Leadership

Becoming Aware of Our Stress as Pastors

Leading a church is a privilege and an honor–and it can also be super stressful. Becoming aware of pastoral stress is key to long-term health as a leader.

H1 What’s a Rich Text element?

H2 What’s a Rich Text element?

H3 What’s a Rich Text element?

H4 What’s a Rich Text element?

H5 What’s a Rich Text element?
H6 What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

H4 Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

H4 How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

  • List Item 1
  • List Item 2
  • List Item 3

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Being called to pastoral ministry is an honor and a privilege. But it can also be enormously stressful to be a pastor. 

In fact, a Lifeway study reported that 63% of all pastors report stress as one of their greatest mental challenges. 

Perhaps one of the most dangerous parts of stress is that it can be difficult to recognize. 

In the following article, I’ll explain how to recognize pastoral stress, and how to begin managing it so that you can have a more thriving ministry and well-balanced life. 

The Snowball of Stress

Stress is like a snowball rolling down a hill. 

It begins with just a small and manageable handful of frozen water. But then more and more snow clings to the original ball until suddenly, you have a very large, very cold boulder of snow to contend with. And it just keeps rolling and growing. Stress, like the snowball, can sneak up on us… suddenly, we’re overwhelmed and heading towards burnout.

How do we manage the snowball of stress? How do we keep it from becoming something too big and heavy to handle? 

The first step is awareness. When I experienced burnout, I didn’t see it coming. I had been working with high levels of stress for so long that it just felt normal, but then I hit a wall and realized I needed to make major changes to my life.

Becoming aware of your stress means that you can make small changes along the way to create a healthy life balance, instead of having to stop everything and go through a major life assessment and recovery. 

But that’s easier said than done. 

Stress is often so ingrained into our lives that sometimes we don’t notice how overwhelmed we are until it’s too late.

Here are a few indicators of high stress levels:

  • Physical signs—Tight shoulders, insomnia, elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, grinding teeth, constricted breathing, clammy palms, fatigue, nausea, and headaches.
  • Emotional signs—anxiety, irritability, inability to focus, lack of social interaction, avoiding making decisions, lower productivity, job dissatisfaction, and lack of motivation.
  • Spiritual signs—joyless striving, lack of direction, loss of purpose, a decrease of faith, a disparity between values, beliefs and behaviours.

All of these signs—physical, emotional and spiritual—are normal things to experience now and then. They could be the result of many other things besides stress; catching a cold, for example, can lead to some of these symptoms. 

However, if you experience these several times a week, for several weeks in a row… that is your body telling you to slow down and take stock of that snowball’s effect on you.

Another key indicator of stress is difficulty engaging in new ideas and in relationship with others.

When we’re heading towards burnout, and certainly when we’re in the midst of it, we have a tendency to be closed down to new ideas and less willing to assist others. We want to feel in control of what we can, so often we handle things by ourselves, in ways that feel safe. 

Sometimes, this is necessary to get through difficult situations; to just go with what you know rather than experimenting and taking risks. However, sometimes it’s an indicator of stress.

Recently, I was challenged by some people close to me that I was often responding to new ideas with “but.” Some self-reflection showed me that this indicated my tank was low. Some focus on replenishing was necessary to prevent myself from lapsing into a pattern that restricted the flow of creative ideas between us.

I know that I reverted to what was most familiar to me in these times. Instead of trusting people around me to handle things, I wanted to do everything myself. That’s all right, as long as it’s not a long-term pattern. 

Restricting new input can be damaging in two ways: firstly, you’re denying the people around you a chance to grow and learn. Secondly, you are only adding to your own stress by taking everything on yourself. It’s important to still try to remain humble and curious, even if you’re burnt out.

This can be a great opportunity for reflection. 

Pay attention to where you feel stressed and why, pay attention to how you interact with others. Make sure to show appreciation of the people around you, even if you are under pressure.

The Two Most Common Stressors for Pastors

When you recognized you’re under stress, it’s important to identify the stressors that got you to a place of burnout. 

There are many roads in our life that lead to stress. 

Work, relationships, personal goals… all of these things naturally come with some road bumps and road bumps usually lead to some stress. We often can’t control when stress comes into our lives, but it’s normal to experience stress now and then and there are healthy ways to deal with it.

