One of the things that I've learned about ministry over the years is that it's unique in the fact you're never really "off the clock." There's several other fields like this as well, if you've been to a movie and they ask if there's a doctor, police officers are always keeping their eyes open, and engineers want to tinker with things.
The challenges of ministry mean that you're always one phone call away from a crisis situation, and much of your time is spent dealing with sensitive and sometimes difficult situations. You're counseling marriages from the brink, you're holding a widow's hand as she says goodbye to her husband, you're listening as people share the overwhelming problems they deal with. Top it off with the administrative duties, sermon/lesson prep, and your own obligations to your family. It's a lot.
Pastor, can I tell you something? You need a "Safe Space," one that's established by setting boundaries and carving out the importance of refreshment.
You need time where you don't have to be "on." You need to relax. You need to release the worry for a little while. The burden of knowing has to be put on the back burner. One of the most influential pastors in my formation shared with a bunch of us that ministry is like a cup with holes in it. You're pouring yourself out to others. But if you're not refilling the cup, you'll run out and that's when Danger sets in.
Have a Daily Safe Space - I call it decompression. It's the time where I let go of what I'd been working on all day, the burdens I've been carrying, and the busyness... so that when I walk in the door I can be Husband & Dad. I love using commutes to make phone calls, but sometimes you need to just take a deep breath, pray, relax, listen to the radio or a podcast, and chill for a bit. That also means you have to be willing to leave some things unfinished. There's always tomorrow, always next week.
Take Your Vacation - Unused vacation time is piling up, and it's not just a small number. Bankrate found the average number of unused days is 19, the median is 7. That means a lot of days are going unused. It's not different in ministry. Your family needs it. You need it. And your people need you to take your vacation. They need you at your best, not one bad week away from burnout. Delegate your responsibility well, communicate in advance, and protect that time away.
Network Well - Every month a group of us meet for lunch thanks to an incredible organization who loves blessing pastors. The #1 rule of the lunch: No Church Talk. There's no agenda, we're not there to plug our ministries. We're there to eat, tell funny stories, talk college football, share about our families, and sometimes gripe. If you're in any form of ministry, you need a network of people you can be honest with, you can confide in, and who will let you be you.
Retreat - One of the best things for you and your ministry is to take a retreat. Not a vacation. That's when you're having way too much fun with your family, wearing Mickey Mouse ears, or sitting on a beach. A retreat is where you're able to be ministered to by people who care about you. If you can get away to one of these, with your spouse, you'll be blessed. I cannot recommend, endorse, or plug Shepherds Haven of Rest (SHOR) enough. Contact them. You'll be glad you did.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.