By Nate Adams
The weeks leading up to and including our IBSA Annual Meeting are probably the busiest and most demanding of the year for me. I’m always relieved when it’s all over, and very ready to head home for some rest and peace. This year, however, I drove directly from that fun and challenging meeting to the funeral visitation for a relatively young pastor.
Driving home afterward, both the stress of the day and sorrow of the evening collided in my thoughts and emotions. I had just challenged hundreds of pastors and church leaders to a “pioneering spirit” that would go new places, engage new people, make new sacrifices, and develop new leaders. This wonderful pastor had been engaged in all those—church planting, evangelism, missions giving, and preparing tomorrow’s missionaries and pastors.
Yet I had just looked into the eyes of his grieving family and friends. And I knew him and his situation well enough to know that health and stress factors played a role in the timing of his life’s end. I found myself wondering if I shouldn’t personally invest as much time encouraging pastors and leaders to guard their health and prioritize their family as I invest challenging them to do more in ministry.
Effective ministry over the long haul requires that we take care of ourselves.
So, as the holidays approach again this year, a time when pastors and leaders are especially vulnerable to stress, exhaustion, and even depression, let me remind us that effective ministry over the long haul requires that we take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Here are four ways pastors and leaders can do that.
First, we can believe God’s Word and ask him, directly in prayer, to guard our hearts and minds with his peace. The Bible says quite plainly in Philippians 4, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Second, we can take care of ourselves physically. No matter how much we feel has to be done, no matter how many demanding people are in our lives, there is always time for rest, for exercise, and for recreation.
Third, we can watch out for one another. Sensitive leaders in congregations can watch for signs of stress or poor health or depression in their pastor and come alongside to help. Pastors can check in on other pastors. Regular accountability meetings with another trusted leader are a great way to keep your health from spiraling downward.
And finally, many pastors could benefit from meeting with a trained counselor. Our friends at Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services now offer six free counseling sessions for both pastors and pastors’ wives, through their Pathway Counseling ministry.
These licensed, Christian professionals will listen and help you work through personal concerns and a plan for the future, all from a place of grace and confidentiality. Counseling is available at a dozen different locations across Illinois, and can begin with a simple phone call to (618) 382-3907.
Some of the most comforting words Jesus ever uttered are recorded at the end of Matthew 11 when he said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Ministry is challenging, and being a pastor or church leader can be stressful, even depressing, if you make the mistake of trying to carry its burdens alone. As you enter this busy holiday season, may you also find the rest and the peace you need to pioneer for the long haul.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.