Feeling Overwhelmed in Ministry or Life? Try this.

Ministry burnout, overload, and destructive stress lead to an abysmal survival rate for pastors today.  For 20 years a friend of mine followed 105 pastors and discovered that only half remained in ministry. Many other statistics bear witness to the high fallout rate for pastors. Burnout, moral collapse, and the weight of ministry has shattered many dreams for Kingdom impact. No pastor ever begins ministry with a goal to end up as a casualty of it. Unfortunately, unless some make systemic changes to their hearts and ministry pace, they too will end up a statistic. But, if you feel yourself on the road to burnout and overwhelmed you can change your trajectory through this simple yet life-transforming exercise.


I’ve used a tool that many coaches use to help people regain balance from feeling overwhelmed. It’s called a “Life Balance Wheel.”

It had its origins in the Middle Ages when few could read. Etched on many cathedrals, it visually represented the cycle of daily life: happiness, loss, suffering, and hope. For most people life offered little hope and the carved images instructed the common person about the inevitable change process in life.

Today we use the life balance wheel in a more positive way. It takes many forms, but this example captures its essence. Each piece of the pie represents an area of life. Within that area the scale rates your satisfaction with that part of your life.

Here’s how to use it to help regain balance and deal with life’s pressures in a more intentional way.

  • Google “Life Balance Wheel” and you’ll find many free printable templates.
  • After you print it out, mark your level of satisfaction within in each area of your life.
  • Connect the dots to see how balanced or imbalanced you have described your life.
  • Pick one or two areas in which you feel least satisfied.
  • Describe what life would look like if your satisfaction in those areas increased to an “8”
  • List five specific steps you could take in each area that could help you move to an “8”
  • Give each step a specific date when you will take the step.
  • Make yourself accountable to someone to help you regain balance. A good coach trained in the life balance wheel would be a good investment.

This simple tool could have profound implications for your future, your family, and your ministry. Right now schedule an hour this week to complete the exercise and see how God could use it in your life.

If you’ve used the life balance wheel before, what have you found helpful?

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A Simple Way Leaders (or anybody) Can Reduce Stress

God created our brains to help us survive in our world. Whether it’s a real threat (a bear outside your tent on a camping trip) or a perceived one (a board member or boss who acts like a bear), a part of our nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), engages the stress response. It’s that fight-flight feeling. Essentially, the body prepares to fight or flee the source of danger by shutting down or slowing non-essential body functions to send blood and energy to vital parts of our body. In this post I explain a science-based practice that can help reduce the effects of stress on your body.

Stress Man. Businessman  suffers from a headache

A simple practice that reduces stress

The stress response also activates other body responses. It releases chemicals in your body and brain to provide extra energy and focus if you need to fight or flee, slows digestion and saliva production, increases heart rate, dilates our eyes, and sends blood to our muscles.

Aside from running away from the bear or shooting it (you’d need a permit in most places), what can we do to quiet this stress response in our day-to-day experience?

Deep breathing from your diaphragm helps.

It has been proven to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, decrease lactic acid buildup in your muscles (which causes cramping and fatigue), and make us calmer.

From a body perspective, deep breathing activates a nerve called the vagal nerve that travels from the back of your brain to your belly, tongue, heart, lungs and intestines. It’s an important part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the SNS’s counterpart. In contrast to fight-flight, it’s rest-digest and controls the relaxation response.

Think of the SNS as a car’s accelerator and the PNS as a car’s brake.

When you activate your vagal nerve, it releases feel-good neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine and dampens the stress response. So, when you’re stressed, you want your brain to release those chemicals. Here’s how deep breathing can engage your vagal nerve and dampen your stress response.

