Preventing clergy burnout

Thirty-seven practical suggestions for easing life in ministry

Grant Swank, Jr., is pastor of the New Hope Church of the Nazarene in Windham, Maine.

Thirty-seven practical suggestions for easing life in ministry.

To prevent clergy burnout, try the following:

1. Breakfast out with your spouse once each week. Put it on the family calendar and make it a permanent, needed getaway (And don't carry a cell phone with you; the whole point is to get away!).

2. Exchange house keys with another couple. When you and your spouse need a breather, skip town. Stay overnight at your friend's house. They can have the same privilege with your home. A phone call to the friend prior to landing on the front porch would be helpful. This kind of reciprocity works wonders for all concerned.

3. Organize your weekly responsibilities. Often burnout results simply from haphazard work plans.

4. Start next week's sermon early enough to prevent a stressful pileup the night before it's supposed to be delivered.

5. Schedule each day efficiently, so as not to overlap duties.

6. Prioritize your responsibilities; differentiate between majors and minors.

7. Fellowship with clergy of other denominations. These persons cannot harm you ecclesiastically, because they are not of your official circle. There is no political string they can pull to undo you.

8. Take at least one full day a week off from church duties.

9. Filter phone calls to the parsonage via an answering machine. The parsonage phone automatically brings the workplace into the home; such is the nature of the job. However, this does not have to imprison the pastor. He can filter calls so as to schedule responses more efficiently.

10. Obtain child care so that both spouses can have free time. This is imperative, for obvious reasons yet many clergy couples do not seem to get around to planning such opportunities.

11. Eat out at inexpensive restaurants. Some ministers and their spouses do not eat out much because of the cost, but cheaper respites are just as refreshing as costly ones. A simple picnic supper, or variation thereof, is also an option.

12. Develop your hobby and keep at it. Use that pastime as your rightful opportunity for creativity and variety outside of church responsibilities.

13. Take recreational breaks in your weekly schedule. If you are not athletic, at least plan walks through rural sections or neighborhoods other than where you re side.

14. Don't read religious material only. The brain needs a detour. For example, reading magazines selected for their personal appeal to you can be quite renewing.

15. Have a policy by which parishioners do not own your living quarters, even if the parsonage is near the church. The parsonage is the private living area for the clergy family, except when parishioners are invited.

16. Plan ahead. Keep a working calendar in the church and parsonages so that you can refer to it quickly. Check off items as they are completed.

17. Take a walk through a mall or shopping area. Plan to buy nothing. Such a simple change of scenery is therapeutic.

18. Drive around the countryside. Don't rush back to the workplace.

19. Take your annual vacations; it's not in the least heroic to skip these needful breaks.

20. Be realistic about your vocation. Do not try to put a happy face on every thing or everyone. Express your feelings to a trusted friend but be careful. Know for certain that the individual can be trusted. It is often best to find such a confidant out side the system.

21. Watch for danger signals in your body and mind. If something irregular be gins to appear, it may be time to see your doctor.

22. Don't watch too much television, if that is your bent. Find other activities to take the place of this excess.

23. Try to get to sleep at a reasonable hour each night. Nighthawks pay for it in the long run.

24. Answer your mail as soon as possible a simple move that can efficiently keep your work responsibilities up to date and ease the sense of stress you might other wise feel in the light of unfulfilled tasks.

25. Delegate more to parishioners. Do not try to do it all yourself. If there are not enough workers for the tasks, ask yourself if that particular item is essential. If not, discard it.

26. Regarding home visitation: Put a tear-off in the church bulletin in which you ask for worshipers to state the day and time they would like the pastor to visit. This cuts through the criticism that the pastor does not call on members in their homes. With today's frantic schedule, old-fashioned pastoral function must be adapted to the rat race.

27. Slow down if you tend to be hurried. Pare down all nonessentials. Cut out needless movement. It is easy to create movement ruts that are unnecessary; eliminate them.

28. Listen to your spouse's appraisal of your reaction to your ministerial responsibilities. Your spouse looks more objectively on what you tend to impregnate with subjectivity, and she or he is the only individual in the world who knows your work and your reactions so well.

29. Realize that God is the one who changes lives. The minister can lead people to the truth about God, but then it is up to the Lord and the free will of the individual to move on from there.

30. It is reassuring to remember that it is God who said that He would build His church. In this cause, we clergy are simply facilitators and servants. The overall divine move has to come upon each local congregation. Much of that is a mystery to us. Therefore, we must continually relinquish the final ministerial outcome to God alone.

31. Refuse to read material that is depressing, especially information regarding other congregations, particularly those that seem to be overflowing the charts statistically. Each situation is an individual work in the eyes of God. Keep your mind positive by refusing to intake information that might discourage you.

32. Stay away from comparisons with other churches. Simply don't gather with clergy who are into the verbal game of constantly comparing and competing. This is an attitude of "the flesh," not "the Spirit."

33. Abandon your work and soul continually to the Lord. Refrain from analyzing too meticulously where you are on the "success charts."

34. Again, on the activity side, enjoy local concerts and community gatherings.

35. Plan family excursions that have nothing to do with church work.

36. When pressure builds, take a morning off to do nothing in particular. See to it that your mind winds down so that you can get back on track again. Winding up the mind when it is already exhausted leads to trouble.

37. Listen to relaxing music. Adapting a selection of these ideas and attitudes to your situation will not only help you avoid burnout but will contribute significantly to joy and fulfillment in your ministry and in your life as a whole.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Grant Swank, Jr., is pastor of the New Hope Church of the Nazarene in Windham, Maine.

November 1998

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