It was my first Christmas at a new church as a worship leader. The year leading up to this Christmas season had involved a difficult move for my entire family, uncertainty, anxiety and depression. I felt like I barely survived that year, crashing and burning across the finish line.
My in-laws came to town to celebrate Christmas with us, and they treated my wife and I to a night at a hotel downtown. Not too long after we settled into our room, the physical toll of Advent services hit me like a wall of bricks. Massive headache. Crippling fatigue. Fever. Nausea. I could barely move. I couldn't eat. Even moderate sounds pained my head and irritated my stomach. Helpless, I spent more than half of our day away lying in bed alone while my wife sat by the window with a great view, reading quietly or on her laptop with headphones, catching up on her Food Network shows.
This was just one of the times the stress of ministry took a physical toll on my body, across the many places where I've served. When I fellowship with other ministry leaders, sadly, my stories of burnout and difficulty in the Church are not atypical, or even notable among their collective experiences.
In the United States, we have a tendency to idolize (measurable and visible) success and work ethic, sometimes without counting its cost in the rest of our lives. In the churches of the States, we sometimes spiritualize those values and correlate them to faith, making our work for the Lord measurable and visible (e.g. if a pastor works 60 hours a week in his office, he loves God more than the pastor who does not).
What's unfortunate, however, is that if you compare statistics of personal health between pastors and other full-time employed churchgoers, it does not paint an enticing picture of the pastorate for those who may be aspiring to it. One particular statistic that stood out to me in Fail (pg.46-47) was that 45% of pastors have experienced burnout or depression to the point of needing to take a leave of absence. It can't be argued that worship leaders have it better. That job description was once rated #5 on CNNMoney's list of "Stressful Jobs That Pay Badly." Depending on the degree of pastoral duty, a worship leader may need to deal with two arenas of massive expectations.
I don't want to get on a soapbox right now, so let me say the following concisely, speaking from both statistics and experience: ministry leadership is tough. It's not business, and ministry leaders need to be supported, cared for and given rest, or such statistics will continue, maybe even get worse. If you're not a ministry leader, care for and support your ministry leaders. If you're a ministry leader, For God's Sake, Rest!.
One ministry that has helped me immensely in my time in ministry is the Worship Survival Guy, a branch of Standing Stone Ministries. His availability and presence in my times of difficulty has been integral. He knows and understands my specific challenges and pain, and regularly counsels me and lifts me up in prayer. Such is just a sample of what ministries like Standing Stone can do.
I know many churches are giving a period of rest to their staff right now (it is Christmas break). But as you enter a new season, consider the importance of rest. Consider the ministry of a place like Standing Stone. Also, you can consider donating to Standing Stone and/or the Worship Survival Guy.
Have a restful New Year!