However, there are some unhealthy contributors to stress and unhealthy ways to handle it. 

Two of the most common stressors I have seen (and experienced) are the inability to say “no” and not engaging with help from others.

When Pastors Never Say “No”

Saying “no” is a skill. Most of us want to make the people around us happy. We want to be seen giving our all and working hard. So whether we are saying “yes” to our boss’s request for us to work late, or saying “yes” to meeting friends on an already busy evening when we are exhausted, saying “yes” is often easier than asking for what we really need.

Knowing to say “no” when we are too stressed is different than just saying “no” because we don’t feel like it. Sometimes, we have to do things we don’t feel like doing. Understanding the line between when we are pushing ourselves and pushing ourselves too much is the cornerstone of this skill set.

Here are some self-assessment questions to help you make the decision to say “no” more often. 

  • Am I more stressed than I should be? 
  • What are my priorities this week?
  • What is outside my priorities? Can these things be moved to another time?
  • Have I made time to rest, relax and reflect this week?

Not Engaging Help From Others

Our relationships should be a support system in the face of stress. We need people that we trust to talk to and process what we are going through. You need people who can help keep you from falling off the edge and into burnout. 

We often also need an outside perspective to be able to see our own problems clearly. 

However, it can be hard to ask even our closest friends and family for help at times. Pride, fear of being an inconvenience, or discomfort with difficult conversations may keep us from asking for help. But no matter the reason, stress only builds and builds if you try to handle it alone.

Here are some reflection questions to help you build the skill of engaging help from others

  • Who in my life can I turn to when I need help?
  • What stops me from asking for help when I need it?
  • How can I intentionally reach out to people around me when I need them?
  • How can I use the people around me to gain clarity and perspective?

Asking these questions can help you build a plan for engaging your relationships to mitigate stress–and ultimately, prevent burnout. 

Healthy Stress Can Propel Us to Action

Stress can propel us to action.

It’s important to discuss the importance of normal, healthy stress. 

We should feel a certain amount of stress before an interview or important project at work, or as the to-do lists of our lives begin to pile up. A little bit of stress can propel us to take action and builds grit. 

Sometimes, we may feel tempted to avoid any stressor, like new opportunities or new situations, even though those things may be good for us in the long term. In the same way that we build strength at the gym by stressing our muscles, we need to build strength by stressing other aspects of life.

Professional athletes have coaches who guide workouts to prevent overstress and injury. Similarly, we need professional help to know and understand our boundaries when allowing stress into our lives.

Learning to handle our stress and work within our limitations makes us stronger and more capable as people. Healthy stress builds grit.

Grit is Perseverance and Hope

Grit is the ability to push through when situations become difficult and to keep fighting towards goals, especially those long term goals. It’s perseverance and hope in the face of distraction and disappointment. 

Educator and psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, says that even more than skills, IQ or education, “grit” is the predictor of success in a person. What is interesting is that it’s not clear, even to psychologists, how to build grit besides pushing through difficulties and handling stress appropriately. 

Not all stress is bad stress. Use your stress to grow. Push while understanding your limitations. Exercise your grit!

Here are some questions to help you reflect on how you’re managing healthy stress to develop grit. 

  • Do I let my stress and anxiety limit my daily life or long-term goals?
  • In what areas of my life can I safely push myself?
  • Where have I shown “grit” in my past? How can I practise it now?
  • Who can help me handle stress?
  • Who can help me build grit?

These questions can help you to develop a plan for leaning into healthy stress and growing the essential quality of grit. 

Gauge Your Stress as a Pastor and Respond

Aside from asking the reflection questions above, you can also use this assessment to get a better grasp of your stress levels

Next, don’t overlook the power of technology to help lighten your load as a pastor. Tithe.ly exists to help you thrive in ministry, run a more efficient church, and grow your financial partnerships. 

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate the small wins as a pastor. It’s important to acknowledge your own personal victories, stay encouraged, and lean into Jesus. 

To read more about preventing and healing from burnout as a pastor, check out Don’s book–Burnout and Beyond. It’s now available for free on Kindle!

podcast transcript

(Scroll for more)

H1 What’s a Rich Text element?

