What a way to Start the New Year!

My wife and I had the most wonderful opportunity as we entered the New Year. My niece got married in Mexico, and someone paid for our trip to go. Wow! An all inclusive paid for Mexico photoholiday in Mexico! After a fairly hectic December, we sure appreciated this wonderful break.

For the first 3 or 4 days we did absolutely nothing besides lounge at the pool and read a book. Drinks were served right to us. Occasionally we got up to enjoy one of the great buffets. What a break! I read 5 books. Three of them were “fluff” books, but two were ones that got my ministry heart going.

It was a time of relaxing and refreshing and re-energizing.

I also had the honor of officiating at the wedding and it was great. A beach wedding with the ocean behind me. I even got in a little bartering as I wanted to buy a few things. I enjoy that.

I hope you are blessed with a vacation like this at some point. Maybe you have the funds to pay for it, or maybe God will use someone else to bless you with a vacation. What a great way to start the new year!


Help! I Need A Preacher.

Why is it so much work to go on holidays? But it seems like there are always a number of things that have to be looked after before the small church pastor can take off. We need vacation time. We need time to relax and refresh and spend with our families and just have a break. But when you are the only pastor on staff you have to make arrangements for things to keep on going while you are gone. Along with other smaller details, you have to make sure that everything for the Sunday services is set up before you leave. Some of us are fortunate enough to have people who will do much of that for us, but most of us need to find someone to preach for us while we are gone.

How do you find a preacher for the Sundays you will be gone? Where do you look? Most of us are the only preacher on staff, probably the only preacher in our church.charlotte payroll direct pay vacation calendar_full

Here’s some of my experience in how to find a fill-in preacher:

1. Look in your church first. Sometimes there are former pastors in your church who may be willing to preach occasionally. Sometimes there are people who have all the training and are looking for a place to use it. They went to Bible School but didn’t become a pastor. Yet they would love to preach occasionally. Take advantage of that.

Or you can train someone to preach. I have the privilege of having a man in our church who wanted to learn to preach. He had led many Bible Studies and Men’s Groups but never preached. So I spent some time with him and invited him along to a preaching seminar. I invited him into my sermon research. And now he has preached for me 3 times already – getting better each time.

2. Look to neighboring churches. Some of us have larger churches not too far from us who have two or more preachers on staff. Why not look for a way to connect with them and see if they can send a preacher to cover for you when you are away.

I live 30 minutes away from a city church that has about 18 pastors on staff. Someone connected me with one of the younger pastors, who was doing Grades 5 & 6 and just recently moved up to Jr. High Pastor, and likes to preach but will probably never have the opportunity to preach in their main services. His church has given him permission and so he has come out a few times to preach for me over the last couple of years. He loves the opportunity and the people in my church love him.

3. Look to Bible Schools in the area. Is your church within an hour or so from a Bible School? Why not develop a relationship with the school so that when you need someone to preach, they are willing to send a student or teacher to fill in for you? The students need practical experience. And some of the pastoral studies teachers probably miss preaching. It’s worth reaching out to them.

4. Look to retired pastors in your community. Sometimes there are retired pastors in our community who would love to preach occasionally. They may even be from a different denomination, but you can develop a relationship with them and see if you are comfortable having them preach in your congregation.

5. Look to missionaries. If you know that there are missionaries who are connected in any way to your church, whether through your denomination or through your church families, keep connected with them so you know when they are returning. Then invite them to come to your church to share their stories and preach for you. When I hear of our denominational missionaries coming home, I try to book them in as quickly as I can.

6. Look to preaching videos. Wow! I can’t believe I really suggested that. This is a very rare thing for me, but I’m actually going to do this when I go away next month. The president of our denomination sent out his “vision sermon” on DVD. It would be rare for our president to come to our small rural congregation, but I can bring his sermon to my church.

While I’m using this option this one time, I would be very hesitant to use it very often at all. But hey, when we can’t find anyone else, this may be an occasional option.

Well I would love to hear how you find people to preach for you when you are gone. Leave me a comment. I’d appreciate it.

Longevity #4: Remember the Sabbath

I just received the following in an email from Nelson Searcy at churchleaderinsights.com.


I recently read a New York Times article that really disturbed me…

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.

In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.

Many would change jobs if they could.”

Now, I read a lot of untruths about churches and pastors in “secular” news, but this one bothered me tremendously because, well, I KNOW it’s true!

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to find a room large enough to seat all of the pastors I’ve talked to in the last few years who shared a similarly negative experience.

Here are a few statistics I found online at Pastor Burnout (just the fact that there’s a website about this should be a red flag):

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced.
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

How can this be?

As church leaders, you and I have the unique opportunity to cooperate with God to transform people’s lives and make a difference for eternity…

So why are you so tired, stressed and unfulfilled?

Sure, God never promised that ministry would be easy, but you probably didn’t think it would be miserable either!

