How to survive an intense season of ministry

This wasn’t just being busy; this was a series of simultaneous responsibilities with a major price tag, and a lot of grieving people.


Well, that was fierce!

The blog has been quiet for a few weeks, because we have just passed through one of the most draining seasons of ministry I’ve ever experienced.  A series of major church funerals, two of which were preceded by unforeseeable tragedy, horrific traumas around an accident for yet another family, a precious and valuable group of our members struggling with other repeated shocks, and the funeral of a friend. I’ve learnt about leading and preaching at a funeral for and with adults with learning disabilities.  I’ve watched a family discover unknown grandchildren and great grandchildren, days before death. I’ve had to step up to some personal family responsibility too. And all the while, preaching through Romans 8.

This wasn’t just being busy; this was a series of simultaneous responsibilities with a major price tag, and a lot of grieving people.

I used to say when I was teaching in seminary, that no case study I could imagine would prepare the students for the wild reality of actual church life.  Well, I was right. There’s stuff I’m not mentioning in that list which would raise your eyebrows several notches even further.

So how to survive ministry intensity?  Here are 11 tips, straight from the front line.

Obviously, your own relationship with God comes first.  Frequent, rich Quiet Times are essential. Will you manage every day? Probably not.  But I reckon being strict with yourself is a real gift. And journalling, capturing those stray thoughts, can be invaluable. Start the day well.

Reduce your responsibilities.  I postponed all sorts of ideas and calls, because I had so little discretionary time.  I frequently had something to do, fast, against an unmovable deadline, and I could not afford to be distracted.  I now have that list of postponed items waiting for me, but that’s OK.

Own your week. This is the flip side of reducing responsibilities: those things I have decided I should do, I planned for, worked for, and had to hit.  There was no room for excuses. This is one of the gifts of the Michael Hyatt planning system: three main things for the week, and three steps towards them each day. Ruthless simplicity. Manage those three, and everything else flows round them more easily.

Keep a clear view out the windscreen.  Keep looking at all the situations you are pastoring, principally to quiet down the worry that you’ve missed something. Keep in touch with folk, with a light touch – like a quick phone call.

Look at the rear view mirror, too. Michael Hyatt is one of those who insists on a weekly review – I call it a staff meeting with me.  This is another staple item that can’t be lost without damage, as far as I’m concerned.  Half an hour looking back over the diary, notes, just making sure nothing was lost, everything is moving forward.

Occasionally, there are blue lights.  If you’d asked me six weeks ago, I’d have said that on 40 odd years of ministry, there had only been one occasion where I’d had to drop everything and dash. Now there have been three.  Sometimes your careful planning has been so that you can move fast, unexpectedly, and still keep things together.

Watch the flock.  Some of them will be affected by one of the pastoral issues, and a few by more than one.  And yet there will be a sizeable group who aren’t affected at all.  For a season, you will need to watch a few folk more prayerfully, and that’s OK. Just know that a wider season will come.

Fly in formation.  When I’m pressured some things happen: I lose my sense of humour, and I lose my eye for detail. I can’t do much about the first, but on the second point, I learnt again to involve others.  Someone else can proof read the funeral for the family.  Someone else can call the person  I’m not going to meet, and arrange an alternative time. I’m not the only person who can do visits.

Step up.  But, by the same token, sometimes there’s stuff that only I can do.  As I often say, I can delegate all sorts of things, but I can’t delegate being me.  It’s called leadership, and it’s a price tag, and a privilege at the same time. Identify those tasks, and do them with a strong heart.

Resist universalising.  Again, only a few people will be experiencing everything you can see going on, and many will be oblivious.  Don’t start every service or sermon by reminding everyone that they going through a hard season; many of them aren’t!

And breathe.  I’m writing this because that season feels like it’s over.  There was a sense of overlapping, simultaneous tragedies, where wherever we turned, all we could see was someone crying.  This morning, it feels that life has moved back into a more normal season, where pastoral issues come singly. They will come again, but probably not in chorus. Not for a while.

God is good.  Hold onto that.

3 comments on “How to survive an intense season of ministry”

  1. Hi Chris, thank you. I’m in the middle of one of those seasons. Funeral six is looming! This blog post has really helped.

  2. Sounds like it was a tough season! I feel like I need to make sure I have those disciplines more firmly nailed down so that when I hit a crisis season I’m more able to cope with it.
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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