By Andy Constable
It can be tough working and living in a scheme at the same time. There are the ‘normal’ ministerial pressures like preparing sermons, counselling and driving the vision of the church forward. And then there are the added stresses like reaching out to the people on the scheme and discipling new converts from very difficult backgrounds. It can be even more intensive because if you never leave the place you work and minister, family and friends become one big melting pot. In the midst of the stresses, pressures and intensity it can be easy to collapse beneath the weight of it all if we aren’t careful. I’ve been learning the hard way in recent months as I’ve felt the tiredness kick in emotionally, spiritually and physically. It goes without saying that we need to guard our souls but what are some other practical things that we can do. Here are 5 things I’ve learned.
Firstly, find time to rest from work and do things that help you relax. As leaders we can often feel guilty taking time off. I know in my time working on schemes in the last 3 years that I’ve felt unjustified in taking days to rest. This was driven by a constant desire to justify my existence and ministry. I needed to repent of that and remember that I am saved by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. We are not capable of being self-sufficient and need to rely on the grace of God. We need to find a sensible rhythm of work and rest. I recently went through a period when all my nights were filled with some sort of ministry and so I decided to take a step back from some of these things. This has been great for reducing my stress levels as I am able to chill and get my head together every now and then! Remember we are no good to those around us if we are spiritually tired. So take times to rest!
Secondly, we need to learn to spread the work. Some ministers put so much pressure on themselves to be at every single thing the church puts on. They think that without them that the church will collapse. However, we need to learn to delegate responsibilities. We are in charge of driving the vision of the church forward but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything. By delegating we are able to reduce stress and also bless others by allowing them to use their gifts to serve the Lord. Do not think that you are superman and that you have to do everything! Again this drive to be involved with everything the church puts on is often driven by self-justification or pride. We need to be humble and trust the Lord.
Thirdly, its good to meet up with friends who have nothing to do with our churches. This is great because outside friends give you perspective. When you are living in the place you work it can be very easy to become introspective and forget that there is an outside world. One of the things I’ve found helpful is meeting up with friends away from church and the community because it helps you to remember that you are a person (and not just a leader) and also reminds you that there is a world around you with needs and concerns. Sometimes, just having a laugh with friends is a tonic for our souls and gives us the impetus to keep going.
Fourthly, take time to exercise. Its scientifically proven that sport of any kind helps release endorphins that make us happy! To use the old cliché, ‘healthy body, means healthy mind!’ When you are feeling like work is getting on top of you take time to work your body and don’t get lazy.
Finally, take time to read. Reading keeps our minds stimulated and fresh. Reading gives us perspective and spiritual encouragement. I find it really difficult to put this into practice so I have a reading plan for the next 6 months so that I’m working through a variety of books covering different topics. This helps me move through books systematically and will keep me focused.
If we want to be leaders in schemes for the long haul then we need to think through practically how we are going to do this. These are some of the things that I’ve found helpful – reading, exercising, resting, hanging with friends and delegating jobs. Please pray for us as we continue to work in Niddrie and please think about how you are going to survive working long term in a very stressful environment.