Last I checked, the Coronavirus has taken the lives of nearly 650,00 people, including more than 149,000 Americans. Grief and fear naturally result from such devastation. Pastors are expected to bring peace and hope into the chaos, even while they battle their own anxiety and fatigue. Perhaps now more than ever, the health of the minister matters. How can a preacher in this pandemic avoid the stress and burn-out that sucks the life out of ministry and the minister? The healthy preacher will build a strong enough shed to stand against the storm. The building materials for the S.H.E.D. are sleep, hobbies, exercise, and devotion.
Sleep for the Mind
The hours of sleep one enjoys before midnight are the most refreshing. Early in my ministry, I was a night owl. But that pattern took its toll on my body. As my responsibility increased, the earlier I had to rise in the morning just to keep up with my increasing responsibilities. No more sleeping in until 7:00am or 8:00am. For a while, I was burning the candle at both ends by rising between 5:30am and 6:00am, and retiring between 11:00pm and midnight. I remember sitting in meetings, having no idea what was going on. These were meetings I was supposedly leading! My head was nodding like I was tracking the discussion, but my mind was trying to catch some much needed sleep.
Eventually, I attempted to be in bed between 9:00pm and 10:00pm at night, so that I could get a good sleep before waking up around 6:00am. When I maintain this sleep pattern, my mind is more alert and the creative juices flow as I engage in the sermon preparation process.
Don’t underestimate the value of sleep for creative sermon development and energetic sermon delivery. The Saturday night nerves make falling asleep a challenge for some preachers. If you hop in bed at 9:00pm and don’t fall asleep until 11:00pm because of nervous energy, at least your mind will be rested and ready to proclaim Christ the next morning.
Hobbies for the Heart
Some pastors, almost as a badge of honor, refuse to have a hobby. They’re too busy building the church and saving the world to have a hobby. Perhaps I’m less spiritual, but I enjoy a hobby or two as a release-valve from the pressures of life and ministry.
I recognize that hobbies can become a cover for laziness or an idol we run to for escape and peace, when God is the dispenser of those treasures. A hobby is healthy when it is neither an idol nor a cover. But, by all means, find a hobby. If you do not find a healthy hobby, chances are an unhealthy hobby will find you.
One of my favorite hobbies is fly-fishing. When ministry pressures are building or the church is bustling during Advent or Lent, I grab my pole and go. I find that standing in a stream casting dry flies to rising trout refreshes me, even if the fish don’t bite! Golfing with a few buddies can also rejuvenate my soul, despite the frustration of trying to hit that tiny white ball into that slightly larger hole. Golf, I have discovered, only refreshes me when I don’t care how poorly I play. When I start to care about my game too much, golf quickly leads to the stress which defeats the purpose of the hobby.
The goal is to find a hobby that refreshes you. It should be something that is relatively stress-free and allows you to forget, at least for a few hours, the struggles and strains of life and ministry.
Exercise for the Body
During one of the busiest and most challenging years of my ministry I gained nearly
20 pounds! I was trying to lead a struggling, but promising church in making a turnaround toward vital mission in the community. Of course, as is almost always the case with change, conflict ensued and meetings increased.
Progress was an uphill climb and I was exhausted. I was, to be candid, struggling with depression. One of the first things that fell by the neglected wayside was my exercise routine. I replaced exercise with frequent “pizza and a movie” nights. The weight piled on and my energy level diminished, which only compounded my discouragement.
One of the ways to combat weight gain, limited energy, and deep depression is to schedule and commit to an exercise plan. Engaging in exercises like walking/jogging, weight training, racquetball, tennis, or swimming, to name a few possibilities, for 30-60 minutes three or four times per week is an effective remedy for depressed, exhausted, and out-of-shape preachers. Schedule your exercise at a time that is sustainable. If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule a 7:00am workout. Find the time, place, and routine that works best for you and run with it! (No pun intended!)
Devotions for the Soul
Not only are preachers tempted to let their body go when ministry gets busy and life gets stressful, they are all too willing to forego the feeding of their own soul in order to focus exclusively on nourishing the souls of others. The primary problem with this pattern is that preachers who neglect their spiritual development will find they have little capacity and passion to address the soul-needs of others.
In Mark 3:14 we read that Jesus “appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” This is a clear reminder that the first calling of the preacher is to “be with [Jesus]” and the second is “to preach.”
I’m convinced that the best preachers are those who have honed the habit of simply being with and enjoying Jesus. Can you commit to spending at least 30 minutes each day engaging in intentional intimacy with Jesus? What spiritual disciplines, books, and other resources will most cultivate the soil of your soul for the rain (and reign) of Christ?
If you are a person who likes variety, incorporate a variety of tools to help you connect with Christ. If, on the other hand, you like routine, then select a devotional tool that you can enjoy daily. The preachers who’ve had the most profound impact on me were the ones I sensed walked with God. Their preaching flowed out of intimate connection to Christ. It was the faithfulness of their lives more than the eloquence of their words that bore fruit in my life. That can’t be faked. It simply comes from being intentionally intimate with Jesus.
Preachers are human, perhaps even more human than most because our vocation requires that we dive redemptively deep into the pain, angst, junk, hopes, dreams, and potential of humanity. If we refuse to build a S.H.E.D., the storms of life will destroy us eventually. When the mind, heart, body, and soul of the preacher suffer, the preacher’s ministry to the congregation will suffer too. Healthy churches are cultivated by healthy preachers. So, do your congregation a huge favor—take care of yourself.
1. Assess your S.H.E.D.: In which part of the S.H.E.D. plan are you hitting a home run and in which are you striking out? What biblical and theological insights can reinforce the importance of S.H.E.D.-ding?
2. Build a S.H.E.D.: Try an experiment in which you sleep from 9:30pm-6:00am for seven straight days and observe the difference in your energy and creativity levels. Schedule time to enjoy a hobby alone or with a friend at least a few hours every two weeks. Detail an exercise plan that will guide you four times per week for 30-60 minutes each session. Decide on a devotional plan to feed your soul daily for at least 30 minutes each day. Go ahead and carve out the space for your S.H.E.D. plan in your calendar. You, your family, and your congregation will be so glad you did!
Dr. Lenny Luchetti is Professor of Proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary of Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana and the author of Preaching Essentials: A Practical Guide and Preaching with Empathy: Crafting Sermons in a Callous Culture.