March 4, 2014

Do Your Monday Mornings Feel Like Friday Evenings? (2)

In my last post, we looked at the issue of stress and burnout. We looked at some of the ways in which over-tiredness can affect us and those around us. Today, I would like to offer some practical tips to help us.

Rest is such a hard thing to achieve in our frenetic culture. Finding things to do for the sheer pleasure of doing them is difficult. I read a report recently that suggests 10% of our working time should be spent on ‘self-care’. Doing things that recharge the batteries. So, if we work a 60-hour week then 6 hours of them should be doing ‘recharging’ activities, whether that is a sport, or something more sedate, like reading. As leaders, we should be modelling this stuff for our churches but, sadly, too many of us are modelling the so-called Protestant‘work ethic’ as the supreme example of Christian service. Or, at least, a very twisted and sinful version of it. Many of my friends are tired because they are working in environments that celebrate long working hours, and any sign of stress is frowned upon as weakness. The mere thought of ‘recharging your batteries’ is anathema at worst and frivolous time wasting at best.

Yet, how many people are we losing to attrition in the ministry? Yes, many people work just as long and as hard as we do in other jobs, but that does not make it right, does it? All of us, whatever our profession, need to look at what our attitude toward ‘work’ is doing to our lives. Isn’t this one area we should be seeking to (a) redeem and/or (b) be ‘counter cultural’? I am impressed by the growing number of young men who are taking a stand in their workplace by not ‘going the extra mile’ for the boss in terms of overtime and weekends. Instead, they place a premium on quality time with their wives and families, and if that comes at the cost of a promotion or career advancement then they are happy to pay the price.

Church planters in areas like ours need to intentionally build ‘rest’ periods and ‘recharging’ times into their working week, both as individuals and as a team (vitally important), or face meltdown. We wonder why so many are burning out so quickly or why so few want to enter the ministry, and it is because men (like me) make it seem almost heroic to work ourselves to death—‘in the name of Jesus brother’—when, in reality, it is sinful, pride-filled fear of man that is driving us and not a desire to honour Christ.

Here are some tips to help us if we are struggling in some of these areas. Can I stress that these are not in any particular order of importance!

1. If you are feeling overly stressed then tell somebody how you feel (quickly) before things really spiral out of control. Please speak with a mature believer who will help you out in a biblical, prayerful, and practical way rather than with your ‘pal’ who will agree with you that ‘everything and everybody in that church suck’.

2. Earnestly seek God in prayer and lay it out before him. Many times, we don’t have because we don’t ask. Wisdom is a great thing to ask for because it can stop us from making foolish decisions that could wreck our ministries and our lives (James 1:5). Incredible though it sounds, many of us struggle because we have not really asked God for his help. “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Because many leaders are natural ‘problem solvers’ or ‘problem ignorers’ we think that our problems can be ‘sorted out somehow’ or even magically ‘disappear’. How many times have I told myself, It will be OK if I just get through this week/month/year? Too many. Meditate on the promises of Matthew 7:7–11.

3. Look at your weekly diary/programme. What immediate changes can you make? Maybe you have to hand things over to others. Maybe you have to stop doing some things. I found this recent post from David Kraft very helpful. Be sure to download the weekly worksheet.

4. Use Skype if you haven’t got someone geographically close to help and counsel you. Make it a priority to talk to a mature pastor at least once a month.

5. Make sure you build regular days off/weekends off/weeks off into your routine. Be as single minded in taking them as you are in your working life.

6. Make your private devotional life a priority. We need to keep ‘filling the tank’ on a regular basis. We can’t work on fumes forever. It will damage us in the long run.

7. Find a hobby that relaxes the mind and brings you some peace. Make sure that you physically leave the place/area/scheme where you work.

For leaders specifically—repent of your pride and arrogance that says we can do all things. That’s God’s job.

a.  Repent of your hypocrisy—be as watchful for your own soul as for those in your care.

b. If you are in a team, keep an eye on your people. Send them home if they look like they need some time out. A few days off now is better than a few months off later.

c. Have fun (if you have a team). How much of your life together do you relax with one another? Life is stressful enough without everything being super professional and super serious. We regularly go out for breakfast and have a yearly team weekend away.

c.  Remember our acceptance by God rests in what Christ has already done and not on what we are achieving right now. He cannot possibly love us any more than he does. That should be freeing.

d. James 3:1 should be a bigger motivation for us than what our members think of us and about what we are‘doing with our time’. We will give account to one person only, so we work for his glory and not our own reputations.

That’s it. There’s loads more I am sure. I realise that I have written for those working in teams and not the many who work on their own. I still think the principles can be contextualised. If that is you then I would suggest you cultivate a good relationship with at least six people outside of your context and get them to support you in prayer and through accountability. Regular, personal contact with at least one person outside of your context WHO WILL ACTIVELY, BIBLICALLY ADVISE YOU, not just listen to your gripes, can make a massive difference.

Feel free to contribute any and all I have missed. This article is meant as a help and not in any way self-righteous. I struggle and it all comes in ebbs and flows. Community is the key and a complete reliance on the Lord Jesus. He loves us more than we say we know. Press on.

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