This article was first published in Ministry magazine (April 2006), an international journal for pastors of all faith.
You have been a successful pastor. In the years you have been in ministry, you have done everything possible to make your church the ideal one. You have spent several hours a day in preparing for the Sabbath sermon, and in turn you have received your congregation’s appreciation. After all, preaching—biblical, convincing, and appealing preaching—has always been the pastor’s first task. Your church has grown, so much so you had to think of expanding the facilities. Meanwhile, two worship services have become a must. The tithes and offerings have increased, and the conference treasurer has written you commending the church for its commitment to good stewardship. A regular part of your ministry, pastoral visitation lengthens your day into the evening, at times making your spouse and children speak of how much they miss you during supper time. You promote interchurch fellowship regularly, and this, of course, has bettered the church relations with other faith communities. All in all, you are a seven-day pastor, each day having no particular hour limit.
But lately, after a few years of such rigorous routine, your family and your church notice some changes in you. Your spouse misses those attentions and closeness that once marked your marriage. Your children hardly see you during the week. Some members have remarked that you repeat in your sermons. In fact, one day one of your closest friends confided that your preaching lacked the old sparkle. The pastoral motivation is no longer the same. You feel tired and worn out—so much so, you wonder whether it is possible to be so busy about the business of God that you have not taken time to speak to Him or read His Word as much as you should. A dryness seems to have crept upon you.
You are not alone. You have a condition common to many clergy: pastoral fatigue. It affects many pastors, cutting across all educational and cultural levels, gradually weakening your pastoral motivation. All spiritual activities become lax. And stress takes over.
But take heart. You can overcome fatigue and not let stress control you. Here are ten suggestions.
1. Never do it alone. Disciple-making continues as part of a minister’s call. We are called to make disciples, to preach, teach, and baptize. That’s our great commission, but we are not called to do the job alone. Remember Jesus sending two-by-two teams in the first evangelistic outreach He launched (Luke 9:1, 2; 10:1, 2)? With strength gained by sharing responsibilities, train your church members as partners in church ministry. Give them the chance, and they will surprise you. If you want to die early, of course, you can do it alone.
2. Enjoy your family. Take time to be with your family; your spouse needs you. No amount of ministry to the congregation will ever minister to the needs of your spouse and children. Your children want to know they have a full-time parent— to share their homework, to ask a question, to play their favorite game, or just to be close. You cannot afford to disappoint them. When it comes to your spouse, let the magic of the early dating never be forgotten.
3. Remember your friends. You, as a minister, are set apart for a holy cause, not for a lonely walk. You need not be alienated from friends; take time to call or visit them. They have stories to share, and so do you. They have problems, and so do you, and when you share them, life will not be as stressed. Don’t make yourself as kings and rulers who should always receive visitors. Jesus in the midst of His busy activities never forgot His friends (Luke 10:38; John 11:11; 12:1, 2).
4. Practice the gift of listening. As pastor, you are expected to preach and preach well. But you need to hear God’s Word, too. Take time to listen to someone else preach. Such food for the soul not only feeds you but relaxes you with a different perspective.
5. Rest awhile. You are a human being, not a machine. Even machines need periods of rest. Our bodies wear out more rapidly when we work while we are tired. We must work for the master; nevertheless, we need strength to do so. Some pastors set aside one day a week as a family day—to be with the family, to relax, to rest—a good habit. Taking vacations is important. There’s nothing holy about working through the year without taking a break. God gave us health to be preserved in order that the other gifts of ministry may be exercised fully. Get sufficient sleep. Be an example of healthful living. Freshness of the body gives freshness of the mind and spirit.
6. Receive spiritual nourishment. Morning devotion should be your first priority as you invoke the presence of God in your life. Ask for strength and directions. Cast all your cares and worries upon Him, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). You need the spiritual nourishment that comes from personal devotions.
7. Enrich your soul with music. Along with worship and prayer, learn to enjoy music. Listening to good music effectively combats pastoral fatigue. Music soothes and calms the body, relaxes the mind, and elicits enthusiasm within the body. Have tapes or CDs of hymns in your car, and let the richness and the assurance of such songs minister to you without any investment of extra time on your part.
8. Exercise regularly. Here’s what the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2004 Edition entry for “exercise” has to say: “Aerobic exercise—such as running, walking, biking, and skiing—can help keep stress levels down. Because aerobic exercise increases the endurance of the heart and lungs, an aerobically fit individual will have a lower heart rate at rest and lower blood pressure, less reactivity to stressors, and quicker recovery from stressors. In addition, studies show that people who exercise regularly have higher self-esteem and suffer less from anxiety and depression than comparable people who are not aerobically fit.” Design an exercise program that you can do on a regular basis.
9. Talk to somebody. Whenever you feel stressed out, take time to talk to someone you trust. A good therapy in itself, such talk should not betray confidences of others or even personal feelings that you should keep to yourself. A good person to talk to would be a ministerial colleague in whom you have confidence. Or cultivate a buddy system in which two pastors can get together just to talk and share their burdens, and then pray for each other.
10. Claim the victory. “Let not your heart be troubled,” is the ultimate counsel of the Savior (John 14:1–3). And the counsel is given in the shadow of the Cross and within the context of the ultimate promise of the coming kingdom. Victory over sin and all its effects, including fatigue and stress, is already ours. All we need to do is to claim that victory in Christ and make it a permanent part of our life. He who has called us is faithful and just and is ready to finish a good work in us. Read these verses to nourish your soul: Psalm 94:17–19; Luke 12:25, 26; Philippians 4:4–9; Hebrews 13:6. Live with these and other precious promises, and fatigue will be a thing of the past.
Looking for ways to deal with fatigue? These are some of the approaches I use. Once you realize the importance of managing fatigue, you need to design an approach that will work for you. You will be blessed, and your ministry will be a greater joy.