11 ways to reduce stress in ministry

A year and a half ago I took an inventory of my life and wrote a list of how I will crash and burn(out) in ministry. Since then, I frequently receive emails from youth workers who feel maxed out, tired and drained. Here are some common recommendations I make on how to reduce stress in ministry.

11. Take regular breaks.
Ministry workers are usually workaholics. There are appropriate times when you need to settle down and crunch through some work, but when it’s done, leave your workplace a couple minutes. Go outside, walk around, and get some sun. You’ll be amazed how refreshed you feel coming back. A 10-15 minute break outside can really energize you to finish the rest of your work in much better time and in higher quality, too.

10. Work when you focus best.
It seems like most people I know in ministry are early-morning people. They love waking up before the sun and hitting the office early. If that’s what works best for you, then do it! However, some people, like me, think mornings are a result of the fall in Genesis 3 and can’t function until lunch time. I honestly work best between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM. I stay focused and tend to crank out my best work during that time. Find out what works best for you and capitalize on it.

9. Address the work at home.
Stacks of bills, car maintenance, yard work, and home repairs can really stress you out, especially if it seems like everything else going on in life is always a higher priority. If tasks start piling up at home, take an extra day off to get it all done and set your mind free.

8. Eat healthy.
Give your body food that will keep it well nourished. Balance your carbs, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Junk food will drain your system, making you tired and unfocused. A sugar rush may give you small bursts of energy, but the crash at the end will keep you going back for more sugar all day long.

7. Stay in shape.
It’s clinically proven that regular exercise reduces stress, gives you more energy, improves your sleep at night, and helps you stay more alert during the day. There’s really no excuse not to stay in shape, especially for people in ministry. And if you have tight muscles and achy joints, see a massage therapist or a chiropractor.

6. Use your vacation days.
Many of us may be happy with our jobs, our ministries, and the work we do, but there are always small things about each job that we hate. That’s just a part of life. Over time, those annoyances can build until they become frustrating. Make sure you take a break, time to rest, time to get away, and leave it all behind. If your ministry can’t function without you for a couple days to a week on a regular basis, the ministry is way too focused on you and is unhealthy.

5. Keep ministry simple.
Lots of activity and responsibilities may make you feel more important than you really are, but it’s a guaranteed formula for stress and burnout. Know your limits and be realistic. If you have too much on your plate, delegate some of it to others or simply cut it out of your life. In my ministry, if no one steps up to help or take over something I don’t have time to do or shouldn’t be a priority for my limited time, it simply doesn’t get done. It’s really that easy.

4. Listen to worship music.
I don’t mean just have it playing in the background, although that might help. Sit down and really listen to it. Let the Holy Spirit work in your life as you spend personal time in worship, thinking, reflecting, and meditating on Him. All the other stressful things in your life pale in comparison to a healthy reminder of who God is.

3. Say “No!”
I don’t know why ministry workers feel like they have to say yes to so many things. Maintain boundaries on your life! I’m a youth pastor and I only go to about half of our weekly youth meetings. I work hard to recruit and train solid volunteers that work great whether I’m there or not. If the ministry is focused around you, you’re doing something wrong. You shouldn’t be out more than 3 nights a week maximum! Be at home with your family.

2. Maintain healthy relationships with your spouse.
Remember, your primary ministry is to your family, especially your spouse. Don’t wait until the relationship starts feeling dry to do something about it. Maintain the relationship so you never get to that point in the first place. Spend alone time together, go on dates, read the Word together, do random romantic acts, be sexually active.

1. Focus on the Lord.
Regular time with the Lord is critical, but it often seems like it’s the first thing we set aside. Spend time with God on a personal level and also make it a priority for your family. You can’t serve the Lord and follow Him without knowing where He’s leading you. Otherwise, you fall into a stale rut of just “doing” ministry, rather than leading a movement of God’s people.

What other tips do you have to reducing stress in ministry? What do you do to recharge and stay focused?

