5 Factors To Remember When Powering Down
Last fall I came across an article that shared the news that a Japanese woman died from overworking – she had clocked in 159 hours in overtime in the month leading up to her death. As I read the circumstances surrounding her death, I realized that as pastors and leaders, we all have the potential to overwork ourselves in such a way that might not kill us physically, but could harm us emotionally, relationally, and even spiritually.
It has become the norm for many in ministry to be plugged in 24/7. So how do we keep ourselves from becoming a tragic statistic? Here are five factors for leaders to remember when powering down:
1. It must be scheduled
Over the years, I have been involved in the negotiations of compensation and benefit packages for new hires. And in certain situations, I've advised pastors or leaders to ask for an appropriate amount of vacation or even for “unlimited” vacation. Many elders or staff in HR who hear that statement cringe.
But an organization hiring the right person will avoid hiring a candidate who will end up abusing that policy. If they are a leader that you feel would abuse that policy, then you shouldn’t hire them. If the new hire is worth his or her pay, then the church or organization will not have trouble with the pastor or leader taking too much time off; often they will actually have to remind them that they need to step away and power down. Maybe your church isn't ready for an “unlimited” vacation policy right now; regardless, the key is to make sure a pastor has healthy benefits when it comes to personal time off.
Novelist Anne Lamott once said, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” Her words are spot on. Many leaders either choose to work unhealthy schedules because they feel they have to be accessible at all times or others stress about the fact that they must be accessible at all times. At Vanderbloemen Search Group, one of my roles is to interview pastors and leaders from all over the world and from all different denominations or backgrounds. Over and over I hear the sad stories of leaders who have burned out. Many leaders and pastors have left the ministry all together due to unrealistic expectations.
No matter your situation, we all need to take time to unplug from our day-to-day work responsibilities.
2. It helps us to be present
Being present can be difficult for many people until it is almost too late. The key to being present is to realize it when you are not present. Once you realize that you have drifted away from what is in front of you, then do the second most important thing, bring yourself back into the present. I know this sounds easy but it is a difficult discipline for many pastors.
Be present in the moment whether in your quiet time with God, playing with your children, or on a date with your spouse. The helpful tips would be to take out whatever is distracting you from being present. For many people in our culture today, technology continually presses for our attention. Take the time to remove the distractions of a cell phone, a laptop, or even video games and enjoy the benefits of being present.
If you're finding yourself struggling to be present and using technology as escapism, download our free resource on 10 Ways To Prevent Burnout Ministry.
3. It helps us focus on important relationships
No, I am not talking about the connections you have made online. I am talking about your relationship with God. I am talking about the old-fashioned face-to-face relationships that are much needed in our daily lives. A statement that was helpful to me years ago was that “the most important and fulfilling relationships that I will ever experience are the ones that are right in front of me.” Those words have proven to be true in my life and work.
I am no expert on this part. Often, I have found myself to be so engaged in the work I was doing on my laptop or some other device that I have missed opportunities to interact with some of the most important people in my life. In this ever-connected culture that we live and work in, we need to find balance by unplugging from the work world and focus on the relationships that are right in front of us. Set times on your schedule to help you keep this in balance. If it is not scheduled, it may not happen. Be intentional.
"In this ever-connected culture that we live and work in, we need to find the balance and intentionality of taking a break to unplug from the work world and focus on the relationships that are right in front of us."
4. It helps us find solitude
When some leaders and pastors read a statement or article about solitude, it often seems that taking time for themselves is in some strange way unbiblical, selfish, or even frivolous. Should a leader or pastor take the time to indulge in solitude? The answer is “yes!” If in the past, you have felt guilty about making space for your own personal quiet time, then now is the time to change your mindset.
Begin to look at your quiet time as a time to nourish your soul and replenish your energy. We all need a break in this fast-paced and challenging day. I love that even in Scripture we see that Jesus took the time to be alone. He used those times to reconnect with His Father, to pray, to contemplate, to agonize, and to be quiet. I’m not sure I can give a better example of how important solitude is in our daily lives. Create space in your schedule and take the time needed to focus on you and what God has for you. Embracing your need for quiet is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself and to those around you. Don’t forget to remove all of the distractions.
5. It could save a life
Many of us have heard stories of pastors that have died unexpectedly at an early age. According to a study by the State University of New York at Oswego, those who take an annual vacation reduced their risk of an early death by 20%; those who did not actually increased their chances by 26%. You can do your health good by taking the time to schedule and take a break.
Now, some people take a vacation but they do not feel like they can actually unplug. If you do not take time to unplug from the everyday routines of work, then you will not experience the full benefits of stepping away from all work responsibilities. You may think your church or team can’t do without you. If so, you are training your team to be dependent on you. This will eventually limit the growth of any church or organization. Trust your team and give them the opportunity to serve or lead in ways that will help you fully unplug. If you take the time to experience the full benefits of a vacation, then when you return, the church will benefit from having a leader who is refreshed, rejuvenated, and refueled to move into the next season of their ministry. The benefits have been proven to be invaluable to the pastor and to the church and the team they lead.
According to a 2014 study by lender OnDeck, few small business owners take a day off. This caused exhaustion, impatience, poor decision-making, and illness. According to experts from the University of Pittsburgh, people are more satisfied in life with built-in vacations and will return to work more energized and focused.
Learning to power down in such a demanding culture as ours is an important skill that every pastor needs. If we take the time to unplug in an intentional way, our lives will become richer and we will experience the fulfillment that God has offered to us all.
"If we take the time to unplug in an intentional way, our lives will become fuller and we will experience the fulfillment that God has offered to us all."
How has your church offered ways for your staff to unplug and power down?