H2 What’s a Rich Text element?

H3 What’s a Rich Text element?

H4 What’s a Rich Text element?

H5 What’s a Rich Text element?
H6 What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

H4 Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

H4 How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

  • List Item 1
  • List Item 2
  • List Item 3

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

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Becoming Aware of Our Stress as Pastors

Becoming Aware of Our Stress as Pastors

Leading a church is a privilege and an honor–and it can also be super stressful. Becoming aware of pastoral stress is key to long-term health as a leader.

Show notes

Being called to pastoral ministry is an honor and a privilege. But it can also be enormously stressful to be a pastor. 

In fact, a Lifeway study reported that 63% of all pastors report stress as one of their greatest mental challenges. 

Perhaps one of the most dangerous parts of stress is that it can be difficult to recognize. 

In the following article, I’ll explain how to recognize pastoral stress, and how to begin managing it so that you can have a more thriving ministry and well-balanced life. 

The Snowball of Stress

Stress is like a snowball rolling down a hill. 

It begins with just a small and manageable handful of frozen water. But then more and more snow clings to the original ball until suddenly, you have a very large, very cold boulder of snow to contend with. And it just keeps rolling and growing. Stress, like the snowball, can sneak up on us… suddenly, we’re overwhelmed and heading towards burnout.

How do we manage the snowball of stress? How do we keep it from becoming something too big and heavy to handle? 

The first step is awareness. When I experienced burnout, I didn’t see it coming. I had been working with high levels of stress for so long that it just felt normal, but then I hit a wall and realized I needed to make major changes to my life.

Becoming aware of your stress means that you can make small changes along the way to create a healthy life balance, instead of having to stop everything and go through a major life assessment and recovery. 

But that’s easier said than done. 

Stress is often so ingrained into our lives that sometimes we don’t notice how overwhelmed we are until it’s too late.

Here are a few indicators of high stress levels:

  • Physical signs—Tight shoulders, insomnia, elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, grinding teeth, constricted breathing, clammy palms, fatigue, nausea, and headaches.
  • Emotional signs—anxiety, irritability, inability to focus, lack of social interaction, avoiding making decisions, lower productivity, job dissatisfaction, and lack of motivation.
  • Spiritual signs—joyless striving, lack of direction, loss of purpose, a decrease of faith, a disparity between values, beliefs and behaviours.

All of these signs—physical, emotional and spiritual—are normal things to experience now and then. They could be the result of many other things besides stress; catching a cold, for example, can lead to some of these symptoms. 

However, if you experience these several times a week, for several weeks in a row… that is your body telling you to slow down and take stock of that snowball’s effect on you.

Another key indicator of stress is difficulty engaging in new ideas and in relationship with others.

When we’re heading towards burnout, and certainly when we’re in the midst of it, we have a tendency to be closed down to new ideas and less willing to assist others. We want to feel in control of what we can, so often we handle things by ourselves, in ways that feel safe. 

Sometimes, this is necessary to get through difficult situations; to just go with what you know rather than experimenting and taking risks. However, sometimes it’s an indicator of stress.

Recently, I was challenged by some people close to me that I was often responding to new ideas with “but.” Some self-reflection showed me that this indicated my tank was low. Some focus on replenishing was necessary to prevent myself from lapsing into a pattern that restricted the flow of creative ideas between us.

I know that I reverted to what was most familiar to me in these times. Instead of trusting people around me to handle things, I wanted to do everything myself. That’s all right, as long as it’s not a long-term pattern. 

Restricting new input can be damaging in two ways: firstly, you’re denying the people around you a chance to grow and learn. Secondly, you are only adding to your own stress by taking everything on yourself. It’s important to still try to remain humble and curious, even if you’re burnt out.

This can be a great opportunity for reflection. 

Pay attention to where you feel stressed and why, pay attention to how you interact with others. Make sure to show appreciation of the people around you, even if you are under pressure.

The Two Most Common Stressors for Pastors

When you recognized you’re under stress, it’s important to identify the stressors that got you to a place of burnout. 

There are many roads in our life that lead to stress. 

Work, relationships, personal goals… all of these things naturally come with some road bumps and road bumps usually lead to some stress. We often can’t control when stress comes into our lives, but it’s normal to experience stress now and then and there are healthy ways to deal with it.

