Are you fried, tired, overwhelmed, and at your wits’ end in ministry? Don’t despair—maybe it’s just a wakeup call to rest.
God created the heavens and earth in six days. On the seventh day, he rested. But he didn’t rest because he was tired; God is all-powerful. He did it to show us the importance of Sabbath.
The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, meaning “to rest from labor.” We humans need rest to keep our minds and bodies healthy. We also need time with God to keep us spiritually healthy. God intentionally created the Sabbath for us to slow down and spend time with him.
No doubt you’ve heard this before, yet those of us in ministry often shortchange ourselves when it comes to rest. We ignore our need for physical and mental downtime. We feel guilty when we’re not doing the work of ministry. Then we can’t say no, or we take on more than we should. We’re the one people turn to regardless of day or hour. We shoulder too many burdens. Rather than delegate, we do it all ourselves.
What we forget, though, are the very real risks to the ministry we work so hard for and care so much about when we don’t seek rest. Those risks include burnout, stress, depression, and in extreme cases, even giving up on church altogether. If you’re struggling with symptoms of stress or wonder if you’re teetering on the brink of burnout, start by doing a simple but honest evaluation of whether you’re getting enough rest. Let’s get started.
Sabbath: Do you keep the Sabbath?
Rest is so important to us that God made it a commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). But as Jesus pointed out in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” God created the Sabbath to set apart a day to rest, not to stress more over how we’d make it happen. And while the traditional Sabbath is observed Friday evening to Saturday evening, the majority of Christians celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday.
For those in ministry, however, Sunday is our busiest workday. This means we have to get creative and intentional in celebrating a Sabbath and finding rest.
Set apart a day.
Whatever day you celebrate the Sabbath, ensure it’s separate from the demands of every other day.
Schedule your days or times of rest at the beginning of each month, and fill in your calendar around those times. If you wait to see when you’ll have free time, you’ll quickly find there’s no such thing.
Respect your scheduled rest times, and resolve not to reschedule them. It’s okay to say no to requests if they interfere with your Sabbath. The reality is, you won’t be of much benefit to those you minister to if you’re not well rested.
Actually rest and relax.
My husband and I are both in full-time ministry. Between his youth ministry and my children’s ministry, it can feel like we’re constantly treading water. Monday is our day off; we call it our “raft day.” After working all week to keep our heads above the waves, it’s refreshing to spend a day “floating.” It revives us after a long week and helps us refocus for the next week’s demands. We’re careful not to schedule meetings or answer emails that day. While we sometimes run errands, we make sure to spend time as a family doing some of our favorite activities.
Bi-Vocational: Do you have additional stress as a bi-vocational minister?
Finding a Sabbath can be especially difficult for bi-vocational ministers. Many split their time between working a job during the week and ministering at church in the evenings and on weekends. Some even use their vacation time for church activities such as leading vacation Bible school or kids camp. Bi-vocational ministers must often squeak in time for Sabbath when it will fit—and it’s often not an entire day.
Look for efficiencies.
Mary Sims is the children’s minister at Dallas First Church of the Nazarene, and she also works as the graphics and media strategies manager at Lady Primrose Products in Dallas, Texas. As a bi-vocational minister, she says she must pick and choose where to put her energy. She’s also learned how to not waste time. She suggests one way to do this is to assign volunteers to specific ministry work, even when you’re off-site at your other job.
Don’t engage in do-overs.
Letting others step up when you’re off-site requires some release of control and increased faith in your volunteers. There isn’t time to go back and redo their work, so go in with the mindset that your team is capable and will meet your expectations. Let go of the need for perfection.
Carve out hours.
For some, a full 24 hours of rest may not be a viable option, especially those in bi-vocational ministry. Half a day, or even a few hours, is still beneficial for the mind, soul, and body. Find these windows of time, and guard them.
Do double duty.
“One of the things I struggle with most is making sure I’m spending time with people,” says Mary. “It’s hard to have relationship-building conversations rather than just ministry-focused conversations.” One way she’s intentional about this is by doubling up efforts—asking a mom who isn’t overly involved in the ministry to run errands with her to get supplies, for example. This approach lets you spend time with people while they get to see a little about your ministry.
Intentional Rest: Do you make intentional rest a priority?
Unfortunately for ministers, we don’t have typical work hours or a full two-day weekend. Outside regular office hours and administrative work, we have meetings, trainings, and special events. We live an on-call existence. Ministry by its nature requires us to be deliberate and intentional with our times of rest.
Set clear boundaries.
