we pray for you daily, this gives us one specific way to pray.
    We love our pastor!

  2. John Myer says:

    I’ve definitely felt these, especially #3–hoping that given time and distance, a thorny situation will morph into something smooth all by itself.
    If I had anything to add to this list, it would be the feeling that real raw spirituality is optional, a convenience item for leaders who aren’t under stress. It’s the temptation to skimp, if not skip the personal dimension and try to take care of more visible big ticket items, like church management.

  3. I had a bad experience at a previous church. It took me awhile to cope in my new ministry. I’ve definitely been there. Thanks for your post!

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