Stress Management Series
“Ten Ways for Ministers to Manage Stress" (SL#96)
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® Vol. 11 - Stress Management

Article Objective: To develop and practice sound strategies to cope with ministry stress in a life-long healthy manner. The most pertinent question for each one of us to ask and answer is, “What am I going to do about the stress in ministry that I encounter, and, also stress that I generate?” Ministers have a unique set of stress challenges, but also unique outlets for managing the stresses that are peculiar to the work of church leadership. This article will attempt to make you aware of ten ways to help manage the stresses of ministry, and even to turn them into positives for your life and leadership.

1. Faith: Practice what you preach.

Faith Resources: The beginning and ending place to manage your stress in life and in ministry is to live out on a daily basis your own Christian faith. Let’s put it into a personal commitment: “I try to manage stress by practicing what I preach.” A few “preaching points” may help apply this concept:

Have you ever humorously made this boast?--“I don’t have stress; I give it.” Or, have you often claimed this promise?--“Cast all your anxiety [stress] on him because he cares for you”--1 Peter 5:7.

2. Approaches: Define your stress response.
As a minister, and as a person, you may choose one of several approaches to managing, or mismanaging, stress. Pick out your dominant approach you most often turn to, and how well are you doing? “Coping” may often be the most useful approach.

3. Analysis: Examine the stress situation.
As a minister, you face a continual flow of significant situations: ones that are challenging, difficult, or worrying. Why not use “situation analysis” to help cope with the stress involved? Here are some of the components of “stress analysis”:

Benefits of analysis: improving your skill at self-understanding; focusing on the true experience of others; dealing with the substantial issues rather than creating new ones; understanding the behavior and feelings of others; reducing stress or at least coping better; and bringing a calmer, more responsive presence to such a significant experience.

Reflection: Can you say, “I understand myself and my stress-load pretty well; my strengths, limitation, values, and feelings.” Examine four stress skill-sets needed as you practice stress analysis:

4. Structure: Set healthy boundaries.

Setting clear, healthy boundaries protects you and your interests in a relationship while still valuing the other person. Unhealthy relationships generate frustration and stress. By creating “rules” and within limits, you can eliminate unhealthy habits and stop letting others take advantage of you. Since a relationship is give-and-take, applying boundary rules consistently steers away from disruptive behavior and benefits positive behavior.

One of the surest ways to succumb to stressors is by organizing your day/time on the adrenaline rush of the “has-to-be-done.” The life and work of the minister must have some structure that will keep the pressures of being on call “24/7” from overwhelming life. Remember, as a minister, you are no good to anyone if you are in the throes of emotional and physical burnout. The boundaries you set and live by will determine whether the stresses of ministry are managed effectively or not.

Reflection: Can you say? “I practice good interpersonal skills in relating to others.” How good are you at setting boundaries? Where should you start? (See also Study Resources in Article SL#97.)

5. Attitude: Set your inner thermostat.
The church community should be a healthy, inviting place. Leading with a light heart and a gentle spirit can keep your stressors in check, as well as those around you.

Reflection: Remember, stressors are not good or bad in themselves. How we manage them dictates whether stress will have a negative influence on our health and effectiveness as leaders. In short, stay in control of your own leadership attitude. It is one thing you know you can control, even if it seems nothing else is in your charge. And what is #1 among attitude priorities? “Be positive.” It’s contagious, and breeds success.

6. Community: Seek out support relationships.

Ministry work can be tremendously isolating if you allow it to be (many of you are nodding your heads, I can tell!). The demands on your time and your psyche, and the expectations of godly performance at all times will be magnified ten-fold as stressors if you retreat. Building community both inside and outside of your congregation, folks with whom you can divulge all your concerns, is an essential element of warding off negative stress responses in yourself. Where can ministers go for this kind of rejuvenating community?

7. Assertiveness: Maintain healthy self-esteem.

Many of us have experienced the need to reduce stress by assertive behavior; so let’s take a look at these suggestions:

“Assertive Management Overcomes Stress” (Key suggestions from Burley-Allen, Managing Assertively)
Assertive management or supervision may improve your skill in dealing with stress or anxiety. Consider the building blocks of managing assertively:

8. Family: Keep your family in central focus.
The family of the minister, whatever size or shape, is at the very core of the minister’s life. It is both a resource for coping with stress, and also a source of stress. When your stress spills over into your family experiences it sometimes escalates; so what can you do to provide “stress help”? Since you cannot, and should not, keep your own “stress” bottled up, your attitude and actions can help set the tone in stress reduction and coping within the relationship. How?

Reflection: On this aspect of the minister’s life, Robert Dale has an excellent discussion in Pastoral Leadership, pp.213-224.

9. Presence: Overcome stage fright.

One of the most common experiences of stress is “stage fright”--a very real, often acute, kind of work-related stress: a nervousness, dread, or fear before and/or during a public performance before an audience. “Stage presence” is an appropriate response to overcoming “stage-fright.” “Presence” refers to the fact of being present and also the bearing, behavior, and performance of a person. In this context, “presence” is the quality of self-assurance and effectiveness that permits the speaker/minister to achieve a rapport with the audience--eq. “stage presence.”

Your ministry often requires preaching or teaching to your own congregation, making a presentation to a business conference, addressing a college chapel, or reading a paper at a professional meeting. Some nervous response can be normal, even energizing you to face the audience event. Severe nervousness, called “stage fright,” creates a form of fight or flight response: dry mouth, sweaty hands, rapid heartbeat, upset stomach. What presence can you be and do to avoid or cope with such stage fright? We are going to summarize a set of proven practices:

Your “stage experience” could become energized by normal stress rather than frozen by stage fright. (Helpful concepts have been included from Business Communication, 4th ed., by Mary Ellen Guffey. Mason, Ohio: Thomson South-Western, 2003, pp. 506-508.)

10. Mission: Live and minister on purpose.

You are a messenger of God's love to those around you. He has called you to assist Him in the mission of broadening and strengthening His Kingdom! What greater cause could there be? What greater motivation? As great and unique as the stressors of ministry can be, there is an equally great and unique power and support available. (See SL#97 Study Resource: Servant Leadership)

When stressors threaten to overwhelm you; when time is short, demands are high, and resources are low, remember your calling. Your purpose is noble, indeed heavenly! God does not ask you to do it alone, or to be more than the human you are. He needs you to be strong and healthy, in mind and in spirit. He needs you to be in a position, both internally, and as a part of a community, to do the best work you can do. This strength of purpose can be one of your greatest allies in managing stress. God has called for your service to others. When stress has taken a toll on your motivation, remember your calling and purpose. Will that one thought manage all your stressors for you? Of course not! But it should empower you to seek the strong tools needed to answer God's call in the best way you can.

Your Reflections:

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© 2009; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership