I Don’t Build Tables….. Why Christian Leaders are Stressed

I Don’t Build Tables….. Why Christian Leaders are Stressed

Why Christian Leaders are Stressed

“The human body—like the tyres on a car, or the rug on a floor—wears longest when it wears evenly.”

Dr Hans Selye:“The Stress of Life”.

Stress leads to uneven wear but if it allowed us to die, perhaps a little sooner but feeling comfortable that we had achieved our full potential for God and made a Kingdom difference, then we might think the trade worthwhile. Unfortunately it is seldom so clean and tidy, and perhaps even less so when, well before any part of our bodies give up, burnout’s devastating consequences wreaks havoc in the church.

The life of a Christian leader, especially pastors and ministry leaders, is surrounded by more than enough stressors for any ten others. What is more, they often lie hidden waiting to strike, unobserved by them, their loved ones and their church board. This may seem over dramatic but it is oh-so-real to oh-so-many.

5 Common Sources of Stress in Ministry

The first stage of managing ministry stress is awareness, so first I want simply to list 5 of the most common sources of ministry stress for Christian Leaders (you can find more listed in the unabridged version of this article). Even as I write I am aware that lists are never really complete and so let me suggest that your own list will serve you well, as you seek to understand better some of your experiences in the ministry.

When the day is done . . .

The ministry is one of those occupations that does not have a set finish time each day, because the pastor is often always ‘on call’. This can be taken to extremes and this never-ending day is a significant source of stress to pastors and their families.

I don’t build tables . . .

If pastors did build tables then they would have something to view, a result to see. The nature of being a Christian leader includes not always knowing whether anything has been achieved, often leading to feelings of frustration and worthlessness.

So, you’re back again . . .

Many pastors and ministry leaders enjoy working with people; for some, it may even be the attraction of the role. However, significant stress can result from having to give time to the same people who rarely act on the advice sought and just keep coming back for more and more and more and more of the same advice.

I should have been a fireman . . .

Some pastors and ministry leaders enjoy the need to be needed and encourage an ‘I’m always available’ expectation within the church. Feeding emotionally on the late night calls and the ‘it’s only me’ day-off phone calls is all very well, but the cost in stress is high. The fireman approach to ministry is ultimately destructive to the pastor and his or her family. The rush and tear of the ‘emergency pastor’ may be intoxicating but it is dangerous.

Not Another Christmas . . .

Many pastors receive great joy from their preaching and from the Christian year, but in lengthy pastorates it can be stressful to continue to minister throughout the years with freshness. Preaching regularly in the same church (some- times twice or three times a week) needs to be understood as energy draining, since each sermon has a huge creative requirement and the process of preaching is emotionally draining.

The Innocuous List Goes On . . .

The list may seem obvious but that has never stopped them being overlooked or simply dismissed as just a normal part of the job. The list could go on and on and it never looks so bad when viewed one item at a time. But it all changes when you string a few together and repeat them week after week; then they turn into a time bomb just waiting to go off. Stressors accumulate and the effects of stress build up in our system if no action is taken to alleviate the situation.

This article has been abridged from Mastering Ministry Stress. It is a free 4 part mini course provided by Claybury International to help pastors, church and ministry leaders, their families and those around them, to understand the very real stresses of the ministry that lead to burnout, and to take steps to stay safe and healthy.


Find a quiet spot and take a moment to review this list, and anything you have added. Ask yourself, “What steps can I take to reduce my stress levels?”
If you are a member of the church board, take a moment to think yourself into your pastor’s situation. How well would you cope? What can you do to help reduce their level of stress?

Next . . .

The next post in this series looks at how stress leads to the devastation of burnout and how that can be recognised.

Sign up for the full, unabridged Mastering Ministry Stress series. You can read the first unabridged article “If Only I Built Tables…..15 Reasons Why Church Leaders Are Stressed” (which Musicademy ran an abbreviated version of recently) and if you find it helpful you can sign up to receive the remaining articles by email.

Photo credit: Jordon Hill School – flickr.com

Other posts you might like:

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

Sustainability – the reasons we blow it