Last month Jimmie Johnson, the 5-time NASCAR Champion, was racing in the Duels at Daytona prior to the Daytona 500. Near the end, he and his crew had a plan to put him in position to win. They needed one quick re-fueling pit stop and then they’d execute their plan.
Jimmie dove into his pit…got some gas into his car…then stomped on the pedal and bolted quickly back onto the track. On the last lap, as he was approaching the checkered flag, Johnson’s car moved into position to take the lead off of turn four—then abruptly ran out of gas causing a huge crash behind him!
Been there, done that…lost my t-shirt.
I know from personal experience what it is like to run out of gas emotionally, spiritually, and physically—twice. I burned out the first time during my first pastorate at 23 years of age, and then again at 43. My second burnout eventually led to a three-year bout with clinical depression. Unfortunately, I am not alone. Depending on what source you cite, nearly half of pastors say they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
I desperately needed to get my life back—and eventually did with the help of a great pit crew of loving Christians from both inside and outside of my church family. I am 49 years old now and very grateful to say that I have never been healthier spiritually, emotionally or physically.
I got my life back…and my t-shirt! You can have a healthy, abundant life outside of ministry too. I hope these suggestions are helpful to you.
If you are over-committed, then QUIT!
Of course, there is a bad way to quit: a great portion of ministers leave the ministry within five years. Every month hundreds leave their assignments in the United States because of conflict, burnout, or moral failure.
Moses was probably the one who came up with the stupid preacher line, “I’d rather burn-out than rust-out.” (I have used it too.) Then Moses had a come-to-Jethro-meeting: “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone.” (Exodus 18:18)
QUIT those parts of the ministry that you have not been called to or gifted for.
A better alternative to quitting the ministry altogether is to quit the ministries that you may have inadvertently stolen from your members. Every one of our members has also been called into the ministry, so equip and release them into it.
If you are over-connected, then UNPLUG
Thom Rainer addressed this dilemma on his blog recently:
“Pastors and church staff members have always been on call 24/7. But now they are connected 24/7 as well with computers, smart phones, and other technological advances. For better or worse, the world of work and personal life is becoming increasingly blurred.”
I wish I had an obvious, one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. To be honest, this is an ongoing personal battle for me so I look forward to hearing ideas that have worked for you.
UNPLUG by turning your cell phone off on nights, weekends and vacations.
“What if there is an emergency?” My family and staff know to use my wife’s cell phone in a real emergency. Their natural hesitation to call my wife often serves as a filter to question what a true “emergency” is. Your kids will thank you someday, and hopefully your wife will thank you even sooner! Eighty percent of pastors believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
If you have been playing the God-card to justify a 24/7 addiction to ministry and/or technology, it is time to own up and unplug.
If you are over-whelmed, then REST
“Finally, the king (David) and all the people with him arrived exhausted, so they rested there.” (2 Samuel 16:14)
This is not rocket science; it is common sense and Scripture. A couple of chapters after Moses’ meeting with Jethro, he had a meeting with Yahweh who gave him his marching orders. The fourth commandment interestingly was the one with the most instruction to it (Exodus 20: 8-11). Yet it seems to be the one pastors ignore the most.
REST by designating a 24-hour period for Sabbath each week.
This does not often work perfectly, so be flexible on application. Short of legalism, however, I try to take the Sabbath literally, personally and consistently. I see Sabbath rest as an act of obedience to God, as well as a gift from God. I also believe that consistent rest is the key to a sustainable life and ministry.
I would love to hear your ideas on how pastors can get a life outside of ministry.