Preventing Burnout in Ministry: Part 2

LifeWay Research contacted 1,000 Senior Pastors via phone survey (source).  What they found in relation to the amount of personal devotional time that Pastors spend apart from sermon preparation is not surprising.

  1. 5% say they spend no time in prayer at all during the week
  2. The majority (52%) say they spend between two to five hours a week in personal devotion apart from study.
  3. 14% say they spend an hour or less in personal devotions each week.
Contrast that with statistics of what the majority of their time is spent doing:
  1. 24% say they watch 10-14 hours of television each week.
  2. 13% put their TV time at 15 hours or more each week.
  3. 48% say they spend between 2 and 5 hours a week in visitation.
I would take it that most pastors are spending a majority of their time in study for their sermons each week, but if we are doing so at the neglect of our own spiritual health, we are not doing what is beneficial.  Life will become cluttered very quick – with meetings, counseling, ball games, and TV shows.  What we need is a strategy to clear the clutter.

De-clutter Spirit

Luke 5:15 – Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Jesus was the Master of all things Spiritual.  Vincent’s word studies indicates that the action of Jesus’ withdrawing was a frequent thing.  Indicated to be his recurring habit, and more often that the people were gathering to him, he was gathering to the Father.  I have heard this quote which has stuck with me for a long time:

“Before we can minister to the Lord’s People, we must minister to the Lord.”

We must be about the habit of spending time in the Word and in prayer before we do anything else.  You of all people know that this was the Apostle’s first priority.  So why do we think that we can do ministry without the intervention of the Spirit in our daily affairs?  The answer is pride.  We think we are good enough, or spiritual enough to handle it without God.  John Wesley is quoted as saying, “I have so much to do today, that I must spend the first 3 hours in prayer.”  This is something that you simply have to do.  You have to make drastic changes in your schedule in order to make time with the Lord your first priority.

One of my mentors told me that he writes down his devotional time in his calendar like an appointment with a doctor.  He says, “I care enough about my doctor to make an appointment with him; why should I do any less for God?”  Also, if he needs to change his devotional time, he will ask God if it can be changed.  Sometimes, God lets him know that it can’t be changed, and he needs to change something else.  Everything that we do in ministry will flow out of being attached to the vine.  For more ideas on your devotional time, check here, here, and here.

de-clutter Mind

Ministry is not only spiritual work, it is also mental work.  I have been contemplating on Eugene Peterson’s advice to make reading novels part of your ministry (source).  My guess is that he is purposely including mental breaks into his schedule, so that his mind can drift and wander deep into a narrative.  I see this as much more of an increase in productivity that watching TV.  Reading is the surest way to increase your IQ.  And, the more widely read we are, the better we can relate to culture and the different perspectives outside of our own.
I personally don’t read novels.  I probably should, but I continually find too much theological works that I am interested in.  (Here is a list of what I have been able to read so far this year).  Currently I am reading the English Translation of Theologia Germanica – this was Martin Luther’s favorite book outside the writings of Augustine.  It has been phenomenal so far.  I have a few ideas on how to increase the amount you can read:
  1. Set a goal of reading every day (start at 30 minutes before bed)
  2. Do like I did and cancel your cable and satellite.
  3. Always keep a book with you (or your kindle) so that you can read while waiting on doctor appointments, sitting in line for your kids to get out of school, or the bathroom.
As a Pastor, you are probably writing a lot.  You will find that the more you read, the more creative you become in your ability to write and your ability to synthesize information.

de-clutter Body

God did not design your body to sit at a desk for 8-10 hours a day.  The natural symptom of lack in exercise is depression.  Your body and brain are designed to function at the best capacity when stimulated mentally and physically every day.
I’ve got to be honest and tell you that this is the one I have the hardest time with.  Sometimes I am really good – but for the most part I am really bad.  However, I can speak from experience that the periods in my life where I am really on top of my physical fitness are when I am most productive in everything else.  Martin Luther said when he was overcome with the stresses and burdens of life, he would frequently resort to the therapy of manual labor.  There is a lot to be said there.  Here are a few reasons that physical activity should be incorporated into your daily routine:
  1. Regular exercise lowers cholesterol (this may not seem important while you are 25, but ask my Christian friend who just went to the hospital for a quintuple bypass.  That means 5 arteries were blocked.)
  2. Exercise releases endorphins which in turn alleviate stress and the effects of over-increased adrenal system
  3. Exercise helps increase memory because of increased blood circulation that happens in the brain during exercise
  4. Exercise is one of the few ways scientists have ever discovered that actually creates new neurons in the brain
  5. Exercise in men increases testosterone, which has many positive effects mentally and emotionally.  Let me talk to men for a minute.  Regular exercise helps us become focused and driven in a goal process.  Testosterone helps us want to accomplish things, and want to succeed, and want to go to church, and want to play in the yard with our kids.  When we become sedentary, the testosterone level decreases and our motivation level decreases.
  6. Testosterone also has other benefits which are good for married couples
  7. Exercise helps combat depression specifically in women.  Women produce a stress inducing hormone at DOUBLE the rate of men called Cortisol.  Exercise helps balance the hormone levels which combat cortisol production.  So husbands, if you are reading this, start taking your wife to the gym with you.  A happy wife = a happy life. (more on that in relationships chapter)
  8. Exercise releases good adrenaline which boosts brain performance.  One of the smartest guys in the United States is a competitive bench presser.
  9. Good adrenaline is a natural boost to your energy level.  Too many think they don’t have enough energy to exercise.  However, starting an exercise program will actually boost your energy.  If you have more energy, then you are more motivated to come home and lead a family devotional rather than watching 2 hours of TV.  If you have more energy then you are more likely to sleep better and wake a little earlier so you can have a devotional time with the Lord.
What methods do you have to ensure that you function at the most productive each day?  Please share by commenting below!

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