Ministry will consume your entire life if you let it. While most jobs allow you to clock out and go home, ministry is a 24/7 job. It can feel like your work is never done. There’ll always be an email to answer, a phone call to make, and an emergency that arises. Define what qualifies as an emergency and what doesn’t. Everything can seem like an emergency to those it’s affecting. Determine if the situation needs immediate attention or if it can be taken care of during the next business day.
Ask for flextime.
Many ministry meetings must take place in the evenings to accommodate volunteers’ regular work hours. Talk to your leader about flextime. If you’re putting in work hours in the evening, balance that by starting the day later. If you have an event on a Saturday, balance that with a day off during the week.
Turn off the phone.
The body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—is influenced by light. Light disrupts the body’s rest at night because it suppresses the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is involved in regulating the body’s sleep and waking cycles. This effect on the body’s rhythm can cause sleep to suffer, or worse: It may contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity (Harvard Health Letter). While all light can throw the circadian rhythm off, blue light does so more powerfully. Blue light is the type of light given off by phones and other smart devices. Avoid looking at bright screens two to three hours before bed.
Participate in regular physical activity.
When you’re tired, exercise can seem like the last thing you want to do, but the benefits of physical activity can improve your physical and mental health. Exercise can help ease stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins and taking your mind off worries. Going to the gym or joining a sports team also allows you to meet new people and enjoy social interaction. But physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous or time-consuming; it can be as simple as taking a daily walk through your neighborhood.
Fill your tanks.
We all have areas of our lives that fuel us and give us energy. These might be things like your relationship with your spouse, socializing with friends and family, time with God, spending time on a hobby, and self-care. When these areas are imbalanced or ignored, it can feel like we’re running on fumes. Take a weekly inventory of your tanks.
Which areas are being satisfied, and which areas do you need to refuel? Make it a priority to keep your tanks filled and balanced.
Know when to seek help.
While most people experience an occasional crisis in life, ministers and pastors make their living helping people through crisis. Our time is consumed with hospital visits, funerals, marriage counseling, and addictions—big, heavy stuff. While these crises may not be personal to the pastor, they still have an impact. It can be a large burden to carry alone. If the burden is becoming too heavy or the stress is affecting your health, find someone to talk to outside the church. While a trusted friend is helpful, professionals are bound by law to keep conversations private. This is beneficial when talking about sensitive topics.
Finding Sabbath Rest
If you answered no to even one of the three questions in this article, this is your wake-up call. Jesus promises in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Our burden for children’s ministry isn’t supposed to be burdensome. If we wander through life constantly stressed and tired, something’s out of balance.
Jesus doesn’t just offer rest; he modeled the importance of rest. What can we learn from him? After a long day of ministering to others, Jesus took his disciples to a quiet place to rest (Mark 6:31-32). Jesus not only modeled the importance of physical rest, but he also showed the value of spiritual rest. Before ministering to others, Jesus prepared himself through prayer (Mark 1:35). Early in the morning, he went by himself to spend time in prayer with God the Father. We not only need to rest when our bodies are tired, but we also need to be proactive in spending time with God so our spirits are prepared for the work ahead.
The writer of Hebrews explains how Jesus is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4). We don’t have to work for our salvation. Our ministry efforts are our response to God’s grace, not our effort to earn it. So don’t feel guilty about taking time away from ministry to rest and spend time with God; in fact, welcome those moments. God commanded us to rest for good reasons, so don’t resist it or shortchange your need for downtime. Embrace it—and then return to your ministry physically and mentally recharged and spiritually healthy.
No Rest for the Weary
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress and exhaustion can have serious effects on your body, thoughts, and behavior. When stressed, the body shifts to a fight-or-flight response mode. Medical research has shown us that the body releases adrenaline and cortisol during stress, causing elevated heart rate and blood pressure. In some people, stress can also result in rapid breathing, leading to hyperventilation or even panic attacks. Prolonged, excess amounts of these so-called stress hormones can adversely affect the liver, digestive system, and reproductive systems. The Mayo Clinic also points out some of the ways sustained stress affects a person’s body, mood, and behavior.
- Headache, body ache, and muscle tension
- Sleep problems and fatigue
- Upset stomach
- Anxiety, sadness, or depression
- Restlessness, decreased motivation, and lack of focus
- A sense of being overwhelmed
- Irritability or anger
- Changes in eating habits (overeating or undereating)
- Angry outbursts
- Turning to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco
- Lack of interest in physical activity
Emily Snider is a children’s ministry leader, writer, and ministry consultant.
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