However, there are some unhealthy contributors to stress and unhealthy ways to handle it. 

Two of the most common stressors I have seen (and experienced) are the inability to say “no” and not engaging with help from others.

When Pastors Never Say “No”

Saying “no” is a skill. Most of us want to make the people around us happy. We want to be seen giving our all and working hard. So whether we are saying “yes” to our boss’s request for us to work late, or saying “yes” to meeting friends on an already busy evening when we are exhausted, saying “yes” is often easier than asking for what we really need.

Knowing to say “no” when we are too stressed is different than just saying “no” because we don’t feel like it. Sometimes, we have to do things we don’t feel like doing. Understanding the line between when we are pushing ourselves and pushing ourselves too much is the cornerstone of this skill set.

Here are some self-assessment questions to help you make the decision to say “no” more often. 

  • Am I more stressed than I should be? 
  • What are my priorities this week?
  • What is outside my priorities? Can these things be moved to another time?
  • Have I made time to rest, relax and reflect this week?

Not Engaging Help From Others

Our relationships should be a support system in the face of stress. We need people that we trust to talk to and process what we are going through. You need people who can help keep you from falling off the edge and into burnout. 

We often also need an outside perspective to be able to see our own problems clearly. 

However, it can be hard to ask even our closest friends and family for help at times. Pride, fear of being an inconvenience, or discomfort with difficult conversations may keep us from asking for help. But no matter the reason, stress only builds and builds if you try to handle it alone.

Here are some reflection questions to help you build the skill of engaging help from others

  • Who in my life can I turn to when I need help?
  • What stops me from asking for help when I need it?
  • How can I intentionally reach out to people around me when I need them?
  • How can I use the people around me to gain clarity and perspective?

Asking these questions can help you build a plan for engaging your relationships to mitigate stress–and ultimately, prevent burnout. 

Healthy Stress Can Propel Us to Action

Stress can propel us to action.

It’s important to discuss the importance of normal, healthy stress. 

We should feel a certain amount of stress before an interview or important project at work, or as the to-do lists of our lives begin to pile up. A little bit of stress can propel us to take action and builds grit. 

Sometimes, we may feel tempted to avoid any stressor, like new opportunities or new situations, even though those things may be good for us in the long term. In the same way that we build strength at the gym by stressing our muscles, we need to build strength by stressing other aspects of life.

Professional athletes have coaches who guide workouts to prevent overstress and injury. Similarly, we need professional help to know and understand our boundaries when allowing stress into our lives.

Learning to handle our stress and work within our limitations makes us stronger and more capable as people. Healthy stress builds grit.

Grit is Perseverance and Hope

Grit is the ability to push through when situations become difficult and to keep fighting towards goals, especially those long term goals. It’s perseverance and hope in the face of distraction and disappointment. 

Educator and psychologist, Angela Lee Duckworth, says that even more than skills, IQ or education, “grit” is the predictor of success in a person. What is interesting is that it’s not clear, even to psychologists, how to build grit besides pushing through difficulties and handling stress appropriately. 

Not all stress is bad stress. Use your stress to grow. Push while understanding your limitations. Exercise your grit!

Here are some questions to help you reflect on how you’re managing healthy stress to develop grit. 

  • Do I let my stress and anxiety limit my daily life or long-term goals?
  • In what areas of my life can I safely push myself?
  • Where have I shown “grit” in my past? How can I practise it now?
  • Who can help me handle stress?
  • Who can help me build grit?

These questions can help you to develop a plan for leaning into healthy stress and growing the essential quality of grit. 

Gauge Your Stress as a Pastor and Respond

Aside from asking the reflection questions above, you can also use this assessment to get a better grasp of your stress levels

Next, don’t overlook the power of technology to help lighten your load as a pastor. Tithe.ly exists to help you thrive in ministry, run a more efficient church, and grow your financial partnerships. 

Finally, don’t forget to celebrate the small wins as a pastor. It’s important to acknowledge your own personal victories, stay encouraged, and lean into Jesus. 

To read more about preventing and healing from burnout as a pastor, check out Don’s book–Burnout and Beyond. It’s now available for free on Kindle!

video transcript

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