We all know that feeling: when Monday morning feels like Friday evening, and the energy levels are at an all-time low. The question of how we recharge our batteries spiritually, physically, and mentally is important for church planters, pastors, and inner-city church workers. I have just spent some time with a dear friend of mine, and as a fellow labourer in the gospel, it was tough to see him near breaking point. I managed to grab a little time with him, but not nearly enough to engage with him deeply and look at some of the heart issues in his life.
As I look at some of my Ministry Team, I can see the tiredness setting in as the reality of working in such a needy community begins to slowly takes its toll on each one of us to varying degrees. Some of us are our own worst enemies: we don’t know how to say ‘no’, or we are workaholics, people pleasers, or laden with guilt because we need to be seen to be either productive, successful, or both. A major cause of stress is control. We don’t like to hand things over. This is not always true for everybody, but poor delegation can be a big factor for many of us. All of these concerns can lead to any number of problems. Here are a few:
1. Husbands can become neglectful of their spouses and children as they only have the energy to give them ‘what’s left over’in terms of their time and input. Legitimate needs from our families can become irksome and feel like an ‘added pressure’ when, in reality, they should be our chief concern.
2. Personal lives suffer and relationships can get left behind due to time constraints. Cultivating friendships take a back seat to ministry concerns and ‘fixing’ broken people. If you are too busy to form meaningful friendships/relationships, then you are just too busy.
3. The work begins to feel like a burden instead of a joy. What was exciting and purposeful becomes mundane and (almost) pointless. What was a pleasure to do now becomes a hassle.
4. The people we serve become a pain and an irritation instead of being those we have been called to love and serve. Their problems begin to grate on us instead of fill us with concern. The ‘same old stories’jade us and we begin to become cynical. We begin to wonder why ‘they just can’t get it together?’ (Ironically, the two unspoken words at the end of that sentence are,‘like me.’)
5. Our spiritual life begins to really suffer. This is the most insidious because we are so busy doing‘spiritual’ things like ‘leading meetings’, ‘praying’, ‘Bible studies’, ‘evangelistic talks’, ‘preaching’, ‘counselling’, and ‘disciple making’ that our passion for spending time with God in meaningful ways has dropped off. We are running on empty. Output is exceeding input, and sooner or later we are going to come to a standstill! That is an unchangeable law and, despite what we subconsciously think, that law applies to us as well!
6. Little things about people become blown out of proportion and we begin to have feelings of real anger and bitterness toward others who we feel ‘do less than me’, or ‘always leave it to me to do the dirty work’, or ‘don’t appreciate how hard I actually work’. We become resentful. We begin to take things personally in areas we really shouldn’t.
I am sure there are many more that I could discuss, but you get the idea! Do any of these resonate with you? Maybe you don’t feel as bad; or maybe you feel worse? All are sure signs of tiredness and ministry fatigue, whether growing or in full bloom. If this describes you, then it is time to STOP what you are doing and take stock of your life. It is time to ask yourself some hard questions.
Why am I so busy? Are there things I am doing that I shouldn’t be doing? Are there things I am doing that I could hand over to another person? Are there things I am doing that are actually a waste of time, and I need to stop doing them? Is there a person I am helping who is taking up too much time and I need to pare back on that?
Now, I realise that I am writing in the context of a team here at Niddrie, and I appreciate that many planters and pastors work alone in difficult situations. If anything, that exacerbates their problems because they are the ones doing all of the work. In that case, the questions are still largely relevant, but they need to be done with a colleague or a mature friend who will not be afraid to call you to account. There is a lot of trend toward‘mentors’ and‘coaches’ drifting in to the UK from the States, and my gut reaction is to mock it as ‘secular, psychologically driven mumbo jumbo’. But, in situations where a man is on his own, I actually see great merit in this system. It does require some humility and vulnerability on our part (I know, a struggle for us tough guys) but I think the attrition rate for planting would decrease if we used this tool for our long-term spiritual benefit. Do you know somebody like this who you could ask to help you in this way? Another pastor you trust? Or a colleague you could open up to? Or a mature believer who understands the pressures of ministry life?
Perhaps it is time to take stock of your life. The gut reaction is going to be, I just don’t have the time to spare for this right now. But a day or two away now could save you many years of ministry. Many of us are great at ‘strategising’ and preparing, but what about the forgotten gifts of evaluating and reflection? If you are feeling the strain right now, then I am urging you to take the time to stop what you are doing and have a real look at your life. If you don’t stop of your own accord, then something is going to stop you—fact. The devil is a sneaky git. He is always on the prowl, and we are never more susceptible than in these moments. The guard goes down. We feel like we deserve a little treat (porn, drink, whatever is our thing). We tell ourselves that nobody understands us anyway. Nobody is listening. They don’t really care. And then the fall comes. Time and again we hear of good men on the ropes, ministries ruined by a rash decision made under extreme pressure and tiredness, because we ‘didn’t have the time’ to take stock and put spiritual safety measures in place.
Tomorrow I want to offer some practical tips which I hope can help us.