Posted tagged ‘Priorities’

Burnout

July 14, 2012

The Rural Ministry Blog is currently exploring the fact that every month 1,500 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church.  A recent article by Perry Noble stated “90% of the people that enter the ministry do not retire from the ministry.  They either quit or have some sort of moral/ethical failure that disqualifies them.”  In my opinion these statistics are frightening!  At no other time in history do we need effective pastors teaching and training their people, and yet we seem to be dropping like flies.  All of us entered the ministry desiring to not only retire from it, but to finish strong.  Yet if these statistics are correct, only 1 out of 10 of us will.  I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything I can to make sure that I’m not one of the 90%.

In my last two articles, I covered the topic of moral failure. Today I want to take a look at burnout.  The first step in dealing with burnout is defining the term.  One of the best definitions I have read is from the website helpguide.org:

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give.

Most of us have days when we feel bored, overloaded, or unappreciated; when the dozen balls we keep in the air aren’t noticed, let alone rewarded; when dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. If you feel like this most of the time, however, you may be flirting with burnout. (source)

Because burnout is such a huge issue for those of us in the ministry it is absolutely imperative that we come up with a strategy to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.  Here are some tips:

Know your limitations. Let me give you an analogy to explain what I mean. I drive a Dodge Dakota truck that I am confident would go 100mph should I ever feel inclined to drive that fast.  However, if I was on a coast to coast journey and tried to go 100mph the entire trip, I am certain that my truck would break down long before I reached my destination.  Why? Because my truck is not designed to travel at that rate of speed for that length of time.  Our bodies are very similar.  God designed our bodies to be able to go “pedal to the metal” occasionally for brief periods of time. But if we try to live our lives “pedal to the metal” all the time we will find ourselves in a world of hurt mentally, physically, and spiritually. We need to understand our limitations and live within them if we want to avoid burnout. Just because Pastor So-and-so can work two outside jobs, pastor a church, lead three home groups, and survive on five hours of sleep a night, doesn’t mean that you can.

Learn how to say no.  Leadership expert John Maxwell said it this way, “If you can’t say no, your yeses mean less.”  Consistently over-committing yourself is just asking for trouble.  I must admit that this is a huge area of weakness for me.  I love helping people, and therefore hate saying no.  However, I realized a long time ago that I cannot do everything, and when I try to do everything my stress levels rise and my work quality tanks.  I’ve often had to say no to things that are very worthwhile endeavors to make sure I have enough time to do the things God has called me to do.

Take time for yourself.  All throughout the Gospels we see instances of Jesus leaving the crowds and going off by Himself to pray.  I am positive that there were people in those crowds that needed healing and deliverance, and the crowd certainly needed to hear the message that Jesus had. There was lots of ministry that needed to be done, yet Jesus left the crowds and went off by Himself to get alone with God.  If Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the omnipotent, omniscient God come in the flesh, needed to leave the demands of ministry to go off by Himself, then so do we.

By the way, this time should not happen on a day off – it should be scheduled ahead of time and should be part of your normal work routine.  I schedule one day of solitude per month in addition to my normal days off.  Why do I do this?  Because a day off is generally when we catch up on all the things that need to be done in our personal lives.  So even though it’s called a day off, it’s not a day for rest and reflection.  By scheduling in a day of solitude, it allows me to get the time I need to relax and reflect spiritually.

Unplug. Take some time to disconnect from your cell phone, e-mail, twitter, facebook, etc.  Despite what some people in your church may feel, you do not have to be available 24/7.  I know that some of you are thinking “but what if they have an emergency?”  Let’s be honest about that for a moment; how many of these “emergencies” are real emergencies?  Yes, the issue is important to the person calling, but in the majority of cases it can easily wait for a few hours.  Set your cell phone voicemail and e-mail autoresponder to tell people that you will be unavailable and give them contact information for the person they should talk to in your absence.

I think all of us would agree that burnout is a very real problem that we cannot ignore if we wish to finish the task we’ve been called to.  While researching this topic I ran across several good articles that explore the issue further.  Here are the links:

Preventing Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, & Coping Strategies

True & False Burnout: Are You Deceived?

Are You Headed for a Ministry Burnout?

7 Tips to Avoid Burnout

How about you? Have you ever experienced, or are you currently in, a state of burnout? How did it affect you and your ministry? Leave a comment below

Rural Resource – Balance Beam Video

February 20, 2012

Each Monday on the Rural Ministry Blog I post a book review, article link, website link, video, or any other type of resource that I think would be of interest to the Rural Ministry community.

Today’s Rural Resource is a video clip from Francis Chan called Balance Beam.  In this video Francis challenges us to stop playing it safe.  This is a real issue in Rural Ministry.  Way too often we go with what’s safe instead of doing what will make the most impact in the Kingdom of God.  You can watch the video here:

URL – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA_uwWPE6lQ

This video makes a great sermon illustration or discussion starter.  To download it  simply go to http://www.keepvid.com and paste the URL into the download box.  After about 45 seconds the download links will appear.  My suggestion would be to right click on the .MP4 link and choose “save as.”  Once you have downloaded the video you can convert it to any other video format by using the Any Video Converter software featured in this Freebie Friday article.

