How does a pastor recover from mental and emotional exhaustion?

I’ll let you know.  In other words…I’m there.  I’m not discouraged, depressed, or dulled in my affections for Christ and His Word. My love for this calling and the task to shepherd God’s people has not waned at all, it only grows.   I have very little to be discouraged about and so much to be thankful for.  So, what is going on?  I seem to be experiencing a common, yet often undiagnosed reality for pastors laboring in the day-to-day grind of ministry.  It is that slow, subtle process over a long period of time where you continue to add to your plate (or others add for you) without taking anything away from it.  All of a sudden, you feel like all you do is work so hard to keep all the balls in the air as you juggle them, thinking if one falls…disaster.  As a result, you feel like a dear pastor friend of mine described it to me this past week, “I feel like I am doing so much, that I am doing nothing well.” 

This seems to happen to me every 3-4 years which requires a complete and thorough evaluation of the way I am spending my time each week.  An evaluation of the things to which I say “yes” and the things to which I say “no.”  With the hope to serve you, here are some conclusions and changes in my life and weekly schedule that will be made for 2011 as a result of this evaluation process, Lord willing.  My hope is it will trigger the areas of your own life and ministry that need to be tweaked if you find yourself at this same place:

Cutting back on writing projects.  I have enjoyed writing on these different issues of pastoral ministry and felt each book thus far has filled a hole in the literature.  However, the pace I have had to keep to crank these books out is a pace I cannot keep long-term  I am taking 2011 off from book writing to evaluate where my writing ministry needs to go from here and what it will look like in the long-term.  I have committed to continue to write this blog next year and a few small article requests, but that will be the major bulk of my writing for a while.

More discipleship meetings at my office.  My typical protocol has been to try to go where my folks are to meet with them.  I will continue to do that to some degree, but I estimated I can add 3-4 hours a week by just trying to schedule a few meetings at my office instead of driving across town for them.

Set nonnegotiable blocks of time aside.  My tendency has been to set aside blocks of time for prayer, study, and administration.  However,  as many of you know, things subtly slide into those slots and they are full before we know it.  Many times, at least in my own week, they are things that could wait, but I always feel pressed to prioritize my people.  The problem is too much of that leaves me scrambling to get my sermon done and essential administration for the weekend.

Make sure all vacation time is usedSee previous post.

Allow others to take some of the load.  Those with fellow pastors/elders and deacons, give them some of your tasks.  I have said often to my fellow pastors, “If I am to take that project on, this needs to be taken off.”  Allow them to bear the burden with you.  That is one of the glorious benefits in God’s all-wise plan to serve with a plurality of pastor/elders and those who serve faithfully as deacons.

Monthly evaluation of schedule with my wife.  This should be obvious to most of us, but the main reason for this is our wives will recognize when we reach this place of fatigue sooner than those in our congregation.  The sooner it is caught, the sooner steps can be made to face it and deal with it.

Surprised by this post?  Well…you shouldn’t.  I’m just like you.  I am the only full-time pastor of a 100 member congregation.  I have very little formal theological education.  I spend my days plugging away in the trenches of ministry with very little visible fruit at times.  Yes, I often feel that “I am doing so much, that I am doing nothing well.”  Don’t be fooled…I am just like you.

Dear brothers, this season will come.  It is not to be feared.  In fact, we should come to this place through certain seasons of ministry if we are “spending and being spent in the service of our bountiful Master.”  Watch for it.  Let others know once you have identified it.  If you are not a pastor, be sensitive to observe it in your pastor and care for him through it.  Your changes may not look exactly like mine listed, but recovering from this place of exhaustion doesn’t remedy itself.  Be assertive to make the necessary changes.  Your family, your church, and your love for this most honorable divine work will benefit from it.

Posted in Oversight of Souls, Training for Ministry
14 comments on “How does a pastor recover from mental and emotional exhaustion?
  1. Paul Tautges says:

    Thanks, Brian. The entire article sounded like a quote from me, in my present situation. My favorite quote the past month has been from Bilbo Baggins, I feel like “butter scraped over too much bread.” Please pray I will follow your counsel and prayerfully evaluate all that I am presently doing in the ministry.

  2. Christina says:

    We luv u Brian!! If anyone knows how hard it is to tell people “no” it’s me. 😉 God has brought the Cheathams to Auburndale so that ur load would not be so heavy. Use us!!! We are so grateful for ur labors. We will continue praying for u. Luv u Pastor Dude.

  3. Chad Beck says:

    Brian,
    Thank you for your transparency. I believe often as a pastor of a small congregation (50 to 60), I tend to fall in the rut of “I got to do it all.” Preach twice on Sunday, teach Bible study on Sunday morning, and prepare something for Wednesday nite, make visits as well, can become overwhelming. You do all you can do, only to see very little fruit. I often feel like Elijah when he said he was the only one left but God reminded him He had 7,000 others who had not bowed a knee to Baal. What a great reminder that we are not in this alone. I thank God for your ministry of writing this blog. It ministers to my soul…as I often feel all by myself down here in TN, with not much fellowship with other brothers.
    May the Lord be glorified in your efforts, my dear brother in Christ!

  4. June says:

    Thanks for sharing, Brian. May God give you wisdom in all of your “Yes’s and No’s”. Praying for you.

  5. John Kuvakas says:

    I can’t tell you how this spoke to me. I have been going through the same process for the last few months. I really appreciate your practical advice and wisdom and will being implementing a few of your suggestions immediately.

  6. Phil Newton says:

    Brian, as one who is presently in the throes of busyness in ministry, I’ve learned to take a lesson from a former president of Mississippi College. He told a friend of mine, who had the tendency to go into despondency due to his fast pace, when asked how he (the president, Howell Todd) could maintain his cool in such a torrid pace that he maintained. Dr Todd responded to my friend, “I’ve had to learn how to glide.” So now, Karen and I will occasionally bring that up when we’re both going frantically, “Glide!” Rather than run the motor too hard, glide at the points when you can. Slow down, take some wind-down time, get away, change your pace, read something fun (like a good Tolkien!), take your wife on a date, go on a short trip (2-3 days), give responsibilities to others. This last one is the hardest for me. I’m learning in my 4th decade of pastoral ministry that I cannot do it all. I must delegate to keep my health and sanity, and to minister effectively to the body.

  7. Tim Smith says:

    Brian, based on the response to your post it sounds like we could begin a support group for pastors. I can see it now, “Hi, my name is Tim and I’m a pastor.”

    Thanks for such honest and vulnerable post. I feel normal knowing that I’m not the only pastor with such struggles and emotions!

  8. Michael says:

    I’m not the only one who sometimes feels like this? Thank you, brother, for this post. It ministers to me. May God give you strength to serve Him well!

  9. Patrick says:

    I think that there was alot of good info in this post. But if I can make one suggestion, just in case a situation arises where you have to burn the midnight oil, and you can’t delegate the task to someone else. There is always Piracetam. Piracetam is a supplement that has been around since the 80’s that has been proven to increase mental capacity, focus, and delay the on set of age associated mental impairment(AAMI). Ideal for someone who needs to retain more information and stay focused longer.

    For more information visit: Piracetaminfo.com

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "How does a pastor recover from mental and emotional exhaustion?"
  1. […] Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  Someone sent me a link to this article and I thought it was wonderful.  Very helpful.  Brian’s Blog “Practical […]

  2. […] think most pastors can identify with Brian Croft’s honest and humble words. There is plenty of transparency here, giving a profitable window into his own heart, with good […]

  3. […] How does a pastor recover from mental and emotional exhaustion? […]

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