Monday, April 17, 2006


All tasks carry with them a certain amount of pressure. Ministry has it’s unique combination of stresses. How you handle these stresses can “make or break” you. To better manage the pressure of ministry....

1. Understand where the pressure is coming from.

While stresses may feel similar, the origins may differ. Some possibilities:
• Spiritual opposition (we’re in a war)
• Personal life issues (challenges with spouse, kids, etc.)
• Organizational growth (more people, being understaffed, etc.)
• Personal work habits (laziness, poor planning, etc.)

The appropriate response to pressure will depend on where the pressure is coming from. Organizational stresses need organizational solutions. Spiritual stresses need spiritual solutions. Don’t try to organize your way out of a spiritual attack. Conversely, don’t try to pray your way out of disorganization. Proper diagnosis precedes proper remedy.

By the way, the enemy will exploit all of these pressures and more to get at you. I am convinced that many of his firy darts are natural, instead of supernatural. He knows that things as mundane as the laundry not being done can frustrate us. Don’t think that He doesn’t leverage any and all forms of pressure in our lives. He loves to use “the predictability of human nature” to his advantage.

2. Maintain your spiritual health at all times.

There is no substitute for a growing, vibrant personal life, particularly when you are under pressure. You are too busy not to pray. Ten minutes a day in the word, plus ten minutes per day in prayer (10+10) is the MINIMUM. Stay on your knees so the bullets keep flying over your head. Stephen Covey calls this “sharpening the saw.” Paul calls it “keeping in step with the Spirit.” Whatever you call it – a devotional life, quiet time, spiritual disciplines, etc. - don’t try to do ministry without it. Spiritual ends require spiritual means.

3. Remain sensitive to the “tragedy of the commons.”

As organizations grow, stresses come first to “common areas” – areas that are common to everyone. For instance, a receptionist takes calls for everyone. As there are more “everyones” there are more calls and more pressure. (At a certain point, with enough call volume, there may be a need for a second receptionist, or an automated phone system to keep things manageable.) The pastor himself is often a victim of this “tragedy of the commons.” For instance, the pastor is “the counselor” to everyone. At a certain point, the pastor needs to be referring people to other counselors (I think after a max of six counseling hours per week), or hiring an associate pastor. Common areas need to be monitored and reorganized for scalability, in order to protect from burnout.

4. Account for “project weight.”

The feeling of responsibility for a project can be called “project weight.” People feel more weight at certain times than others (e.g. a teaching pastor on Saturday night typically “feels the weight”). When you are in the process of reorganizing a ministry, starting another service, or launching another site, there is additional weight on your shoulders. Others should be more sensitive when a person is shouldering project weight. The weight needs to be redistributed when it gets too heavy, or when you feel like you’ve had to shoulder it for too long.

5. Pay back borrowed strength.

You can only borrow from tomorrow’s strength for so long, before you have to pay it back. If you have had a particularly stressful stretch of ministry (lots of crisis, meetings, spiritual warfare), you will need to compensate by taking an appropriate break, or by “coasting” for awhile. There is a divine rhythm with which God expects his children to be in sync. There is a sleep rhythm (16 hours awake, 8 hours asleep). There is the sabbath rhythm (six parts work, one part rest). There is the seasonal rhythm (fall, winter, spring, summer). Make sure that there is a downbeat in your life. And if you have borrowed from tomorrow’s strength by curtailing sleep, day’s off or vacations, catch up before the debt grows.

6. Change gears.

Instead of working the engine harder, get into a higher gear. With a higher gear ratio there is more speed, with greater efficiency. If we stay in too low of a gear too long we burn up the engine (and sadly, don’t get very far in the process). Change gears by delegating and redistributing the work load, sharing project weight with others, and maintaining a manageable span of care (5-7 direct reports). Use Sunday night or Monday to review your personal life plan, and prioritize.

7. Reach out.

I have probably not communicated this clearly enough, or often enough, but please know that I am on your side, and that you can call on me for support. If you need encouragement or counsel, or just a shoulder to cry on, I would count it a privilege to support you in what God has called you to do. If you are facing pressure or temptation, please don’t isolate, or become a victim. Do the extremely courageous thing, that many are too proud to do: reach out. At a time in my ministry when I was feeling overwhelmed, I did not reach out, and became a casualty. I would not want this for my enemies, much less my friends. By virtue of the fact that you are receiving this dMail, I take it that you are in ministry, and have an important role in the lives of others. Please don’t allow self-pity or impression management to get in the way of your health. Go the distance.

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