A few years back I hit a wall. I was tired, stressed and anxious about the prospect of returning to church ministry after a vacation. I shut down; my body felt panicked and weak. I breathed it off and then wondered, “What was that?” Through prayer and thoughtful analysis I realized that I had permitted myself to live too long in a state of anxiety, stress and control over my vocational ministry. I could blame the countless people who had betrayed me, slandered my reputation, failed to serve as they should have, but I knew the real problem was me. So I decided to make some changes.
Grading Your Stress
If you were to grade yourself using the following two questions, how would you score?
_______ I’m almost always at peace with ministry and life.
_______ I take good care of myself.
Would you give yourself an A, B, C, or D?
If you scored yourself low (C, D), chances are you’re already experiencing moderate to high levels of stress, anxiety and/or depression. Maybe you’ve even experienced panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, or an emotional breakdown. If so, permit me to offer some counsel to those of you feeling unhealthy in ministry. In doing so, I acknowledge that every person has different responses to ministry stress, and circumstances vary. But I’m also convinced that we’re a lot alike, and what helped me will probably help you too.
Identify the Issue
Stress and anxiety are not the same. Stress is normal, even though high-levels will crush you. Stress is simply the pressure exerted on a person who has responsibilities to complete. Properly understood though, responsibilities can be joyfully fulfilled when we see them as stewardship opportunities. God has given each of us responsibilities to accomplish. When we shirk them, we are poor stewards, but when we fulfil them to the best of our abilities, we steward our lives well. In stewarding our time, talents and treasures alongside other people, some amount of stress will occur, but it need not destroy us.
Anxiety is a horse of a different colour. The Bible says, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet. 5:7) Anxiety is a control issue; it erupts when we mistake responsibility (a stewardship issue) with the need to determine the outcome (a God issue). In this sense, anxiety is idolatrous and perhaps even blasphemous. By casting our anxieties on God we declare: “God, I’m gonna let you do what you alone can do-control all things.”
Choose Responsibility over Control
The destination we each need to arrive at is responsibility without the need to control. Acts 20:28 reads: Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. We are summoned to watch both ourselves and those whose lives we steward. That means that peace does not require disengagement. Peace is possible when we take responsibility for the flock and watch ourselves! Since many of us can become so wrapped up in ministering to others that we fail to keep watch over ourselves, consider this practical advice which I have found beneficial. It will help protect you from the spiritual, mental and emotional meltdowns that can arise from the need to control all things.
Practical Ways to Keep Watch over Yourself
- Watch your health: We are integrated beings-body/soul/spirit-so get some physical exercise. When the body is unhealthy, the rest of you suffers too.
- Watch your disciplines: Practice fasting and praying. Fasting releases control and praying calls upon God to manifest his presence in your need.
- Watch your relationships: Talk things over with your peers. Allow others to listen and offer an encouraging word (Prov. 12:25).
- Watch your down time: Get out more. The world is a big place. Staying indoors means you’re probably working or entertaining yourself with screen time. Take up a sport or hobby and if it gets boring, find a new one.
- Watch your speech: Don’t talk about ministry 24/7 with family and friends. Your mind needs a break from the exhausting mental deliberations ministry demands.
- Watch your involvement: Be a ministry observer and not just a ministry doer. Set aside some time-1 week out of every 7 is a good rule of thumb-to sit in a service or ministry instead of always being the person in charge.
- Watch your identity: Remember that your identity is in Christ not in what you accomplish (1 Pet. 2:9).
Serving the Lord in ministry can become an awful predicament if we fail to wisely discern our limits, or it can become an awesome privilege if we steward our responsibilities well without the need to control the outcome.