Running, Resting, and (trying to avoid) Burning Out (pt. 1)

BackgroundFor those of you who follow me on twitter, you know that on Thursday, February 16th, I ended up in the hospital overnight. I was experiencing shortness of breath and couldn't figure out why. I started at my doctors office who, because of an "irregular" EKG, sent me to the emergency room. The emergency room doctors decided to keep me overnight for observation and to run tests in the morning. The stress test came back negative (my heart is fine) the echo cartiogram came back with "diminished activity" in my heart. With follow-up doctor appointments, the current thinking is that I had a panic attack due to stress and anxiety.

What do I have to be stressed about?

For those of you who don't know, I am bi-vocational. I work part time for my church, Redeemer Fellowship as the pastor of youth and family ministries, and full time for an automobile company in their parts distribution warehouse. This means that over the past almost 2 years, I've worked 60(ish) hours a week. The reason for this is because while I am called to ministry our 4 year old church simply couldn't afford to hire me full time. When we got to about 120 in attendance, I was brought on part time, with the understanding that when the church could afford it, I would be offered a full time position. This bi-vocation thing was supposed to be a temporary situation. While we have been experiencing growth, it has been slower than either the elders or I had anticipated. So, in the mean time, I've been running.


Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Do you not know that in a race all runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

As pastors, we are really good at running. We run to study, we run prep, we run to teach and preach, we run to counsel, we even run from crisis to crisis, we run run run. What we aren't good at is self-control. In this context, self-control could be defined as a single-minded goal. When we try to do too much, we don't do anything well.

This is why Paul warns against running aimlessly and talks about boxing the air. Running aimlessly in ministry means we are being pulled in too many directions. Boxing the air in ministry is trying to accomplish things outside our area of expertise. What I'm not saying here is that we as pastors shouldn't be growing in areas where we are weak or not that there won't be times when we feel like we are being pulled in many different directions. What I am saying is these shouldn't be things that constantly define our ministry. But how should we avoid these pitfalls?

Here is what I'm doing to avoid working myself to death.

1. An accurate, up-to-date job description. Since my hospital visit, the elders of Redeemer Fellowship have given me the opportunity to (re)write my job description. This isn't as easy as it sounds. I've become very good at "boxing the air" (being pulled in too many directions, thinking 'this is part of my job', and then beating myself up for not doing the necessary things that I am responsible for). So this is still a work in process.

2. A workable schedule with flexibility. Secondly, I am also in the process of recreating a "workable" schedule. By workable I mean, a schedule that not only provides for the things I have to do, but also protects me from overdoing it. I have to learn that it's ok to say no and it is also ok to not get things done.

The schedule also has be flexible. Things happen all the time, and out of nowhere, that require additional time. It can't be planned for, so I have to remain flexible.

3. Delegation. The final lesson I'm learning is that delegation is a priority. I don't have to be involved in every activity, but I do need to be informed. Being the pastor over the ministry means I need to know what's going on, but the other side of the coin is I need to be developing others to lead and disciple.

So instead of knowing what I should be doing, how to keep a workable schedule, or how to delegate, I ran. Ran myself to a stressed out anxiety attack.

These things are good and helpful ... but so is rest. That will be the next post.

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