What if your obedience in one specific Biblical command holds the key to reduced stress, increased efficiency and renewed enjoyment of your life and ministry?

Over the years, working with thousands of pastors, I’ve uncovered one recurring sin issue in those who are on the brink of depression, burnout and/or ministry failure:

They are disobedient to God’s command to honor the Sabbath!

Whether it’s a prideful choice or by simple misunderstanding, the sin of breaking the Sabbath has painful consequences to you, your family, your church and your contribution to God’s Kingdom.

I don’t know what you think about honoring the Sabbath. Maybe like me you are convinced that the Sabbath is Saturday and as evangelicals, we don’t set a day to worship on Saturday anymore, it is Sunday that we worship.

But this is more about taking a time to “break” from everything else and to focus on slowing down, resting, and allowing time to recuperate. God set aside the seventh day of the week for a rest. “On the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2: 2) And if you are a pastor like me, you know that Sunday isn’t often much of a time to rest. It can be a very busy day. Saturday is often a day to finalize all preparations for Sunday.

I don’t know that taking a Sabbath will make it so that you will be able to continue long term as a pastor, or even long term in the same church. What I do know is that the less time you take to rest and slow down, the less chance there is that you will be able to serve long term. You will burn out and you will get depressed and you will get into trouble.

For me, I have done my best to have a day off most weeks. I try to limit my evening commitment to 2-3 evenings most weeks. I even often take a Tuesday off if Monday was a holiday. I do my best to get away for holidays for the number of weeks I’m allowed. And I try to make at least some of this time just my family doing something special together. I know it’s cheaper to go visit family, but that isn’t always restful either.

I want to be clear – I work hard. But I also protect my time. We need to learn to pace ourselves. Taking a Sabbath for rest, for a break, and for a time to refocus is not only valuable to you but to the church you serve as you come back refreshed and ready to go.

Remember to remember the Sabbath.

Burnout Doesn’t Have to be Your Reality

Just recently I received a question from a young person in ministry asking me how I prevent myself burning out and how I keep on going.

What a great question!

Burnout is a real possibility for anyone who doesn’t watch out. Small church pastors are at great risk in this for a number of reasons. Small and rural church pastors have many demands from them. They rarely have a second staff person to share the load with and yet are asked to do a wide variety of things. Some of the days just don’t have enough hours to accomplish all that is expected.

So why might someone face burnout? Sometimes it’s as simple as not having enough sleep or taking time for a sabbath rest. Sometimes it may be because you are not sure you are serving where God wants you. Or maybe you are doing things out of your gifting abilities or just doing way too much.

Are their solutions? Can we prevent burnout? Here are some things I have learned that have helped me.

One, get enough sleep. For me, I need 8 hours of sleep. That means I sometimes have to go to be earlier than I would like when I know I have early appointments.

Two, take a sabbath. Take a regular day off. Don’t plan anything else on that day. Take time to relax. Enjoy some recreation. Go on a date. Read a book just for fun.

Three, take time to reaffirm for yourself that you are serving as pastor where you should be serving. It’s good to occasionally take time with God on this question so you are serving with confidence that you are where you should be.

Four, know your gifts and abilities and evaluate if you are doing too many things that are not in your “sweet spot” of serving out of your best. Sometimes we have to do things that are not easy of comfortable for us. We just have to. And sometimes we can learn new skills. Other times we have to be honest and say “no” to certain expectations because these only drain us and tire us out. Say no where you can, delegate where you can.

We are not good at everything. And there are things we just don’t enjoy. In another church I was expected to do services at the Seniors Lodge. I always had to force myself to do it and it always turned out alright, but I am so glad that is not an expectation of me in my present church.

Just a caution: If you are getting close to burnout, ask for help. Ask for a break. Talk to an authority or to a pastor friend to find your way through.

May you find your way through, not burning out, but enjoying the journey!

Taking A Break is Not a Sign of Weakness

Being a pastor is a full time job. Sometimes it is more than a full time job. And we need to know when we need to slow down and take time for a break and to re-energize.

It’s very important to take a day off. You need one day each week at least. And you should try to be consistent about that day. Make it a day that’s away from all the activities of the church. I don’t even answer the phone on Mondays, my day off, unless absolute necessary. The answering machine can screen the calls. Take time to slow down. Read a book -that has nothing to do with work. Watch a movie. Take your wife on a date.

Sometimes it doesn’t work though. This next Monday I have to do a funeral. It’s Valentines day and I’m doing a funeral. I think my wife and I will be able to fit in an early Valentines lunch, but then it’s off to work. That happens, but then look for a way to make up that time somewhere else.

I’ve had just about every night busy along with two full Saturdays this last while. I’m hoping to find a bit of time somewhere but its hard. It’s okay if you don’t go into the office every day. Sometimes you need to take the time to care for yourself because no one else will.

So my encouragement is to respect your own needs for a little time to care for your own health and take a break when necessary.