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Ministry-Related Anxieties
What can ministers do to reduce anxieties?
by Rev. Frank Schaefer


According to a very well-known survey, the number one fear in people's lives is fear of public speaking.

Of course, preaching is public speaking of an especially exacting kind as a preacher purports not just to speak for him or herself, but also for God on behalf of a sacred community.  Add to this the pressures of being on a public pedestal and being on-call and accessible 24/7 and you have many of the ingredients for a diagnosis of ministry-related anxiety.

How do anxieties surface in those who stand in ministry's public eye?  Symptoms range from talking to self (re-enacting  and "correcting" lines in sermons / conversations) over recurring disturbing dreams to fully-fledged sleep disorders and tightness in throat and chest.

One common recurring dream for pastors, for instance, is the "empty pulpit dream" in which one finds oneself in the pulpit, entirely unprepared, with the congregation eagerly waiting to hear a sermon.

Anxieties in ministry are more common than one would think.   It affects pastors, pastor's spouses, church staff, and even volunteer staff.   Especially in churches with larger attendances, it is not uncommon to hear lay leaders say: "please don't call on me to make an announcement in front of the congregation."

Is anybody immune to ministry-related anxieties?   Probably not; although certain personalities--such as extroverted types--will be less affected by such anxieties.

What can be done to reduce anxieties stemming from the public tasks in ministry? In mild cases of ministry-related anxiety, certain measures can be taken, such as taking time off from any ministry-related tasks. One must make sure to take complete days off (not just partial days) in order to get away physically and mentally.  In addition to a weekly day off, long vacations have shown to work better toward anxiety reduction than several short term vacations. In other words, full-time ministers should seek to take two 2-week vacations per year rather then taking several 3-4 day vacations.  Ministers struggling with ministry-related anxieties should also make sure to take Sundays off when they schedule vacations.  Another measure that works well in reducing ministry-related anxieties is seeking support from colleagues in peer groups, such as those found in the Clinical Pastoral Education model.

What can be done in advanced cases of ministry-related anxieties?
If anxieties are starting to affect one's physical health, as caused by sleep deprivation, irregular heart beat / blood pressure, it is absolutely imperative to  seek medical help.  This holds true also in cases of severe emotional symptoms, such as depression or racing thoughts.  Some ministers do very well with anxiety reducing medications such as anti depressants. Therapy has proven to be very helpful as well.

Ideas Shared by People like you...


Try Zoloft--it works wonders for me!


Reducing anxieties? Boundaries--set realistic boundaries and realistic expectations for ourselves and our ministry. Too many of my colleagues complain of 50-60 hour weeks when some of this work can be delegated to others or doesn't need to be done at all. I am learning to do just that. I tend to be a Lone Ranger and need to practice responsible use of my time and talents. I make it a priority to have my sermon and prayers printed on Friday so that Saturday is free. I tell people --never on a Monday--my day off. I know if I don't take care of me, my marriage, my sanity, no one else will. Sue in Ohio


TWO 2 week vacations, HA Ha Ha! This was one of the reasons cited for terminating my call a few years ago. I took a week of vacation before I had been in y position for a full year. "everone we know of has to work a year before the "earn" a week of vacation."

I am on antidepressants for the 3rd time in the past 15 years. They help, but the group experience is the most important support.

And how about this? I think my wife would sooner have our children be morticians or motor cycle mechanics than Ministers.

M, who feels like Jeremiah in the well.


"everyone we know of has to work a year before the "earn" a week of vacation." This same sentiment was expressed to me as I was negotiating the terms of my first call. An older and wiser colleague suggested that I ask if "everyone" also works Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving? Does "everyone" have only one day off per weekend (so that they can spend time with spouse and children) and does "everyone" only get that single weekend day when there are no weddings, funerals special church events or emergencies? Is "everyone" expected to be available to tend to a crisis 24/7? If the same rules apply to "everyone" then we should be more than willing to "earn" the right to a vacation with our first year of work. Needless to say, we cleared up the expectations around my need for vacation fairly quickly. SS in PA


I'd like some response to the issue of sabbatical. A few months ago, I brought the request to the council - just to help the church prepare for this time (3 years from now). They looked at me like I was nuts! I have been in ministry for 14 years - in 3 different churches, so have not "earned" one as yet serving one church. What have you experienced around this issue? Nancy in Wisconsin


