Church Leaders: 5 Ways To Set A Healthy Pace Of Living


Billy Graham is turning 96 this month. I recently spent some time thinking about his life and rereading his biography, and as I read, I wondered, “What is Billy’s biggest accomplishment in life?” Was it the biggest crusade he led? Meeting with and influencing world leaders? Preaching and praying at presidential funerals? After thinking it through, I’ve come to a conclusion. 

Billy’s biggest accomplishment is the consistency of his ministry over a long period of time. 

“Run to win the race.” That’s a line so many of us in ministry have heard and quote. We turn to it when we need to sprint out of the gates. We reference it when we talk about finishing strong. But what does running a winning race mean when we talk about a course that lasts a lifetime?

I’ve been in and around ministry for a long time now. I’ve seen lots of people start well in ministry. They come out of the blocks as fast as Usain Bolt. I’ve seen a lot of people finish well. They sense the end of their career and hit the gas for a final sprint to the finish. But I have seen very few run the entire race well. 

As I think on and work with teams and pastors, I’ve become fascinated with the few who can run the entire race well. What is it that makes them different? What sets a pastor apart to be able to live his entire life? I believe it is the ability to set a manageable pace for life.

"The ability to set pace in your life will set apart your ministry for life." [click to tweet]

Unfortunately, some of the searches we do here at Vanderbloemen are searches that come on the heels of a pastoral burnout, moral failure, or unfortunate departure. Sometimes it’s a money scandal, sometimes it’s sexual, sometimes it’s abuse of staff or congregants. But no matter the reason for the blow up, there’s almost always one common denominator: the pastor who fell was tired. Tired pastors make bad choices. Burned out pastors are low-hanging fruit for the enemy. 

Through seeing the legacy of Billy Graham, and our experience walking through the wreckage following pastoral crashes, I’ve come to believe that keeping a healthy pace is the difference maker for a lifelong fruitful ministry. 

If you’re like I was in pastoral ministry, you’re probably out of balance and don’t really know where to start. There are thousands of resources out there and lots of coaches you can hire. But to get you started, here are a five simple pointers that have helped me as I continue to try and achieve a balanced pace for my life and ministry. 

1. Every day matters.

A life well lived is made up of thousands of well-lived days. Setting a healthy pace for life begins with setting a pace for each day. Do you have a plan for pacing your daily routine? 

The key to that routine is a good beginning. Every effective pastor I know has a disciplined morning routineBrennan Manning is credited with saying, “Quiet time with God is like manna from heaven. It comes daily, and it disappears with the dawn.” I believe that a healthy pace for each day originates with a healthy beginning of the day. Martin Luther said if he had a regular day, he would pray for an hour before going to work. And if he had a really busy day, he would pray for two hours before work. The older (and busier) I get, the more convinced I am that devotional time must be the first thing done in the morning. I cannot claim perfection, but I made a promise to myself years ago that the first words out of my mouth would be prayers to the Savior, and that the first words I read each morning would be from the Word of God. Even when that’s only a brief prayer and a verse of the day, I cannot remember a time this practice has failed me. Conversely, when I’m having a bad, hectic day that feels out of control, I can without exception draw a straight line back to my morning. When are you setting aside time daily to restore your soul?

2. Set a weekly plan.

You’ve probably heard the line, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same is true with a lifetime of pace. After setting goals for each day, I believe healthy pastors take time to look at each week. Whether that is a date night with my wife, or time away, or exercise goals, what am I going to do each week? Setting a pace and a punch list for your week will allow you to take a regular measurement for how you’re doing with work life balance, and will require you to schedule events (like date night) that can easily be put off without the discipline of a weekly plan. Adrienne and I usually take a look at the week each Sunday night, and set our plan accordingly. Do you have a set time to go over the weekly calendar with your spouse or family?

3. There is a pace for every season.

As a natural extension, after planning weeks, the next question to address is seasonal pace. How have you mapped out what you will do each season? There are different times in life that are just going to be busy and you're not always going to be able to take a chunk of time off, but we try and block out seasons – building around when we know things are not going to be busy. For instance, at Vanderbloemen, we know that during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, not many people are going to call us for staffing needs. So that is when we have our all-team onsite meeting, where we take a time to rest, strategize, and plan for the upcoming year.

4. Take the long view… and write it down.

Keeping pace also means making annual goals and keeping a written record of them. I read a study a while ago which stated that only 3% of young married couples make a financial household budget and keep a written record of it. The study went on to say that of the 3% who do write down their budget, over 97% make or beat their budgetary goals. What would happen if you wrote a pace goal down? What would happen if you wrote annual fitness goals down? This January, instead of making a resolution to lose 10-15 pounds, what if you wrote down, “Over the next 26 weeks, I want to lose 13 pounds.” And every Friday you weighed in to see if you lost a half pound. The same could be said for sleep goals, date goals, events with kids, etc. Think about keeping a healthy lifetime pace and you’ll know the goal you need to set. 

5. Lead your team to a healthy pace.

Finally, once you’ve gotten a good sense of your own pace, the natural question a leader should ask is, "How do you lead others in keeping a healthy pace?" I'm pretty bad at this. I'm notorious for sending out emails at four in the morning and staying up way too late working. But, we have a rule around our office that kind of sets pace by setting expectations. In our office, an email means, "I'd like to hear back in 24 hours or less," a text means, "I really need to hear back soon," and a phone call means, "pick it up if you possibly can." It's amazing how few people abuse that system. People really don't call unless they need to, and they text when they do. When your team knows communication expectations it doesn't matter what time you send an email out if your sleep schedule is different than others. Setting common expectations, writing them down, and doing an annual check in will help you set and keep your pace and lead your team into a place of healthy living. 

The Lord Himself, the busiest guy that there is, took a day off. He kept pace. He expects the same from you.  As an old friend told me a long time ago, "God said he wanted a Sabbath, and He's gonna get his Sabbath. It's just a question of whether He gets it from you every week, or in one final payment with an early ending."

Let's all commit ourselves to making lifestyle and healthy pace a priority for our ministry. If you do, you’ll find yourself in the rare few who start well, finish well, and run the entire race in victory.


What tips do you have for setting a healthy pace for yourself, your family, and your team?

If you liked this, then you’ll also like 10 Ways To Prevent Burnout In Ministry.