  1. Know your body. Look for signals that it’s under stress. Some people get a dry mouth. Shoulders tighten for others. For some, their hands shake. Others experience stomach problems. Some breath faster and from their chest. Listen to your body on a regular basis to ‘catch’ your stress.
  2. Remember that breathing from your diaphragm is key. It’s called belly breathing. You can put one hand on your chest and one on your belly to experience the difference. If you are breathing from your diaphragm, your belly should move more than your upper chest, although your chest will also expand some.
  3. When you know you are under stress, get away to a quiet private place and sit down if you can. In a pinch, a bathroom stall even works. The Bible often talks about the value of stillness and quietness (see Psalm 46.10).
  4. Breathe in deeply through your nose while you count to 4.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  6. Breath out through your mouth with a whooshing sound as you count to 8.
  7. Repeat the 4-7-8 breathing 4 times. You’ll find that this takes only a minute.
  8. Practice this every day, not just when you feel stressed.

Stress does not have to control you. You can control it with this simple breathing technique. Your body and brain will be glad you did.

What has helped you deal with stress?

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8-Point Checklist for Pastoral Body Care

body careStatistics tell us that pastors don’t take great care of their bodies. However, if we are to remain effective for the long-haul, we must pay careful attention to taking good care of our bodies.

Answer these 8 questions and determine how well you are caring for your body.

  1. Am I keeping my body weight at a reasonable level? Calculate your body mass index here?
  2. Do I regularly exercise (3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes)?
  3. Would others say I manage my stress well?
  4. Do I do some fun things outside of ministry?
  5. Do I take a full day off each week?
  6. Do I avoid guilt feelings when I take my day off?
  7. Do I take a real vacation each year?
  8. Am I able to disconnect from the phone, email, and computer for several hours at a time?

How did you do?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, what should be your next step to take better care of yourself?

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How Sleep Benefits a Leader’s Brain

Sleep. Ahhhhh. Wonderful, restful, sleep. Something we all crave and often don’t get enough of. For centuries scientists have pondered what sleep does for us, except to cure sleepiness and make us feel better. But in recent years neuroscientists have discovered significant benefits that sleep brings, especially to our brains. We leaders need our brains to function at their peak and sleep can help them do that. I highlight below how sleep benefits a leader’s brain with these three metaphors: a garbage truck, a wet painting, and a librarian.

Dog sleeping with alarm clock and sleeping mask

When we sleep (almost a third of our lives) our brains don’t actually shut off. In fact, they remain quite active. The neurons fire almost as often as in our waking hours.

First, when we sleep the fluid that circulates in our brain and our spinal cord acts like a garbage truck, hauling away toxins that have collected between our brain cells. When we sleep, our brain performs this housekeeping task. During the day, damaging molecules associated with normal neuronal degeneration collect in the spaces between the cells, called synapses. And when we sleep, the spaces open up a bit, thus allowing the fluid to ‘take the trash out.’

Second, our memories get strengthened. The process is called consolidation when our brain sends memories lying in our shorter term memory banks into the rest of the brain to solidify them into long term memories. It’s like a painting that that an artist paints. She will paint the picture, but for it to become permanent, she must allow time for the paint to harden. Likewise, sleep helps the brain ‘harden’ our memories.

Third, sleep acts like a librarian who re-shelves books from a disheveled library return cart found in every library. She makes order out of chaos when she puts them back on the shelves in their proper order. Sleep acts in the same way. It takes the chaotic, disconnected thoughts we’ve experienced during the day and makes order out of them, even helping form associations with various unrelated thoughts which enhances creativity.

So, sleep offers many benefits. Get some extra zzz’s tonight. Your brain will be glad you did.

And as King David wrote…

At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep…. (Ps 4.8, The Message)

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The Sleepy Leader’s Brain

God created sleep not only to cure sleepiness, but to serve our bodies and brains in many beneficial ways. Unfortunately, many leaders, especially pastors, try to lead without getting  adequate sleep and live with a sleepy leader’s brain. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains don’t work as well. Thus, we don’t lead at our best.


So what happens when we don’t get enough sleep, besides feeling sleepy? Here’s what the experts tell us happens to our brains when we don’t get adequate sleep.