11 things you can do to reduce stress in ministry

11 things you can do to reduce stress in ministry

“Hoot a Few Hoots Voluntarily, Now and Then”: 11 Things You Can Do to Reduce Stress in Ministry

“The man who doesn’t relax and hoot a few hoots voluntarily, now and then, is in great danger of hooting hoots and standing on his head for the edification of the pathologist and trained nurse, a little later on.”

Elbert Hubbard

Stress is unavoidable. The problem comes with how we, as individuals respond. To understand this, self-awareness is the vital tool. Without it, addressing stress and avoiding burnout is like trying to mend a car without wrenches. Success is unlikely.

An issue for pastors and ministry leaders is a failure to recognise self-awareness as distinct from selfishness. This self-awareness would serve best if the information it produced led to a commitment to modifying behaviour, that is, to change the way we live when we have discovered that some of our life habits are not helpful. As our patterns of behaviour contribute to burnout, for our own health’s sake we need to change those patterns.

Personal Steps That You Can Take

Control & trust

Sufferers from burnout typically find it difficult to release themselves from activity, often because they need to retain control because they don’t trust others to work to their perfectionist standards. This results in a heavy regime of work that allows few others to help. To avoid the dangers of stress the Christian leader needs to learn to relinquish control and delegate in certain areas of their working life; to relax and let others help.

Fears and fantasies

One source of stress is fear of that which is unreal, or might never happen. Perhaps an example of this is the paranoia, common with burnout, that someone is talking about us behind our back. Those on the path to burnout need help to face their fears and discover that they are based in fantasy, becoming the slayers of their own dragons.


The adoption of a more open approach to inner feelings should be encouraged as this leads to a healthy self-awareness and can defuse pressures. This is not to suggest that one’s innermost secrets are discussed with everyone – only with selected, trusted others.

Shifting views

Sufferers of burnout have often held rigid views about life, God and themselves. These views are often founded in the stress and strain of life rather than in good thinking and practice. Rethinking and relaxing hard and fast views and practices can alleviate the associated conflicts and stresses.

Slow down

Burnout victims have been living life at a tremendous rate. Such people need to be encouraged to slow down, as it is possible to choose to slow down.

Exercise plan

Professionals agree that physical exercise is one of the foremost stress beaters. It is good if a programme of exercise becomes a regular feature in the life of the Christian leader.

Other Steps That You Can Take

Make time for God once more

Sufferers from burnout often have poor patterns in their spiritual lives. Their speeded up lives will not allow high quality spiritual devotion. Slow down and make quality time for God, he must become a trusted friend again.

Goal setting

Unrealistic goals, spiritual and otherwise, are a direct path to stress accompanied by a sense of failure because too much is expected of self and others. Realistic goal setting is vital and may require the help of a mentor.

Boundary setting

The failure to set realistic boundaries is a cause of stress for many. Time has no meaning for some and double bookings and unrealistic time expectations abound.
Setting realistic boundaries around work and family is an essential process – boundaries like the number of hours one should work each week or how many evenings each week should be reserved for family and leisure, and how much time to set aside for one’s personal devotional life. These boundaries become the ‘walls of freedom’. They draw a line around positive and negative behaviour and they allow life to be lived with a degree of good planning.

Humour and fun

As the effects of continued stress increase, those on the path to burnout tend to feel low and depressed. They may not have found much to laugh about nor found fun in their lives for some time. Involve humour in life, learn again the extravagant nature of God and enjoy life for life’s sake. As per Hubbard “hoot a few hoots voluntarily, now and then.”


Take time out and reflect upon the things you have learned from this series. What insights have you gained about yourself? What do you need to do in response to that insight?

Next . . .

This article is abridged from the free mini course provided by Claybury International entitled “Mastering Ministry Stress”. You can sign up for and start reading the unabridged series.

Other posts you might like:

Are you surviving the ministry mill? (First in our series on church leaders and stress)

Why Christian leaders are stressed (Part 2)

Seven common effects of ministry burnout (Part 3)

Responding to ministry burnout – if I keep on working it will all go away (Part 4)

Sustainability – the reasons we blow it

Photo credit: Lee J Haywood flickr.com