Ministry can be stressful. You know that as well as I do. But there is hope for the crushing stress many church leaders face today—and we find this hope in the example of Jesus.
Nobody experienced greater stress than Jesus Christ. He was criticized constantly and pulled in so many directions. He had little privacy, and people often tried to kill him.
Yet Jesus’ ministry was characterized by amazing peacefulness. No matter how difficult the situation became, he modeled calmness and resilience in the face of outrageous demands.
Here are seven principles we can learn from Jesus’ example of resilience amid stress.
Remember how much God loves you.
God loves us extravagantly, and Jesus clearly knew this. He says this in John 10:17, “The Father loves me” (NLT). When you realize that God loves you and that nothing you ever do will stop his love, you have the foundation you need for resilience.
God’s love for you is the basis for your personal security. If you aren’t absolutely convinced God loves you unconditionally and completely, you’ll be easy prey for the disapproval of others and fall into people-pleasing.
Remember who you are.
Jesus never had doubts about his identity. In fact, 18 times in the Bible, he publicly defines himself by saying:
— “I am the light of the world.”
— “I am the son of God.”
— “I am the way.”
— “I am the truth.”
— “I am the life.”
— “I am the bread of life.”
When you don’t understand who you are, other people will define you. They’ll force you into a stress-inducing mold of their choosing. You’ll end up becoming the Christian leader everyone else wants you to be instead of who God wants you to be.
Know who you’re trying to please.
Trying to please everyone will cause you stress. You simply can’t do it. In fact, Jesus reminds us that no one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
As a pastor for over 40 years, I’ve realized I can’t please everyone in my congregation. Each person has a different expectation. The Bible says the fear of man is a trap. That’s why Jesus chose to focus on pleasing God, the Father. He said, “I can do nothing alone. I judge only the way I am told, so my judgment is fair. I don’t try to please myself, but I try to please the One who sent me” (John 5:30 NCV).
You likely hear from people on a regular basis about what you should be doing in your ministry, your family life, and so on. It can get overwhelming. But here’s the good news—it’s always the right choice to please God. Understanding this simplifies your life and reduces your stress in the process.
Know your calling.
If you want to be resistant to stress, you need to know exactly what God has called you to do with your life. Jesus described his sense of calling in John 8:14: “I know where I came from and where I am going” (NCV). Jesus understood his purpose, and he pursued it.
Everyone has a calling, whether you’re an accountant, a teacher, an actor—or a pastor. Every day, you need to ask yourself whether you are moving toward the unique calling God has for your life or if you’re moving away from it.
Focus on what matters most.
Jesus had a goal, knew what it was, and moved toward it with powerful resolve. Luke describes Jesus’ sense of focus like this: “As the time drew near for his return to heaven, he moved steadily onward toward Jerusalem with an iron will” (Luke 9:51 TLB).
Jesus knew he was going to Jerusalem to die. He was determined to do what God called him to do.
You have incredible spiritual potential. Often, the barrier to fulfilling that potential isn’t your talent. It’s that you haven’t settled on your calling.
The older I get, the more I realize: The key to effectiveness is selection. It’s focusing like a laser on what God has called you to do.
Spend time alone with God.
Prayer is one of the most important stress-relievers we have at our disposal. The Bible says it was Jesus’ habit to pray (Luke 22:39). Even Jesus needed time in his life to renew, reflect, and recharge. Jesus was convinced that no matter how busy he was, he needed to take time to be alone with God and pray.
We all need this habit in our lives. Start your morning with God instead of your phone, TV, or the radio. Set your mood with the good news.
Colossians 2:7 says, “Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him” (NLT). It’s easy to let your time with the Lord slide when your life gets busy, but if you plant your life in Christ every morning, you’ll soon find your stress level dropping.
Join a small group for support.
The first thing Jesus did when he started his ministry is form a small group. Mark 3:14 tells us, “He appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him” (CSB). Jesus realized we were never intended to handle the stress of ministry by ourselves. He made sure he had help.
Much of our stress is self-imposed. We think everything in our ministries depends on us. It doesn’t. God hasn’t called us to be the general manager of the universe.
The truth is, Saddleback outgrew me decades ago. I could never do it by myself. From the start, I looked for ways to give my ministry away—even my preaching. God didn’t intend any church to be a superstar show.
Stress is increasing throughout our culture, not just in ministry. Reducing your stress won’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality. These seven intentional steps can help you navigate stress the way Jesus did.