Nancy in Wisconsin-You are not nuts and there are some good resources from Alban Institute Publications on how to plan and prepare for sabbaticals. Alban recommends two months of sabbatical every four years, but there are many options. I have had two sabbaticals and the first one should have been longer. When I added my vacation to it, it was three months. Next year I will have my third sabbatical. We also instituted this policy for the full time lay staff person. It is truly an economical investment in having people's marriages, or backs, or emotions or enthusiasm go bad and having to deal with their non-effectiveness under those circumstances! Sooner is better, and proceeding as if it is a given whose details will be worked out is the mindset to bring to the conversation. There may be some financial planning/saving/fund raising necessary; and sometimes, saving continuing education allotments will be part of the negotiating. But as long as you are going to make this first effort (YES!) then get the policy concept in place as well--for yourself and anyone who would follow. Aslanclan


Dear Nancy:

Our Synod is circulating a draft proposal of Sabattical Guidelines for Rostered Persons of our Synod. The preface cites Ezekiel 20.12, Leviticus 25.1-7, and Matthew 14.23. Sabbatical provides opportunities for in-depth learning and renewal as well as rest from labour. A sabbatical should be holistic, including time for prayer, reflection, rest, and care of the body, as well as developing gifts for ministry.

Definition: A sabbatical leave is a paid leave granted in recognition of the need for, or the beneficial effects of, time away from the regular duties of a call following a time of continuous service in that call.

Eligibility: Six continuous years in a full-time call in the same setting, or a proportionally longer period in a part-time call.

Duration: From three months to a year

Purpose: Professional growth and personal renewal, rest and relaxation

Return: The recipient shall agree to the regular duties of the call for at least one year following the leave. Provide a written report and reflection on the leave to the congregation.

It may be beneficial to establish a "sabbatical committee" in the congregation. A budgetary allotment to a sabbatical fund can help the congregation with expenses when the time comes (i.e. $50 a month will provide $3,600 plus interest to help pay for supply, extra expenses, etc. during the sabbatical leave).

These are only selections from the draft that is being circulated for comment but might help you out.

Shalom: Tom in Ontario


I am on probation in the UMC. Which means I am not ordained yet but serve as an ordained one. This year I write orders and will need some time to do so. That alone is anxiety producing. I am not taking vaction to do this as I will be working. After a complete career change, and a lot of life moves and changes, and money spent, my life is in the hands of the people of God, I pray that God is there! My church will be supportive, but the anixiety of planning to get away gets to me. I am starting with some of the questions now and reflecting each week. It is good just to have this place to write it down. Thanks for listening. no name no state.


All of these anxieties relate to not performing well and/or not being accepted or approved of. I'm not perfectly free of these anxieties, but I am reminded of two old (and rather vulgar) sayings.

To put one in the nicest terms, it's "Screw 'em if they can't take a joke." (I substitute "the gospel" for "a joke".)

The other is "Don't let the bastards get you down."

I have to remind myself over and over that although there is a legitimate place for constructive criticism, most of the criticism sent our way is a heap of bulldung. Our job as pastors is to be faithful to the calling God has placed in our lives. If someone's critical because we do evangelism in the corner bar, then they're the ones who are being unfaithful to the gospel. If somebody doesn't like the way my spouse's hair looks, they're the ones who are sinning. If someone spreads untrue gossip about me, they're the ones who should be facing the church board - not me.

Sure, this attitude has its own sinful extremes, namely an unwillingness to genuinely love others and a hardness in our hearts when it comes to being confronted with our own shortcomings or sin. However, given the absolute pettiness of most of the crud people criticize, it's best to say "Thank you for your feedback, I disagree."

I stand firmly on D.L.Moody's famous statement to criticism of his evangelistic methods: "I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it."

Come on, fellow pastors. Let's shake the dust off our feet and move on. If we're in churches that are so petty that they'd rather worry about a typo in the bulletin than about their neighbors who are going to hell (figuratively, literally, or both), it's time to give up our otherwise cushy (by world standards, although not by US professional standards) lives and move to a place that's hungry for the good news of Jesus.