Are You Surviving the Ministry Mill? New series on Christian leaders and stress

Are You Surviving the Ministry Mill? New series on Christian leaders and stress

Christian Ministry and Stress

Pastors and ministry leaders are often considered by others to be superhuman; totally indestructible and completely impervious to the very real stresses and strains of ministry life. The reality can be so different. Often it’s like being crushed and ground by the relentless turning of millstones. The results can be devastating for them, their families and their church.

This is the first in a series of articles on ministry and stress by Claybury International. For the last 35 years of Claybury International’s ministry they have regularly come alongside pastors, evangelists and ministry leaders around the world, who have been ground down. Their experience, as well as data they have collected over the years, shows that:

  • Over 70% of pastors consider church expectations to be among the top ten sources of stress in the ministry.
  • Around 50% of pastors feel pressured by the breakdown of their family life.
  • Over 50% of pastors observe increasing levels of stress.
  • Over 30% of pastors feel that their family suffers from insufficient time together.
  • Over 50% of pastors feel that lack of time is a major stress factor.
  • Less than 10% of pastors enjoy their devotional life.

Ministry is tough and so, it is not surprising that in the UK, for instance, at any one time, over 25% of protestant pastors are thinking of leaving the ministry.

Source: Leaders Under Pressure – MARC Europe /Colin Buckland

So, What is it Like Where You Are?

When considering the large number of stressors faced by those in full-time Christian ministry, it is I would change this to obvious that the pastor’s and ministry leader’s role is stressful. If the warnings are not heeded or careful consideration given to how they approach this role, then it is possible that they will burn out in the ministry. They will become used up and empty and their physical, spiritual and emotional health will suffer.

The following is a story shared with us by a well-known evangelist and author about his own experience*:

“In the summer of 1987 I prepared a talk for an American radio station on stress.

‘Stress is the great killer, an assassin so skilled in the art of destruction that each of us is at risk. The rapid acceleration of technology, the competitive nature of our society, the fixation with success, and the fear of redundancy and unemployment have created an environment in which stress can stalk unhindered. . . . Tragically, Christians are not immune to this new menace. Each year thousands of sincere Christian leaders are killed or wounded by stress-related disorders. The rest and peace that Christ promised has eluded them.’

Several weeks after recording this chillingly prophetic message, I collapsed at a youth conference. The doctor suspected a brain haemorrhage. My blood pressure had risen alarmingly and only a strong heart and my fitness kept me from a cardiac crisis. What were the factors that led to this problem?

I had imbibed the Western myth that a person’s value is determined by achievement. If each second of my day was not spent in the work of God, I felt guilty and inadequate.

I was working far too hard, attempting to achieve more than I was capable of doing. My success as an evangelist was measured by a full diary. I was a victim of the hedonism of work.
My time spent with God was diminishing. Ordinarily, I would rise early in the morning to meet with God. This time was slowly being eroded by the pressure of work and responsibilities. The activities of a very busy life were intruding into the most exalted and sublime activity: intimacy with God.

The neglect of my relationship with God found its counterpart in the neglect of my body. It had been my practice for some years to spend at least an hour each day in weight training, cycling, running or some other cardiovascular exercise. My fitness and physical strength had enabled me to be mentally and physically resilient. The demands of a busy ministry encroached on this time and press ups, bench presses and trunk curls were replaced by committee meetings and preaching engagements. I was running helter-skelter towards the assassin and didn’t know it.

I ignored God’s command to take a Sabbath of rest. Without a day of reflection and relaxation, my judgement was impaired. I had no opportunity to be silent, to reflect on my life and the quality of my work. The irony of my predicament is not lost on me. The fact that I could write so perceptively about stress, yet be suffering from the same condition I described, shows how remote I was from reality.

I had always secretly believed in my indestructibility. I could abuse my body, neglect regular patterns of sleep and fix indefinitely on adrenaline without any serious consequences. And then suddenly I was staring into the eyes of the assassin, looking into the barrel of his gun. Bang! I was as vulnerable and weak as any other man, just another wounded Christian leader who’d played Superman once too often.”*

So, What’s Your Answer?

The case study may have been from an evangelist but the issues he identified are common right across all strands of ministry. So, “What is it like where you are?”

Are you running “helter-skelter towards the assassin” and don’t know it. Is there an echo of this in your ministry? Maybe you think not, but then remember the irony: “The fact that I could write so perceptively about stress, yet be suffering from the same condition I described, shows how remote I was from reality”.

Take time, stop, and before God honestly review your situation using those 6 factors identified above. Based on the outcome, identify what steps to take to restore balance. You may need some help to do this.

There are so many dimensions, they cannot be addressed here. To help you we have provided a brief 4 part mini course, free of charge, entitled “Managing Ministry Stress”. It is aimed at helping the pastor, ministry leader, their spouse, and others around them to understand the ministry-stress-millstones that grind them down and learn how beat them.

You can read the first unabridged article “If Only I Built Tables…..15 Reasons Why Church Leaders Are Stressed”  and if you find it helpful you can sign up to receive the remaining three articles by email.

The other articles are:

  • The Elijah-Decision: When Stress Sucks Away Your Will to Go On.
  • If I Just Keep Working Then it Will All Go Away: Responding to Burnout
  • “Hoot a Few Hoots Voluntarily, Now and Then”: 15 Things That You Can Do to Reduce Stress

Abridged versions of these articles will also be serialised here on the Musicademy blog in the coming weeks.

Who is Claybury International?

Freedom-to-leadClaybury International is a non-profit Christian organization based in the UK. Over a period of 35 years our team has developed a breadth of experience and capability in developing Christ-like Christian servant leaders, and also in the field of member care, through working globally with Christian organizations, individual leaders, churches, missionaries and mission agencies. Our goal is to support the church by developing healthy leaders, because this in turn leads to healthy churches and Christian organizations, whose people are able to fulfil their potential in the service of the Kingdom.

You can learn more about us at where you can also access more of our resources free of charge.

*The case study is taken from “Freedom to Lead” by Colin Buckland, Claybury International’s Chief Executive.

Photo credit: Myron Reynard