In over 20 years in vocational ministry, I have learned the job can be an emotional roller coaster at times. We have to learn to balance the highs and lows of ministry in order to succeed long-term.
You can have the best Sunday but then the critics seem to find you on Monday morning. Sometimes it happens Sunday while walking out of the church building. Or, and you have to be a pastor to understand this one, it could happen just before you walk behind the podium to preach.
You have your week planned and numerous crises happen in the same week – and your “day off” is now going to be spent preparing for Sunday. (And don’t Sundays seem to come around often.)
It seems you can never get ahead and you’re always playing catch-up with your “to do” list.
It’s life. It’s ministry and it is normal. I understand it’s not just for pastors, but I’ve been in business, government and non-profits – and, frankly, pastoring is unique in its demands.
Some days are always better than others, but learning how to deal with the highs and lows is a major key in sustaining yourself for ministry long-term.
4 tips to balance highs and lows in ministry:
Find your rhythm
The “your” here is important. You’ll be healthier and happier when you find the balance to your life that works for you. When you know the right amount of sleep. If you get an exercise and healthy eating plan. When you learn how to say no to things you simply can’t do or someone else can do better than you.
I have also found checklists keeps me on task. As much as possible, I try to make my week routine. Mondays and Tuesdays are meeting days. Wednesday and Thursdays are study days. Friday is a catch up day to use as needed. Saturday I try to do nothing – except what Cheryl and I want to do.
You have to figure out what works for you, but if you do you’ll be in a better rhythm when the harder seasons of life and ministry come. Jesus was continually slipping away to pray and He seemed very intentional with His time. Yet, He was always prepared for the sudden interruption. By the way, interruptions aren’t as big an interruption when you plan as if they are normal.
Lean into others
You are not alone. Let me say that again. You are not alone. It may feel that way sometimes, but you really aren’t.
Think of the story of Elijah (1 Kings 19) and remember others are praying for you. God has a plan and He cares for you! I am intentional here also. I always have a personal prayer team. Equally important is my personal advisory board. Both are a rock for me. But I also have a number of good, personal pastor friends. I have genuine friends – many in this church. (Here’s HOW.) I have a guy from the community I meet with once a month. Gold!
Be willing to humble yourself, be vulnerable, and ask for help when needed. Even see a counselor periodically if it will help. There’s no shame in that. Simply put, you must surround yourself with people who have access into the deepest parts of your life and the freedom to say the hard words you need to hear.
Become a better delegator
Drop the right to control everything. If I could I would say that to every pastor. AND I WOULD SAY IT IN ALL CAPS!
The body is well-defined in Scripture. There’s a hand, a foot, a tongue – many parts. Don’t try to do them all. In fact, you can’t be and weren’t designed to be. It’s not Biblical. And you want to be Biblical, right?
Be intentional about allowing others to share the burden. That’s good advice not just for Moses from his father-in-law – it’s good for you. Plus, equally important, it builds leadership in others, which could be the discipleship encouragement they need.
Keep the vision ever before you
Our mission is “Leading people to Jesus and equipping disciples in their faith.” It meshes well with my passion for ministry. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
If ever I was having a bad day, I go back to what I love doing – and what I’ve been called to do. I intentionally lead, nurture, love, equip and help build disciples. It always fires me up to see someone get more excited about Jesus!
It’s true for all of us, but maybe especially in ministry. We seldom know all the good we are doing. It keeps us dependent on God. My guess is you’re doing better than you think you are and I’m sure of this – your faithfulness will one day be rewarded.
(One bonus tip – I also keep an encouragement file. It includes encouraging letters, notes, and emails I have received from people over the years. On bad days, go back and read through them.)
Ministry is hard. It’s even harder when you aren’t prepared. Take some time now and consider how you are responding to the demands of ministry, how you can improve, and developing a plan to address any concerns you uncover.