By Sean Fowlds
I read a card once that captures the attitude of many: “Jesus is coming, look busy.” It’d be funny if it weren’t for the fact that many of us are acting too busy for our own good—especially pastors and church leaders. And contrary to popular opinion, it’s not “better to burn out than rust out” because the truth is we don’t need to do either.
A 2008 survey from Lifeway Research found most Protestant pastors work more than 50 hours a week. They juggle dozens of tasks from sermon preparation and meetings to hospital visitation and counseling. Many are tempted to neglect family life in order to spend more time at work.
We can cope with busyness by leading balanced lives that help us avoid burning out and rusting out.
Four keys to coping with busyness
1. Find balance. We may be busy, but we can find balance by prioritizing our personal and professional lives according to the principles outlined in Scripture.
“Everything is permissible for me,” wrote the apostle Paul, “but not everything is helpful.” The truth is there is much we could do, but it is often a matter of whether or not we should do it. We need to be able to pass on good ideas in order to pursue God ideas.
Ministers need to discern the difference between something that is good and something that is right. And saying “no” to a good idea or need doesn’t always mean “never.” It simply may mean not right now. Saying no often enables us to say yes to the best God has for us.
2. Set boundaries. Another key to coping with busyness without burning out is establishing boundaries, for others and ourselves. Remember, none of us can do everything. If we try, we may end up neglecting the things that really matter in life. We must identify the non-negotiables in our lives and structure our time around them.
3. Recruit help. Church leaders don’t have to serve alone. Too many try to do it all themselves instead of equipping members of the church to minister alongside each other (Ephesians 4:11-12). Not allowing members to fulfill their responsibility isn’t good for them, the pastor, or the church as a whole.
4. Seek Jesus. One of the most liberating passages in the Bible is Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (The Message)
Jesus modeled for us a radical method of ministering to people, and we need to heed His example. It is the power of God operating through each of us that meets the needs of people, not what we do in our own strength. Notice in the passage above that Jesus said the way to learn the unforced rhythms of grace is “to walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.”
One of the remarkable things about the life of Jesus as recorded in Scripture is that you never see Him overwhelmed by ministry. Even though He had a limited time here on earth to accomplish His mission, Jesus resisted the temptation to sacrifice the important for the urgent. And rather than succumb to peer pressure, even from His parents, Jesus was not ruled by the demands of others.
As pastor Rick Warren says, “The antidote for your overloaded soul is not a plan for time management. It’s not a program for stress reduction. It’s not a philosophy on how to simplify your life. It’s not a pill. It’s a person. Jesus does not say, ‘Come to church.’ He does not say, ‘Come to small group.’ He does not even say, ‘Come to the Bible.’ He says, ‘Come to me.’ The answer for overload is a person.”
And that person is Jesus Christ.