After 20 years in pastoral ministry, my husband learned that if a pastor doesn’t rest his mind, take care of his body, and detach from work regularly he will very quickly burn out.
After experiencing burnout twice, resulting in two separate year-long (unpaid) sabbaticals, Hugh now sees the importance of incorporating regular times of rest, diversionary activities, and healthy distractions into his regular routine. He also saw how taking a break from ministry – even small breaks here and there – poured rest, refreshment, and rejuvenation into his soul and made him a better pastor, husband, and father.
Based on his experience, here are ten activities you can do to take your mind off of work:
- Find Your Creative Outlet – Find an outlet for creativity that is unrelated to ministry. Hugh took up gardening in our tiny back porch area. He found it rewarding to see the results of constant nurture and care of his plants and herb garden. Later he found he enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen and creating meals from scratch! Explore to find out what you enjoy creating and then do it!
- Get Moving – Engaging in physical activity, whether it’s low-impact (walking) or more intense (running or racquetball) boosts endorphins, which will help you avoid depression and burnout. If you tend to not be active, try an evening walk with your spouse (with a “no talking about ministry” rule). Or, enjoy a quiet walk by yourself during your lunch hour. Setting physical goals (trying to walk a 6-minute mile; learning to play a sport, working out at a gym 3 days a week, swimming weekly at the local YMCA, or planning a hike near a local landmark) will not only boost your overall health as you inch near the goals, but will keep you motivated to continue exercising.
- Set Goals Outside of Ministry – Every year my husband and I set financial, personal, marital, physical, and spiritual goals to keep our lives in balance. It’s extremely rewarding to be able to review them 6 months to a year later and see that we’ve made progress in some areas, especially when it seems like things at church (programs, attendance and finances) have been standing still.
- Plan a Weekly Date with Your Spouse and/or Kids – Demands in ministry can often rob us of time with those we love. Don’t let your relationships suffer. Setting aside weekly time with your spouse and monthly time with each family member shows them they’re priority and shows us we are winning in the areas that really matter in life.
- Schedule REAL Days Off. Not a few hours off. But REAL days off in which you take no calls, answer no questions, respond to no needs. It’s surprising how many pastors today don’t do this. Yet it’s essential for you to keep your sanity. Appoint a staff person or secretary who understands your need to completely disconnect and can step in for you if an emergency occurs. Your mind and body will eventually look forward to these “no disturb days” as a time to rejuvenate.
- Read for Fun. Start reading material other than what is ministry related. Revisit the classics in literature. Enjoy a historical novel. Escape into a great science fiction story. Read for sheer entertainment and mental escape. (Set a goal to read a non-ministry related book quarterly.)
- Plan a Stress-Free Vacation – Just having a relaxing “getaway” to look forward to can get you through some of the more demanding days.
- Get Together with a Friend (Outside Your Church) Regularly. Do you have a friend outside your church with whom you can be yourself? Sometimes pastors need to find other pastors whom they can enjoy being with and not have to talk shop. It’s important to not have to be “on the job” during your recreational time. Find that person and schedule time together at least once a month.
- Get Outdoors. In his book, A Celebration of Discipline, author Richard Foster says we can live more simply – and more at peace – if we “develop a deeper appreciation for the creation. Get close to the earth Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the texture of grass and leaves. Smell the flowers. Marvel in the rich colors everywhere. Simplicity means to discover once again that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof’ (Psalm 24:1).”
- Incorporate a Weekly Movie Night (By Yourself or With Your Family) – Nothing helps you escape more than getting lost in a story. If you opt for a movie night at home with the family, put away your computer, stow your iPad, turn off your cell phone, and just enjoy the chance to escape. If you’re by yourself, read the reviews, select something that looks good and uplifting and enjoy it by yourself.
Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mother, national women’s conference speaker, and author of 15 books, including When You’re Running on Empty, which helped her own husband deal with ministry burnout. For more on her ministry, or for resources to strengthen your soul, marriage or parenting, see her website, www.StrengthForTheSoul.com