Ministry stress is inevitable. Becoming overwhelmed by ministry stress is not inevitable. You’ve got to beat stress at its own game. Yesterday, we mentioned a few of the warning signs of being overwhelmed by stress. Today, we want to share some ways of fighting back at that stress.
The Grace Principle
This isn’t just humanistic self-help techniques–seven steps to a better you, or anything. Everything the Christian does, is, practices, lives, and even eats, is done in a context of grace. We were saved by grace. We are sanctified by grace. We are given good things by grace. It’s all grace. Even fighting your stress. One of the most powerful verses in this grace-imbued fight against stress is 1 Peter 5:5-7:
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Humility is the prerequisite to grace. Grace is the solution to stress. Often, stress comes upon us because of our self-dependency. Our self-dependency is futile. God-dependency is infinite strength. Cast your anxieties–your stressed-out concerns upon God. He will take care of you. Think of your stress in this context–as surrounded by, controlled by, consumed by, and overwhelmed by the powerful grace of God.
Self-help professionals say “managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems.” They’re right–with one huge disclaimer. It has to do with who is taking charge. You taking charge is a recipe for Big Time Stress. God taking charge is the way to a grace-filled life. Stress will be there, but the way of dealing with it–dependence upon God’s grace–has changed. And that change makes all the difference in the world.
Within this powerful grace principle, there are other ways that you can deal with the stress. Remember, each of these fits takes place in the context of the grace principle.
1. Take some time off. Your temptation is to quit. Go ahead. Quit. But don’t quit forever. Take a sabbatical, a hiatus, a vacation. Use this time for intentional rest and relaxation–planning, praying, studying, thinking. This is also an important time to restore any fractured family relationships. It’s not just you who suffers from stress. It’s your family. In addition to gaining the restored trust of your family, you will be able to gain a semblance of normalcy about your thinking, too. Sometimes, a brief (one or two-day) time alone will be helpful as you focus on planning ahead.
2. Reconnect with trusted friends. Being stressed is an intensely personal experience. Too personal. Too self-focused. You need to break out of the vortex of self-consumption and gain the support of friends. Call or visit those who know you well, whose counsel you can trust, and whose Christian testimony gives you confidence. They can help. Like 1 Peter suggests, this takes a measure of humility.
3. Manage your time. Much of stress has to do with time. You know what I’m talking about. There is never enough time. Time to sleep. Time to eat. Time to finish the items on your agenda. Time to go to all the meetings. Time to do all that is requested of you. Managing stress has a lot to do with how you organize your time. As a first step, you should organize your time. Flailing through the day in a haphazard way, unrestrained and unregulated by a schedule is a pathway to stress. You will undoubtedly careen uncontrollably into an abyss of time mismanagement. Instead, make a schedule, and keep it. This isn’t about slavish schedule idolatry. This is about commonsense time stewardship. Say no to things that you ought to say no to–a firm, simple no. Say yes to eight hours of sleep a night. Say yes to sufficient time with God each day. Most likely, even though you are taking additional time for these things, your productivity will skyrocket. And your stress levels will plummet.
4. Eat well. Exercise often. Sleep enough. The three golden rules of a healthy life have to do with eating, exercising, and sleeping. They are also three helpful tips for fighting stress. Your body is not designed to power through a day, heedless, reckless, and without fuel and strength. Eating well means (brace yourself) ditching all that coffee, consuming less sugar, and eating more manageable portions, for starters. Being known as “the fastest growing preacher in America” is not a compliment. Exercising often doesn’t mean that you’re training for a marathon or matching the stamina of Michael Phelps. It just means you’re keeping your body tuned up. Begin a modest jogging routine or cardio workout. Sleeping enough means that you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep. Don’t rob yourself. You need it.
Finally, don’t be afraid to get help. There are ministry counselors available to help you through times of stress. There are personal coaches whom you can schedule (for a small fee, of course) to visit your office and help to improve your time management and organizational skills. There are co-laborers in ministry who have faced stress and who may know how to help you fight stress, too.
Sharefaith’s ministry is more than just media. We want to help pastors and ministry personnel in their all-important task. To explore the media side of Sharefaith, check out this link.