Most faithful ministry leaders I know are tired. Many are the good kind of tired — they work hard, stay diligent and productive, and love their churches and ministries well. But many are the bad kind of tired — they overwork, they over-commit, they’re one or two more ministry crises or conflicts away from falling apart. So how can a pastor work to protect himself from crashing and burning? Incorporate the necessary ministry rhythm of RBM.
Rest. Boundaries. Margin.
Every pastor needs to intentionally and strategically make sure his ministry life includes the right amount of RBM.
It’s not optional. It’s not a suggestion. God commanded it. Not every now and then. At least weekly. Every human being needs regular rest from work. A lot of pastors I know do not take a day off, or spend their day “off” working on their sermon or doing other things that aren’t exactly restful. You might say your season of life does not allow for much rest, and I would say that you’re setting yourself up for a disastrous next season.
When I was pastoring I committed Fridays to my wife. That was our day together. Once this became known, a couple of people in the church took it upon themselves to test this boundary, repeatedly asking for meetings on that day. But I protected it. Your boundaries might be different, but you still need them. I’m not talking about ignoring actual crisis or emergency situations. I’m just talking about regular ministry life.
It may sound noble and godly to keep convenience store hours, but it’s a fast-track to physical exhaustion, as well as gradual resentment of the flock. A pastor without boundaries has an idolatry problem, and he is encouraging his church to have idolatry problems too. Good pastors are available to their churches, yes, but bad pastors try to be available 24/7. Read this closely: You. aren’t. Jesus. Stop trying to be. Only Christ is omnipresent. Only Christ is omnipotent.
Margin is similar to rest, but it’s not about not working, but about intentionally incorporating into your schedule open spaces for the more quiet kind of work. Making sure I had plenty of margin in my ministry week for praying, reading, studying, and just thinking was extremely helpful. It’s also a good preparation for the weeks when ministry burdens are unexpectedly heavy, or when there are surprise crisis situations or sudden counseling sessions needed.
If you’ve already scheduled your week to the limit with meetings and other ministry tasks, dealing with the occasional crises or surprises that come up will prevent you from completing necessary tasks, add burdens to support staff or other team members, overload your mental and emotional circuits, create a more frenetic week than necessary, and nullify your rest time. Incorporating margin allows you to be flexible and adaptive to the different needs of your ministry week to week. Schedule a reasonable amount of time of “free space” in your work week, use it in helpful, productive ways on things that could be set aside in the moment if something comes up.
So there you go. It’s not rocket science. Mind your RBM and you will go good way’s toward protecting yourself from ministry burnout.