Posted on September 29, 2008

  • One thing I do to manage stress is I leave my work at the office. I know some people work well at home, but for me, there’s too many distractions and too much temptation to do work instead of spend time with family. I also don’t check my office email unless I’m at the office. Likewise, I don’t have a blackberry or PDA set up to receive work related emails at home. This allows me to focus on home stuff at home and office stuff at the office. It also gives me time to think about the things that are going on at the office and gives me some time to brainstorm some things I can do about various situations rather than acting impulsively from behind my desk.

  • Stress and burnout are not the same. Burnout is a kind of job depression and is caused by feeling of powerlessness; it is not caused by stress – tho it is stressful. Stress is a taxing of the body.

    Burnout is a motivational problem. A person struggling with burnout is demotivated, dispirited, depressed – down. Whereas a highly stressed person may be highly enthusiastic – tho driving their body.

    Stress is the “fever” of burnout. As with pneumonia. A high fever must be reduced or there is a risk of brain damage – BUT once reduced the pneumonia is still there. Similarly with burnout – the stress must be reduced but reducing stress does not deal with the job situations rendering the person helpless. The person must develop a feeling of controllability.

    Burnout is caused by feelings of uncontrollability. Powerlessness, damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t situations. It is prevented by developing feelings of control over the job – which is an on-going process.

    For considerable information on job burnout, the symptoms, burnout quizzes, and what to do to prevent it or turn it around – go to my site at

  • Well, I’m usually a ball of stress. I have started something new that seems to be helping. I sit down at the beginning of the week and look at the tasks/projects I need to get done and then I block out when I’m going to work on them. Instead of having a huge list of things that need to be done in the office during the week, I have a bite sized list of things I’m going to do Monday morning, Monday afternoon, etc. I schedule tasks like I would meetings.

    Might not work for everyone but it’s changing my perspective and helping me feel less overwhelmed by the week long “to do” list that puts me into a cold sweat ;)

  • @ Jason Huffman: Yeah, that’s a good suggestion. I do that most of the time, but not all the time. Sometimes I end up writing small group lessons at home or, if something big is happening on the weekend, I’ll have to designate some time to it on my day off. But for the most part, I’m pretty strict with not taking normal ministry work stuff home.

    @ Dr Beverly Potter: I understand what you’re saying and, although I’m definitely not an expert, my experience leads me to disagree a bit. You’re probably technically right, but I have a hard time separating stress, a lack of control, and burnout. They all seem to work hand-in-hand. For example, someone who feels like they have complete control over their ministry can feel VERY stressed out, and eventually they leave the ministry because of the toll it takes on them and their family. I’m sure we could talk semantics and dissect all of the different emotions and what’s behind them, but the general idea is true: on-going stress is not healthy, neither is burnout. These ideas may help you avoid both, regardless of whether they’re technically the same thing or not.

    @ Sara: That’s a good idea, too! Set your boundaries at the beginning of each week and stick to ’em.

  • Dj

    I had to disconnect my church email from my home because I was constantly checking it. Of course when I would get something, I would go back into “work mode” and deal with whatever the email was about. I had enough and deleted the account at home.

    You know what happened? Those emails were still in my inbox at the church when I got back the next day and the world hadn’t ended! Imagine that!

  • @ DJ: Yeah, I do the same thing, except I still check it from home on Saturday nights just so I’m up-to-speed on all my messages for Sunday. Don’t wanna find out Sunday morning that so-and-so emailed me the day before to say they couldn’t teach their class that day, ya know?

  • #5 seems to be the hardest across all forms of minsitry. Not sure if it’s the ego or outside pressure. This is one that I’ve gotten flack for quite a bit in ministry. It stinks that a lot of times parents, volunteers, staff and even the kids expect you to do more than you can. That really makes it tough.

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  • I read your posts for a long time and should tell you that your posts always prove to be of a high value and quality for readers.

  • Running has definitely been a stress reliever for me and this is coming from a guy who hates to run! When I run I worship, pray and listen to the Lord and believe it or not – I feel a lot of peace coming back from runs. I love #6 as well. I go on vacation but I rarely have used all my 3 weeks..until now! I've been using them the past 2 years and they have been extremely helpful. Good post Tim – thanks for more ways to reduce stress.

  • Fabulous Top ten list! you clearly placed a heap of your time and thought into it. thanks so much for sharing it.

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