What To Do When Life And Ministry Feel Overwhelming

Life feels overwhelming right now. But even when we're experiencing a good kind of overwhelming, we can’t live there for long. If we don’t deal with it properly, it has the potential to go really bad, really fast.

Life feels overwhelming right now. Go ahead and admit it.

That alone will help you feel better.

There’s so much going on. So many new problems and challenges. And, along with them, so many new opportunities for ministry.

Some of my own feelings of being overwhelmed are the second kind. I’m not responding to severe personal losses like so many are experiencing, I’m just trying to adapt to massive new realities in life, faith and leadership.

But even when we’re experiencing a good kind of overwhelming, we can’t live there for long. If we don’t deal with it properly, it has the potential to go really bad, really fast.

So what do we do, especially as followers of Jesus and church leaders, when life gets to be too much to handle?

1. Be Proactive Whenever You Can

There’s a reason this point includes the qualifying words “whenever you can.”

Many, maybe most efficiency experts like to tell us that you should only do what you choose to do. They use wonderful-sounding phrases like, “Don’t let anyone else make your decisions for you” and “Does it spark joy?”

As if life works that way.

The reality is, there are a lot of things in our lives that we can’t control. Babies need to be fed and changed. Deadlines must be met. Medical emergencies must be responded to. It’s naïve at best (maybe privileged, at worst) to act like everyone can snap their fingers and become proactive over all or most of the events in their lives.

But it’s equally wrong to throw up our hands in resignation and skeptically assume that we have no choices at all. There are always (always!) choices, even in the most hectic or dire of circumstances. After all, the Apostle Paul wrote letters that would become Bible books while cold, chained and imprisoned. As he correctly reminded us, even when major segments of our lives seem out of our control, “God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9 NIV).

What areas of your life can you take by the hand right now, and push toward a desired future? Concentrate on those.

No one will ever be in control of everything – nor should we want to be – but we can be more proactive than we are right now.

2. Reduce Clutter

For many years my desk, office and home spaces were cheerfully busy. Some might say cluttered (I wouldn’t, but some might).

That was fine – even stimulating – when my schedule was simpler.

But as my schedule has gotten busier and more cluttered it has become necessary for the other aspects of my life to become simpler and more efficient.

When life itself is cluttered, a clean workspace and life space are no longer options, they’re necessities.

3. Design Long-Term Solutions

Sometimes we have to kick up the pace. There’s a deadline to meet, an emergency to respond to, or an opportunity to take advantage of.

That’s what we all did at the beginning of this pandemic. But that was months ago. And we still have months ahead of us. Years, if we count the multiple levels of societal upheaval that will certainly follow the pandemic. (I’ll be writing more about that soon.)

We can’t stay in sprint mode. If you are, slow down. Take a rest. Change your pace for the long run.

For more about this, check out my previous article, When A Sprint Becomes A Marathon: Pastoring In A Long-Term Pandemic.

4. Say “No” More Often

I serve a limitless God. But I am not him.

I have limits. Limits of time, energy, finances and more.

When I’m at my best, I acknowledge and live within those limits. When I’m not at my best, I push those limits. Sometimes past the  breaking point.

One of the principles that helps me live within my limits is to say “no” more often. Even to good things. Even to things I really want to say “yes” to.

“No” is empowering. It creates space. It gives me time. It forces me to prioritize.

After all, if I’m going to say “no” more often, I also need to decide in advance what I will say “yes” to, and why.

5. Ask For Help

We know this.

As church leaders, we tell others this:

  • “A burden kept is doubled, a burden shared is halved.”
  • “Many hands make light work.”
  • “Stop being stubborn and ask for help, dummy!” (That may just be me.)

But we forget it so often.

It’s especially (and ironically) true for church leaders. People who love helping others are far more likely to neglect asking for help ourselves.

Stop trying to do life and ministry alone. We’re not built to carry our own burdens by ourselves, let alone help others carry theirs without a team to share the burden.

Ask God.

Ask friends.

Ask family.

Ask a professional, if you need to.

If the task is important enough to do, it’s important enough to ask for help.

(Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim | Unsplash)

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3 thoughts on “What To Do When Life And Ministry Feel Overwhelming”

  1. I realized lately that I need to do #5 in order to do #3. I need a break, and people are willing to help. In that break, I hope to be free to dream and brainstorm. Why does it take me too long to find out people want to help?

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