What do you think about Francis’ message?  In what areas are you currently playing it safe?  Leave a comment below.

Disclaimer: The books, videos and articles mentioned on the Rural Ministry Blog are things that I feel contain content relevant to the Rural Ministry community.  This does not necessarily mean that I fully embrace or support everything that the author embraces or supports.  For more information on this topic please read this Rural Ministry blog post – Eat the Meat and Spit Out the Bones

Your Safety Comes First

February 16, 2012

Fire helmetI’ve been involved in volunteer Fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) since I was a teenager. This has allowed me a very natural way to become part of my community and I am currently serving our local volunteer fire department as the first assistant chief as well as being an EMT with the ambulance. It is often said in Fire and EMS that your own safety must come first. It’s very easy to focus only on the immediate problem at hand and forget about looking for potential hazards. It’s natural to look only at the victim trapped in the wrecked car and not see the live electrical lines from the broken utility pole lying nearby. It’s natural to see only the burning building and ignore the propane tank that could possibly explode. If I do not look for, and take action against, possible dangers, then I myself could become a victim. If I become a victim, then that means I cannot help whomever it was that I came to help. If I become a victim, that also means the resources that were intended to help someone else now need to be used to help me. If I want to be an effective firefighter, then I must make sure that my own safety comes first.

The same thing could easily be said for those of us in rural ministry. Our own safety must come first if we wish to help those around us. Obviously we don’t have to worry about live electrical lines or exploding propane tanks, but there are hazards that are just as real and potentially just as dangerous. Recent statistics show that approximately 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention within the church. These issues are very preventable, as long as they are recognized and dealt with properly. The problem is that we can sometimes be so focused on the crisis at hand that we do not realize the dangers and run the risk of becoming victims ourselves.

When we become victims, we cannot help those to whom we are called to help. When we become victims, resources that were intended to help others must now be used to help us. And unlike many instances in Fire and EMS, the consequences of us as rural ministers becoming victims often leads to negative eternal consequences for those we are supposed to help. It is paramount that we take the necessary steps to insure our own safety while we fulfill God’s call on our life.

None of us entered the ministry thinking that we would have a moral failure or burn out, yet it’s happening to 1,500 of us each month. Of course we never think it will happen to us, it’s always the “other pastor.” One of the first things we must realize is that we are not infallible. That the laws of life and ministry apply to us just as much as the next pastor. Over the next three weeks we will be taking a look at the big three safety hazards of pastors (moral failure, burn out, and contention within the church) and what we can do to effectively deal with these problems.

I know that the whole concept of “your safety comes first” seems to contradict what we’ve always been taught. I’m sure all of us have heard at one time or another the lesson on J.O.Y. Which, of course, stands for Jesus, Others, You. If I put my own safety first, does that mean that I’m putting myself before others? Not at all. I would argue that in order to consistently put others before ourselves that we must put our safety first. We must make sure that our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being is where it needs to be before we can ever hope to effectively serve others.

What about you? What potential dangers do you see in your ministry and what steps can be taken to avoid them? Leave a comment below.

Rural Resource – 10 Small Church Strategies

February 13, 2012

Each Monday on the Rural Ministry Blog I post a book review, article link, website link, video, or any other type of resource that I think would be of interest to the Rural Ministry community.

Today’s Rural Resource is an article from Outreach Magazine that, in my opinion, has been needed for a very long time.  When I read the opening line I knew that this was an article that I would enjoy:

“There are countless numbers of websites and blogs out there dedicated to helping churches realize the potential of developing a strategy for effective ministry. Unfortunately, there is a curious shortage of strategies that can be easily implemented by a small church with limited resources.

Nathan Rice, the author of the article, does a great job listing 10 things small churches with limited resources can do to increase their effectiveness.  You can read the article by clicking here:

http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/4109-Small-Church-Strategies-Big-Church-World.html

Which of the 10 things listed can you start implementing?  Can you think of anything else to add to the list?  Leave a comment below.

What are you Communicating?

February 3, 2012

I once read a quote that said “everything you do communicates.”  While I don’t know if I agree that everything I do communicates, I do know that I communicate a lot through my words, my actions, my body language, and my appearance.  Not only does this apply to me personally, but also to my church.  My church communicates through everything from its cleanliness to its advertising, signage, and the friendliness of its people.

There was an incident that took place last year that really drives this point home.  I was traveling along an interstate highway and noticed a church that had several red, white, and blue painted buses parked in the parking lot. The thing that really grabbed my attention was a huge sign that read “Patriotic, Fundamentalist, King James” along with their service times.  I couldn’t help but sadly shake my head and say a quick prayer for this church.  Why?  Because of what that sign was communicating.  What do I mean by that statement?  Let’s take a closer look at the three phrases on the sign.

