The Double-Edged Sword of Ministry Stress

Don’t be a pastor if you want a low-stress job. Remember the doctrine of providence. In addition to this being par for the pastoral course, they aren’t random sand traps. Nothing is outside of God’s sovereign control. God in his infinite power upholds, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures and things.” (2LCF 5:1) The trials are not merely permitted; they are ordained, for our good and his glory (James 1:2–3; Rom. 8:28). Far from being accidental, random, or pointless—they are, like everything else, according to the counsel of his will, to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:11–12).  

[Note: this post is part of the series on enduring in ministry. Other posts can be found here]

It’s early morning, and you wake up with a knot in your stomach. Thinking about the difficult conversations from the day before has you reeling. You head over to make a cup of coffee and check your phone. Attempting to resist the inbox and get your mind on something else, you check the news for a few minutes. But soon enough, you give in and check your email. Two messages in there get your attention. The first is a cryptic request for a meeting from a person with whom you suspect there is trouble. And the other a summary of the giving trend, reflecting a substantial deficit for the year. You take a sip of coffee and wince. You want to return to bed, and the day hasn’t started. 

And right here, you have a choice to make. You may not realize it, but it’s an important decision. How are you going to respond to this?

What’s going on? You’re experiencing the stress of pastoral ministry. If you want to endure long-term, you have to be able to identify if and properly deal with it.

A Description of the Problem

Stress is our body’s response to difficulty. These are often undesirable circumstances. And if you think about it for a minute, pastoral ministry has many of these types of situations. 

Any of the following would be considered normal or routine in a 6–12 month span of ministry:

  • Seeing a church member fall into sin leading him away from Christ.
  • Watching a marriage implode over sin.
  • Trying to bring healing after abuse.
  • Counseling a grieving family after the death of a loved one.
  • Having key families leave your church.
  • Enduring uncharitable and untrue characterizations of your motives.
  • Watching church members argue about peripheral matters.
  • Receiving the estimate for the repair project in the church.
  • Looking at the calendar and seeing Sunday getting closer.

This is the pastor’s life, week after week, month after month, year after year. Like waves bringing debris from the sea, the pastor’s life is a steady wave of the residue from the fall.  

Any one of these, by themselves, gets our attention. But what if you get them in pairs or triplets or more?

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