Have you heard the rubber band analogy? The idea is that a rubber band kept stretched out for an extended period will eventually lose its elasticity and never return to its original shape or strength. The point of the analogy is that leaders are like rubber bands. We cannot remain stretched out with busy schedules and over-extended workloads for a lengthy time without it impacting our effectiveness and longevity.
The burnout implied in the rubber band illustration is prevalent among pastors. In a study cited by PentecostalTheology.com it is believed that 33% of pastors felt burned out within their first five years of ministry. The same study indicates that 45% of pastors say they have experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry. These numbers should alarm all of us who have answered the call to serve Jesus in vocational ministry leadership.
Jesus is not the cause of our burnout. He is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep. But there are other aspects of ministry that can lead to feelings of over-exhaustion that need to be addressed in a healthy manner. Here are things a leader can do to stay fresh in ministry over the long-haul without burning out.
1. Use Your Vacation Time (all of it)
If your church provides two weeks or more vacation time, then do not refuse this gift from the congregation. It is because of their love for their pastor, and in many cases staff members, that they offer paid time away. If you have trouble finding a supply preacher, then reach out to your association or state convention for a list of people who can come and preach at no charge to the congregation.
2. Practice a weekly sabbath
Jesus told us that man wasn’t made for the sabbath but the sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). We were not designed to work seven days a week without rest. The demands of ministry will have seasons when practicing a sabbath consistently on the same day of the week will be difficult, but we must make certain that it is the demands of the ministry and not the bad habits of the minister that cause us to miss a weekly sabbath.
3. Get alone for a few minutes daily
For many of us, fifteen or twenty minutes at the end of the day alone with a cup of coffee or bottle of water can be life giving. I carry a folding chair in my vehicle in case I discover a good shade tree while out on the road and can pull over for a few minutes. Time spent sitting and relaxing is often a much-needed refresher that allows me to go home to my wife and family without carrying the encumbrances of the day through the door with me.
4. Talk to your church about a sabbatical
Not all churches will provide time away for a long tenured minister, but many will. Thirty to ninety days of paid leave for professional development after a tenure of seven to ten years in a church or ministry can be a difference maker in a pastor staying with their church and remaining enthused for the work. Sabbaticals do not have to be expensive for the church and your local association or state convention can provide guidance in developing a sabbatical practice or policy.
5. Invest in professional development
In his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper made the case that ministry is more than, and different from, a profession. However, each minister does need to invest in professional development to remain effective over the long-haul. Consider taking a class or working with a coach. This does not have to be expensive. In fact, there are free options discoverable through your state convention and/or your association. We only need to avail ourselves of them.
The only thing left to do with a rubber band that has lost its elasticity is to toss it out. Pastors, missionaries, ministerial staff, and Christian leaders are too valuable to be tossed out. Put the practices in place today that will allow you to remain fresh and vibrant until Jesus comes back or calls you home.