As a pastor, you want to appear strong and capable no matter the situation you are in. As one of God's representatives on earth, you feel under great pressure to perform your duties well no matter what trials you are personally facing.. Your strong front may be hiding a wild swirl of emotions, though.
Ministering to people is a 24/7 job that brings daily if not hourly challenges. All pastors must feel overwhelmed at times, but some never acknowledge how they are feeling. It is dangerous to ignore your own mental and emotional well-being, however. When you are overwhelmed, you need to take concrete steps to address your needs, both for your own sake and for the sake of your religious community.
The Reality of Being Overwhelmed
People with anxiety disorders often feel overwhelmed, but anyone can experience this issue. Anxiety has many causes, but it is an internal battle often triggered by external events. As a pastor, you have many demands made on your time, making it difficult to complete all of your tasks. In addition to job pressures like church attendance, parishioner counseling, and church management issues, you also have to deal with your own family difficulties. You have to worry about your finances, housing, childcare, car maintenance, etc. Sometimes the sheer volume of the tasks you face can send you into emotional gridlock.
When you reach this point, you can easily become consumed with anxiety, which means you cannot focus on anything else. Your brain actually shifts its resources to address the areas that are suffering, meaning you are often unable to perform other tasks. Your thinking, memory and even physical capabilities are affected by your anxiety. That means that your job performance and personal relationships can decline, making you even more anxious and overwhelmed.
While prayer is certainly an effective first step in attacking anxiety, the divine answers you seek may well be found on the mortal plain. When you are laboring under an anxiety burden, you need to use all the tools at your disposal: both spiritual and earthly.
A Pastor's Traditional Role
A pastor's job description is a lengthy one. You have to represent your church and maintain a connection to the denomination's leadership and goals. You are also the face of the church in the local community. You have to provide leadership in every aspect of your particular church and manage a great deal of administrative work. You spend much time performing your official duties, including Sunday services, weeknight services, weddings and funerals. Most importantly, you dispense comfort and guidance to your parishioners. You are constantly on duty.
These expectations could overwhelm anyone, especially when your own personal life poses challenges. You suffer trials and tribulations just like anyone else. As a leader, you also feel pressure to always be calm and serve as an example of strength. Of course, these expectations are unrealistic and only add to the feeling of being overwhelmed. Pastors can often become trapped by their own performance expectations.
Ways for Pastor's to Cope
The problem with being overwhelmed is that it makes you feel as if you have no choices. You end up running to one task after another, spending all of your time and energy just maintaining things. When you are experiencing this problem, taking any kind of new action can seem like too much effort. But pastors do have resources to fight this state of being. In addition to your religion, there are some practical steps you need to take to get your emotional state to a healthier place.
Rest and revival
You've probably been told numerous times that you need to slow down. When someone says to “take it easy,” your first response is probably, “How?” After all, you have so much to do, very little time and people are counting on you. All of those things may be true, but you are not able to perform well when you are feeling overwhelmed. You have to stop the madness for everyone's sake.
First, take time off. Stop the vicious cycle for at least 24 hours so that you can rest and revive. (If you can take more time, do so.) You will physically feel better but, more importantly, you will be able to get some perspective on your situation. As a pastor, finding even a day alone can be challenging, so leave town if you must. Give your location to a trusted family or friend and then unplug. You may feel indispensable, but the world will keep on spinning while you tend to yourself. Most people won't even question your absence.
Learn to delegate more. You became a pastor so that you could help people, so saying “no” to anyone may be nearly impossible or you. But practically, you do need to refuse some requests. You cannot serve on infinite boards and lead the prayers at every community event and feel well. At the very least, you need to delegate more tasks to others. Let someone else take the lead on various projects. Giving up a little power is hard, but you cannot do everything yourself and be emotionally healthy.
Do as Thoreau instructed and simplify. Take a good look at both your home and work life. What are you doing that is not necessary? Have you created too many groups at church? Are your church events becoming more elaborate and time-consuming? Look at your home life as well. Have you surrounded yourself with too many things that interfere with your spiritual life? Get rid of the stuff that isn't enhancing your life or the life of your parishioners.
Revise your schedule. Chances are that your current one has little or no “me” time on it. As a pastor, you are trained to think of others and not of yourself, but your mind and soul need some enjoyment. Fun even. If you like to play sports or go to a gym, then you should. Regularly. Plus exercise is a proven way to reduce anxiety. If you have a hobby, pursue it once a week. If you don't have a hobby, get one. You may think these things are frivolous, but they are vital to your mental health. You can't be on duty every minute of your life and not feel overwhelmed.
Family and Church Support
Asking for family and parishioner support means more than delegating tasks. It means letting the people in your life know that you need help. While you don't have to make an announcement from the pulpit, you should be comfortable with telling people that you are feeling overwhelmed. Begin with a trusted family member or friend. Then you can share your situation with the church's hierarchy. Many denominations have their own counseling services since pastor burnout is a common occurrence. Pastors can also benefit from seeking professional counseling not affiliated with the church. The key is acknowledging that you need help and then seeking it out.
If you feel ashamed of needing help, you should remember what you have undoubtedly told your congregation many times: “Asking for help from God and man is strength and not weakness.” The Bible stresses the need for self-care. “Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” – 1 Peter 3:4 NIV
God does not want your spirit to be overwhelmed. Acknowledging that you need help from your family and church members is essential to keeping the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” Fixing yourself is not a selfish act, either. When you are strong and happy, you are of much more helpful to others.
Pastors by necessity hold themselves to a high standard. You are representing God, which is a beautiful and terrifying responsibility. You are a role model for your own parishioners, the members of your extended community and your own family. To say your role comes with a lot of pressure is understating the reality. In fact, outsiders might ask if there was any way for you not to be overwhelmed.
You do have powerful weapons on your side. You have your strong spiritual beliefs and the Bible. These are a strength and comfort to you, but alone, they are not enough. You have to take action to address the state of being overwhelm. First, rest and take stock. Then make concrete changes to your life by simplifying it on all fronts. Say no more. Play more. Eat well and get plenty of exercise. Let other people help you with your burdens. And be kind to yourself. God does not want you to live an unhappy and overwhelming life. In fact, you have been instructed to enjoy it:
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.