Simple steps for sustainable ministry

We thought in the last post about the dangers of burnout, some of the tendencies we may have, some of the potential pitfalls and stressors of ministry. But how do we change? What can we do especially at the moment with lockdown, tier restrictions, Christmas uncertainty and everything else?

So many of our problems when it comes to burnout are because we forget we are physical beings, that God made us and gave us bodies and that is good. We’re not meant to try to escape our bodies or as if there aren’t physical constraints that they impose on us. Instead we need to learn to honour God with our bodies in the way we work sustainably. Mars were on to something when they had the slogan ‘work, rest, and play.’ So what does that mean?

Rest matters – We need time off. We need time doing something different from our jobs, partly so that we remember we are more than just our ministry. In an always on world that’s hard. I have started regularly going for walks without my phone so that I’m not interrupted, so I’m not always on, or always aware of a potential interruption. We need unhurried time with hobbies and family and friends. Time when we create something that lasts, or build something, or catch something, or play something. Time just being and appreciating others, resting in their love of us for who we are not what we produce. When did you last take a whole day off? No phone calls, no uploading, no checking email?

Sleep matters – The benefits of sleep are enormous. Get a good book about sleep and read it, I guarantee you’ll never think about sleep the same way. Sleep is vitally important for our mental, emotional and physical health. And yet what’s the first casualty of busyness, stress, and worry? Sleep. We need healthy sleep routines in order to not burn out.

Physical exercise – Part of being an embodied being is that our bodies were made for exercise. For some that will be an energetic combative game of football, for others the gentle desecration of a good walk by playing golf. For some it’ll be a marathon for others a gentle walk. Exercise matters, yet so often it is another early casualty of busyness.

Eating properly – There is nothing quite like a really good meal. Eating ought not to be like the Formula 1 pit stop, squeezed into the shortest time possible. We need sustenance, we need nutrients. Food with all its tastes and textures is God’s gift to us, but it is also something we were created to enjoy. It both nourishes our body and enables us to rest if we share that meal in an unhurried way with others.

It’s no surprise that in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is burnt out. When he feels like jacking in ministry the angel prepares him food and gets him to stop and eat, and then lets him sleep before he journeys on to meet God.

As you look at your life what priority and time are you giving to each of these. Where is ministry gnawing at the edges of the time these things need? What will it look like to honour God with your body? How can your leadership teams (if you have one) check on each other here?

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