June 8, 2021

How to Keep Your Sanity in the Madness of Ministry

Sometimes it’s the early morning phone call or the Sunday afternoon text when you’re settling down with the family. A crisis is at hand, and you’re the one being called to deal with it.

Emotions conflict. Is it an emergency? Can somebody else do it? Can it wait until tomorrow? I’ve noticed that when I’m on my “A-Game” (and feeling fresh and relaxed) then I’m more inclined to make a good decision. I am more decisive and alert.

Even though I try and take regular breaks and do things where I don’t have to think about work, I still find myself dog-tired the closer my summer holiday gets! I know there’s danger when somebody is talking to me and I am barely listening. I feel it when that person at church who I find particularly difficult to love is winding me up. I find it when listening to somebody’s story of abuse and chaos and it just rolls off my back without any sense of emotional attachment or empathy.

Yet, this is almost a perpetual state in this kind of ministry. I have a church to pastor, sermons to prepare, meetings to attend, and pastoral counselling sessions to engage in. I have a team to train and motivate, a vision for planting in schemes to develop, evangelism to engage in, and Bible studies to run. I work hard, I laugh hard and, when I go on holiday, I will rest hard. I am not alone in these emotions. Working in schemes is extremely taxing in so many ways. So, how do/should we cope in these difficult times when we are feeling under enormous stress? Here are some pointers:

15 Ways to Stay Sane

1. Work hard at maintaining your personal/communal spiritual disciplines of reading, meditation, and prayer. All is lost if these go out the window. They will ground you and keep you in step with God’s Holy Spirit.

2. Write a “to do” list and work from that. Just do one thing at a time and then you won’t feel so overwhelmed by it all.

3. On your list include time with friends (not ministry related). Force yourself if you have to, but don’t cut yourself off and retire to the “study” (unless necessary of course!). Make sure you spend some time with somebody who will encourage your soul and not drain your spiritual resources.

4. Find a good book to read that will raise your spirits. I personally found reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand immensely stirring and encouraging.

5. Try to find time to exercise. I go to the gym three days a week (when health permits). If I can, I will go with a new believer. I use the time to encourage/disciple him but it is also helpful to my physical and mental well-being.

6. Ask people to pray for you specifically during difficult times. It would be a good idea for your life to try to find 100 people who will commit to you in regular prayer. It is something I encourage my team to aim for.

7. Don’t make any big decisions when feeling stressed. Sometimes I find that I hear about certain “job offers” from other—larger, “easier sounding”—churches (and/or organisations) and I wonder if a change of ministry will improve my situation. It won’t.

8. Don’t engage in any church discipline and/or respond to negative emails until you have slept on it. The tendency to have a knee jerk reaction increases when you feel tired. Firing off a salvo may make you feel better for a millisecond, but the inevitable regret and guilt will come.

9. Try and talk to a mature, trustworthy believer about how you’re feeling and seek their counsel. They don’t have to fix everything. Sometimes, at least in my case, just chatting with someone is a helpful release.

10. Repent of your God complex. You can’t fix everybody’s problems. You can’t make it all better. That’s not your job. Point people to Jesus. That is your job. Don’t stop doing that.

11. Remind yourself of the glory of the gospel again. It is a beautiful thing that Jesus did for us. It is a wondrous thing. Share it with yourself again. Remind yourself of the power of grace in your life.

12. Take regular breaks. Try and find at least one reading/prayer day a month.

13. Write a journal (or a blog). I find that doing so relaxes me.

14. Remember Paul’s word to the church at Galatia in chapter 6, verse 3: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

15. Keep working at number 1.

That’s it. If you follow these 15 steps you will have a long and healthy ministry in housing schemes/council estates. Oh, how I wish it were so! Keep going and keep trusting in the Lord. He is our strength.