As a kid I loved playing Nintendo. I was addicted to it, had a couple shoeboxes worth of games, a subscription to a magazine devoted to new games, and tried to find every secret world and "extra man" I could. Except when I was losing. If I was getting clobbered in a game of Tecmo Bowl or Zelda, I'd hit the one button that could make it all go away: the reset button. In an instant I had a fresh game to start over with.
Leaders find themselves getting clobbered too. Business Insider points out that CEO burnout is an alarming problem, and Harvard Medical School in a study showed that 96% of executive leaders felt some level of burnout, with up to 1/3 describing it as "severe." Ministry is no exception, which was pointed out in a 2010 article in the New York Times: "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could." The website PastorBurnout.com has some pretty alarming figures, which are in the infograph. Leadership Journal found that less than 10% of ministry leaders surveyed had not experienced some level of burnout or major ministry stress. A recent survey by LifeWay President Thom Rainer showed that pastors and ministry leaders are under tremendous expectations for their work, many of whom feel unable to meet the constant demands.
Where am I going with all this? I really believe ministry leaders need a reset button in their lives. If only it worked out that way to have one under your desk to make the bad days or painful experiences go away. Sign me up if any of you reading this make that discovery! But a reset button in our lives is important for us in leadership: we constantly give of ourselves, our time, our energy and it rarely feels like there's much time to breathe. Here are some ways to regularly put reset buttons into your life:
1. Have a reset button every day - Whether it's a hobby, taking the long way home, hitting the gym, or calling a friend, make sure you take time every day to put the day's activity and stress behind you. Too many families struggle in ministry because the problems at church or the stress of life becomes dinner table problems.
2. Take a day off periodically - If your church has in their procedures a weekly day off for a ministry leader, take it. Don't let those unused days pile up. And when you take the day off, take it off. Don't spend your day answering texts or emails. If they're emergencies that's one thing, but we do our families a disservice when we are spending our off time dealing with things that can wait. In our house we call this "Game Off" where we spend time together, we don't talk about church things, and my wife & I work to be intentional about talking to each other (or not talking at all--we have two small children, silence really is golden).
3. Use your vacation time - Too many pastors comment how long it's been since they took a vacation. And the compounding stress of that ultimately leads to unhealthy work-home balance and to the stress level you already face. Vacation doesn't have to mean Disney. It can mean a week at home, a few days visiting relatives, or time spent traveling to a nearby city. Oh, and don't be scared to use a Sunday. Let someone else fill in for you, let your church know you love them but you love your family first.
The first three are regular practices and rhythms that a ministry leader should follow. The next two are for those in ministry leadership who are beyond the point of benefiting from those. If you're in that spot and reading this, take heart, many before you have experienced the same thing. Lean on older ministers, your friends, and take advantage of the resources out there your denomination might have.
4. Take a lengthy sabbatical - Some churches provide for this and they are dear treasures for those in ministry who need time every few years to hit the reset button. A colleague of mine just started his month-long sabbatical, and he is looking forward to using it to refresh, travel, read, study and pray. If your church doesn't offer sabbatical, talk to your leadership about the possibility of doing that. It really does benefit everyone in the church to have a refreshed and recharged ministry leader. Some may not believe that, but every backyard warrior knows sometimes you have to stop and sharpen your mower blade.
5. Walk away from ministry for a season - I remember sitting down with a good friend who was leading a large, growing, and encouraging church. But that process of getting there had taken a toll on him and his family. And then he said something that struck me: "You know, I think I'd love Jesus more and be a better husband and dad if I wasn't a pastor." He had hit the wall and would not be able to recover without some drastic steps. This isn't for everyone. And it may not be a lengthy season. But sometimes the only way to recover from the stress and exhaustion of leadership is to step away. The length of that season may vary, but it's important if you find yourself at that point to remember that your church can find another pastor, but your family can never replace you.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.