NEWSFLASH: Ministry can be extremely stressful (And all God's people said, "No duh!") From relentless meetings to the unmet expectations of pastors, peers and parishioners, the daily grind of day in and day out ministry feels like it may crush you at times.
The same is true of me and the ministry I help lead, Dare 2 Share. I'm on the road a lot, preaching across the country in various venues. When I'm back in the office, there are meetings to participate in, books to write and money to raise. All of this, combined with leading and loving my own family, can create quite a bit of stress that can wake me up in the middle of the night with those various "Oh no!" moments of realization.So how do I navigate all of this stress? I have developed seven habits over the last 27 years of ministry which enable me to keep on keeping on. My prayer is that these disciplines will be adapted and adopted to your own ministry context and give you the stamina you need to victoriously navigate the always demanding and often rewarding stresses of ministry:
Discipline #1: Work Out Consistently
Now I'm no Crossfitter or Spartan Race type athlete (although I have tremendous respect for my hommies who are that committed to elite physical fitness.) No, my fitness "regimine" is designed to be in shape enough not to die early and to have more than enough energy to make it through the demands of ministry.
My workouts are formulated to get as much pain in and sweat out over the course of 30 minutes that I possibly can. For me this usually means doing Insanity Max 30 or Body Beast in the makeshift "gym" of my basement. I crank out the workout second thing in the morning (after morning devos) and then move on to the rest of my day.
Having been out of shape in my late twenties (I weighed a junk-food-induced 225 pounds for awhile) I know the kind of impact that a blubbery, buttery body can have on the rest of one's ministry. My energy levels were low, my production levels were medium and my temptation levels were high.
Getting in shape helped change all that. For more on this check out an article I wrote called Holy Sweat!
Discipline #2: Read God's Word Slowly, Thoughtfully and Regularly
James W. Sire has an excellent book called How to Read Slowly. Instead of blazing through God's Word in twelve months to try to get another "I read the Bible in a year" honor badge, try reading it in two or even three years.
For a short while I made the switch to reading the Bible everyday on my iPad. There were some great things about this switch, including being able to easily read the words of Scripture on a bright screen, especially in the early morning hours when you're eyes are still adjusting.
But, for me, the drawbacks outweighed the benefits.
Reading a hard copy of Scripture gives me the opportunity to write in the margins, underline, highlight and easily cross-reference. It also helps me to master my Bible by being able to find specific passages of Scripture by look and feel. This kind of mastery doesn't as readily happen with an iPad. For more on making the switch back from an iPad check out this article.
Regardless of how you choose to read God's Word, read it. Read it slowly, thoughtfully and daily. Let God speak to you through his amazing book and then put those lessons into practice through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.
Discipline #3: Doing Tons of Fun Stuff with My Family
Early on, I told my kids this, "As a traveling evangelist, your daddy's gonna be gone a lot. But I promise one thing...you are going to have an unforgettable childhood."
I've been able to take my family on a preaching tour throughout Europe and on ministry trips to most of the 50 states. Whenever I preach in LA or Orlando, we often get Disneyland/world on the docket for the day(s) before or after my preaching gig.
To be honest it's not that I can afford to do all this, it's that, with my schedule, I can't afford NOT to do it (sorry for the triple negative there.) With as much as I'm gone on ministry trips, I want to make sure I make every opportunity to create times where we just have a blast together as a family.
Many times, it's as simple as us hopping into our Jeep Liberty and driving up to the mountains (we live in Colorado) for a quick day trip or weekend getaway. My family has come to call these times "forced family fun."
My prayer is that my wife and kids are never embittered by my trips, but rather energized by them.
I'll never forget my son telling my daughter (who was upset I was leaving on a ministry trip a few years ago), "Kailey, we get rewarded to by God for how much daddy has to travel. God will reward us for sacrificing time with him when he is on the road, so that lost souls can be saved."
But the on-going discipline of having tons of fun times with my family (which quality time just shakes out of) is the best bitterness preventative medicine that can be prescribed.
Discipline #4: Prayer Walks in My Own "Garden of Gethsemane"
When Jesus spent three hours of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:32-52, he poured out his heart to God in utter brokenness and desperation. It's a passage literally full of blood, sweat and tears as Jesus awaited the horrors of the cross that were just around the corner.
I don't know what you are going through, but I can guarantee you this, it's nothing compared to what Jesus suffered that night in the Garden. I have never felt so much pressure that I sweated blood out of my pores.
But Jesus did just that. And when he stood up after three hours of intensive prayer, having tapped out to God's will in the Octagon of the Garden, he was ready for what awaited him.
Whatever stresses are weighing on us we can join Jesus in our own personal Garden of Gethsemane to work it out with the Father in prayer. What a privilege this is!
For me this means finding parks around my city where I can walk and pray. When I feel the pressure of that situation (finances, relationships, strategies, projects, etc) I pull the car over and find my own personal Garden of Gethsemane. I don't get back into the car until the burden has been rolled off of my shoulders to the foot of the Throne and the peace of God that passes all understanding has replaced it.
This is my consistent habit. I challenge you to employ your own version of it.
Discipline #5: Sleep Enough
It's ironic that as I type these words, this is one of those sleep-deprived days for me. Last night I didn't sleep well (and I had to get up at 4:30am to get my son to the airport for a mission trip flight.) I can sure tell the difference between today and a typical day where I do get enough sleep.
Sleep is our natural reset time. We data dump in our sleep. God has designed our minds to forget the forgettable when we are sawing logs. It's also when our bodies are re-energized. Body builders know this. Working out with weights actual tears your muscle fibers. But when you sleep, your body rushes all sorts of good things toward those tears to repair them. The body building actually happens when you sleep, not when you work out!
Getting enough sleep keeps your mind clear which helps you produce better work and do better ministry. I'm convinced it also helps you do a better job of fighting off temptation and praying with more clarity. As 1 Peter 4:7 reminds us, "be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray."
Discipline #6: Eat 100% Healthy, 80% of the Time
I first heard this phrase from Doug Fields and it clicked in my soul...and then made me hungry for a Big Mac. The key is that the vast majority of my eating centers around good food, not the artery-cloggin, energy-zapping stuff. And if the vast majority of what I eat is healthy, then I can pretty much eat whatever during those blessed "20% times" of sheer fatty joy.
Eating well helps us feel well. Feeling well helps us to serve God well.
Discipline #7: Write
Writing is cathartic for me. It enables me to clarify and codify my often random thoughts and feelings into chiseled words, sentences and paragraphs.
That's one of the biggest reasons why I blog, to get these thoughts out of the swirling craziness that is my brain onto digital paper. The process helps me tremendously. I pray that in the process of reading my musings, you have been helped as well!
It's also one of the reasons that I love the Psalms. In those blessed pages we get to read David's authentic and unfiltered "blogs." We get to feel how he was feeling. Whether it be his relentless praise to God or his raw anger toward his enemies, he put it all out there for us to enjoy and learn from. In the process he was able to "shepherd up" and be the worship/warrior who defeated giants and conquered kingdoms for the glory of God.
Writing can be one of those disciplines that help you mangage when life gets messy. If nobody else reads your blog or journal or whatever...you do and God does. And, at the end of the day, that's enough.
These 7 disciplines help me cope. They ground me. God uses the benefits of each to navigate the many stresses of ministry.
What do you think of these disciplines? Which one resonates most with you (or least with you?) What are some of your personal disciplines that help you navigate the stresses of ministry?