By Dale Chamberlain
Pastor burnout has become an epidemic. While political division and a global pandemic have exacerbated the issue, the fact of the matter is that way too many pastors have been burning out for way too long.
While there are any number of things that can contribute to burnout, highly ranked among them is the fact that many pastors are constantly overextending themselves.
Whether they are saddled by the expectations of their congregation, or simply expect too much of themselves, most pastors know what it’s like to manage an unmanageable workload.
If a pastor does it for too long, he’s likely to run aground.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But a life of healthy balance doesn’t just happen. You have to choose it, and you have to continue choosing it by the choices you make on a regular basis.
Here are five things pastors can do to keep from overextending and exhausting themselves.
1. Be Strict About Your Day Off.
This sounds so simple, and it has been repeated ad nauseam, but if you want to last over the long haul, you have to incorporate rhythms of rest into your weekly schedule.
Pastor, if you don’t have a set day off during the week, you need to set one. Some pastors like to take Monday off, because they are exhausted from preaching and leading church services on Sunday. Others like to take Friday off, because they rest more easily when their work for the week is already completed.
In either case, do not violate the sanctity of your day off except for the rarest of occasions or most dire of emergencies. Do not answer your phone. Do not check your email or Slack messages. Take the day off. Relax. Spend time with your spouse. Do something that fills you back up.
One way to keep yourself from being tempted to do work on your day off is to invest in a hobby. It could be art, sports, craftsman-like projects, or anything else that you find interesting. When you have something that you look forward to doing with your time off, you will find that it’s easier not to work when you should be resting.
2. Set More Reasonable Expectations for What You Can Do in a Day (or Week).
If you’re anything like me, you wake up in the morning feeling as though the day is full of possibilities. Once your coffee kicks in, you begin visualizing everything that you’re going to get done before dinnertime.
The problem is that your coffee eventually wears off, certain tasks take longer than you expected, and you don’t have as much energy and focus as you did earlier in the day. And so your list goes unfinished, which you feel badly about. Otherwise, you work late, which makes you exhausted.
When we set unreasonable expectations for what we can accomplish in a given day, or a given week, not taking into account the inevitable ebbs and flows of our energy levels, the unexpected interruptions that are a part of any pastor’s life, or the possibility that we may spend more time on a particular task than we previously estimated, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.
To stave off that sense of disappointment for failing to live up to an unreasonable metric of productivity that we ourselves establish and that no one else even holds us to, many pastors begin to overextend themselves.
During moments of enthusiasm, pastors can have a tendency to say “yes” to too many things and find themselves overcommitted. You need to learn your limitations and set expectations for yourself within those parameters.
3. Get Comfortable With Disappointing People.
Many times, pastors say “yes” to too many things because they have generous hearts. They love to serve. They care for the people on their team and in their congregation. It brings them joy to be able to be meaningfully involved in the life of their flock.
But then there are other times when a pastor knows full well that he is saying “yes” to something that is going to put him in a position where he is overextended. He doesn’t really want to do it. But he feels like he has to. And the reason he has to is because he doesn’t want to disappoint someone important to him.
If you are going to maintain healthy balance in your life and guard against overextending yourself, you are going to need to get comfortable with the fact that, sometimes, people are going to misunderstand you. Sometimes, people are going to be disappointed in you, even unfairly. Sometimes, people will wrongly accuse you of not caring or falling short of your pastoral duties.
Obviously, you do not want to become so rigid in your schedule or the things you say “no” to that you become callous toward your people’s needs or never make an exception. But this isn’t what most good pastors struggle with—quite the opposite.
4. Learn What Drains You and What Energizes You, Then Manage Your Calendar Accordingly.
Sometimes, pastors aren’t overextending themselves by virtue of the sheer number of hours they are working, but rather the kinds of things they are working on during those hours. Not all tasks are created equal.
Certain things you do as a pastor make you want to jump up and run a marathon. Other things you do as a pastor make you want to lie down and never get back up. Pay attention to which tasks and activities give you the most life and the ones that take the most life from you. Then plan your calendar accordingly.
You won’t ever be able to only do the things that fill you up. There are certain administrative tasks that you dread but that have to be done. There is no avoiding that. Just make sure your daily and weekly schedule isn’t stacked up with a majority of tasks that are sucking the life right out of you.
And if you have someone on your team for whom a task that drains you actually fills them up, delegate it to them if you can.
5. Invest Time in Developing Leaders.
Many pastors and church leaders are so busy doing ministry that they end up failing to neglect one of the central aspects of their calling: equipping others for the work of ministry.
Pastors who are already overextended often don’t have the bandwidth to develop new leaders, which in turn causes them to continue to take on more themselves, which further overextends them. It’s a vicious cycle.
To start, developing new leaders will actually be more work than doing everything yourself. That’s part of the reason why many busy leaders never do it. In order to develop others, pastors sometimes must embrace a messy, nonlinear, inefficient model of ministry.
But if you can commit to carving out valuable time and energy into training and developing other leaders, you will find that eventually, your efforts will be multiplied through the leaders you develop.
Busy Is Not a Badge of Honor.
Sometimes, ministry leaders live with the false notion that unless they are completely exhausted and run down, they aren’t doing everything they could for the ministry of Jesus. But that just isn’t true. You can do the most for others when you are healthy and thriving.
What’s more is that when you are no longer overextended but instead rested, joyful, and at peace, your life becomes an apologetic for the message that you preach.
Jesus came that you might have abundant life. That promise isn’t just for eternity. It’s a promise for today.
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