Patriotic – To many people, myself included, this is a very positive word.  I love my country, and feel very blessed to have been born in the good ol’ US of A.  But that’s just me.  What about foreigners?  Would they read the word “patriotic” and look at the red white and blue buses and feel like they would be welcome?  My guess would be no.

Fundamentalist – This is a word that can mean different things to different groups of people.  Within Christian circles it tends to mean something along the lines of “Independent Baptist.”  To the world it often carries a different meaning altogether.  When many hear the word “fundamentalist,” they think of the fanatics that blow up abortion clinics, or maybe those people we see on the news protesting at the funerals of soldiers and homosexuals.  This is not the kind of imagery we want attached to our churches.

King James – You and I both know that this statement simply means that this particular church uses the King James translation of the Bible.  While this has meaning to those of us already in the family of God, to the average non-Christian it would mean absolutely nothing.  I can just imagine them scratching their head and wondering “Who’s King James?”

It may sound like I’m blasting this church, but that is certainly not my intention.  I do not know anything about the church or their impact on the Kingdom.  What has me concerned is that their sign was obviously directed towards those who are already believers – specifically those believers who are patriotic, fundamentalist, and prefer the King James translation.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, my thoughts keep coming back to the lost.  There was nothing about that sign that would attract a non-believer, and plenty about it that would push them away.  We cannot lose sight of the primary mission of the church, which is the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  In pursuing this mission, we must never water down the message of the Gospel, but we do need to make sure we are communicating that message effectively.  Our churches should be places which attract the lost and in which the lost would feel welcome.

What message is your church communicating through its appearance, advertising, community presence, etc.? What things could we do to attract the lost without compromising our beliefs?  Leave a comment below.

Reactive or Proactive?

June 22, 2011

I am convinced that one of the things that separates the great from the mediocre is in how they manage their time.  I can honestly say that this is an area of my life that does not come naturally to me.  By nature I am a very impulsive, free spirited type of individual.  In many ways this has been a great strength to me, but it has caused some struggles in the area of time management.  Years ago I discovered that there are basically two ways that we can live our lives: reactively or proactively.

When I live reactively, I live moment to moment with little thought for what’s coming up.  I am reacting to everything that happens around me, allowing the urgency of the situation to dictate the importance of what is happening.  I can tell you from experience that living reactively is not very effective.  When I live in reactive mode, I am always busy, but not necessarily accomplishing much of anything.

When I live proactively, I do my best to anticipate what’s coming.  I plan ahead and structure my time so that the urgency of the moment does not replace the things that are truly important.  Living proactively also means that I must take the time to identify and mitigate possible problems before they happen.  This can allow me to sometimes avoid the problems altogether, or at minimum it gives me time to think about a proper response.  When I live proactively, I am able to accomplish far more in the same amount of time.

Because of my personality type, living proactively can be a challenge sometimes.  My impulsive and free spirited nature begs to be allowed to live reactively.  When I spoke to my life coach about this, he helped me to realize that I cannot fight against who I fundamentally am – since I am fundamentally a free spirit I need to be, for a lack of a better term, proactive about my reactiveness.  Here’s what I finally came up with that works wonderfully for me.  I started with the concept of time blocking and made sure that I included time every day to be reactive.  About half of my day is structured and proactive, while the other half is left open for me to be my normal, reactive self.  When I follow this plan, I am amazed at how effective I can be.

What do you do to insure that you are being proactive rather than reactive?  Leave a comment below.

Setting Priorities

June 15, 2011

Setting priorities can be a tough thing to do, especially for those of us involved in rural ministry. There are always tons of things that need our attention – usually far more than we can ever get done. How can we make sure that we keep our priorities straight?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about setting priorities came from H.B. London. He said “there are only two things that last forever: the Word of God and the souls of men.” The first time I heard this I sat back and thought about my typical day to day activities and realized how much time I spend on things that are “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) – i.e. things that really won’t matter in light of eternity. Many of these things are unavoidable, and very necessary in the daily running of a church, however way too often these things fill up our task lists until there is little time left for what really matters.

So how do we keep a balance? How do we make sure that our priorities get the attention that they deserve? It all basically boils down to having good time management skills. When we practice good time management, our priorities fall into line fairly easily. So the next obvious question is how do we effectively manage our time? That’s not an easy question to answer. Different tools and systems work better for different people. Over the course of the next few Wednesdays I will be writing about the specific things that have helped me manage my time. In the meantime you can check out two previous blog posts, The Law of the Vacuum and Too Busy to Matter for some practical tips and encouragement.

How about you – have you ever struggled in keeping your priorities straight? How have you overcome this struggle? Leave a comment below.