There are few professions with the burn-out and drop out rate as high as that of the Pastorate. A few weeks ago, I was in Jacksonville, FL at a Pastors conference talking with a group of about a dozen other Pastors. Someone in the group shared that a good friend of his had just left the ministry due to the constant pressure and struggles. As we talked it quickly became apparent to me that everyone in the group knew not just one but several fellow Pastors who had dropped out of the ministry in the recent years. I imagine those of you reading this blog could add your own names to that list. Having been in the ministry now for the past twenty years, I can fully understand the struggles involved. In fact, last December I shared a series of blog posts about my own struggle with a ministry meltdown last year. (see “The Anatomy of a Ministry Meltdown.”) Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about how Pastors can stay fresh in the ministry. Let me share with you a couple of ideas that I have been thinking about.
1.) Stir Your Creativity by Studying something unrelated to the ministry- I enjoy reading adn studying about history, so I have started a little reading project to learn more about Abraham Lincoln. What I am discovering is that this helps me to clear my mind and reboot. This is particularly important for me because sometimes I get stuck in what I might call a homiletical loop. What I mean is that sometimes while working on a sermon I will get stuck mulling the same point over and over without really getting anywhere. Studying something else for awhile serves to jar my brain out of this loop and when I come back to the sermon the next day, I often find that I am free to approach it in a different way. I also am learning a great deal about leadership from how Lincoln managed his cabinet. These insights are helping me to gain a fresh perspective on my ministry.
2.) When you get tired, rest. That may seem like an obvious point, but I think that most Pastors ignore this basic issue. Mental and physical fatigue are indications that our minds and bodies need a break. For much of my ministry I worked 6 or 7 days a week and thought that I didn’t have time to take a moments rest. “I will rest when I get to heaven” was my motto. Now in my mid 40’s I am discovering the error in that thinking and learning to take a break when I need it. Even in the midst of the day, I am learning that a brief walk or just a few moments freeing my mind from the subject at hand can extend and deepen my concentration.
3.) Let go of the unimportant and don’t fret it when people don’t understand– here is the key to Pastoral longevity. You serve God and live according to the priorities that He establishes in your life. Everyone in the congregation has an opinion of what you should be doing and an agenda they would like you to join. If you are not careful you will give all of your time and energy to things that others think are urgent but are not what God has called you to do. Focus on the primary tasks that God has assigned you and don’t fret when people don’t understand. They didn’t understand Jesus either!