The Stress Snowball
The job of a pastor is stressful. So, how do we handle stress in ministry? Stress behaves like a snowball. Stress breeds more stress. This is why seemingly minor stressors can become massive triggers when they’re all put together. This is how it looks in our lives. We make a mistake at work which leads us to lash out at family which leads us to cry when we see a picture of an unadopted puppy online which leads us to break down in tears because we cannot find a matching sock. Usually, a mismatched sock is no big deal, but it may break you during a stress snowball. It has hundreds of different variations, but I’m sure you’ve seen this principle play out before.
During a stress snowball, you tend to:
- judge yourself harshly.
- allow basic decisions to become breakdowns.
- procrastinate simple responsibilities because doing a small task can seem like a big ask.
Stress is natural. However, severe stress has the power to become debilitating and life-altering. We all deal with anxiety to some degree so it’s pivotal that we learn how to recognize, reset, and redirect our stress-filled thought patterns for the sake of ourselves, our family, and our ministry.
Stress is how our brain deals with danger. So, your endocrine system creates dozens of different hormones designed to serve as chemical messengers to your brain. There is a powerful little hormone called cortisol. It’s released when your brain senses danger. Ultimately, cortisol is good at keeping you alive. It makes your heart rate rise, injects glucose into your muscles, pinpoints pain, and heightens your senses. Cortisol prevents you from walking into oncoming traffic, eating a flaming marshmallow, playing with a poisonous snake, or planning two lock-ins in the same month.
Here is the problem: stress isn’t supposed to be our default setting. You can’t live off cortisol. God doesn’t want these stress chemicals surfing through your body all the time. It’s harmful. However, constant negative thinking makes these chemicals flow freely. Our brains are not great at distinguishing authentic threats from imaginary threats. Thus, our thoughts can trigger the same reaction as a real life-or-death situation. If you imagine a threat, then your body will react like it’s real. Significantly, stressful thinking can derail your productivity and emotional availability.
Address the Stress
God doesn’t want that for you, so it’s important that you transform your thinking. Let’s study Paul’s advice for developing healthy thought lives that will teach us to address our stress in a godly way.
READ: Philippians 4:8-9
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
I want you to be able to show up for families, advocate for the hurting, write messages without writer’s block, and bring peace to the hurting. These things are nearly impossible when you don’t have peace in your own heart. How do we share something we don’t have ourselves? Let’ssa get some advice from the apostle Paul.
As Paul lays out the pathway to peace for his friends in Phillipi, he encourages them to break negative thought patterns. He encourages them to replace negative thoughts with positive virtues. “Whatever is true, noble, pure, right, admirable and lovely — think on these things,” Paul elaborates. This passage offers a replacement for mental torment. We stop stressful thoughts by focusing on virtues. We can’t just reject them; we must redirect them. The virtues listed in Philippians four should make up a filter for a healthy thought life.
Philippians 4: A Filter for a Healthy Thought Life
This means reliable and honest. We often fill our minds with lies and worst-case scenarios. (So often our biggest stressors are actually imaginary ones.) Paul encourages us to focus on what we know to be true and that alone. Stress is a waste of imagination.
This means something that’s worthy of respect. Don’t disrespect yourself or fill your mind with self-destructive thoughts. Focus on what’s noble and respectful— of others and yourself.
Right and Pure:
These thoughts focus on honoring God and others. Actively fight the urge to fill your mind with judgment towards others, animosity towards leadership, or impure impulses. Rather, think about what’s right and pure. If you wouldn’t want someone to read it, don’t think it.
Admirable and Lovely:
These are things that are pleasing or enjoyable. This simply means to think of things that make you happy. Don’t sweat the small stuff; rather, focus on all the amazing things around you. From puppies to pizza, there is so much that’s wonderful in our world. The same is true for your ministry. There are lovely stories all around you, reflect on them. People really appreciate all that you do, speak to them. There is a specific reason for your season, look for it. I assure you that it’s both admirable and lovely.
Redirect your negative thoughts
It’s easy to blame stress on outward circumstances like busy seasons, broken relationships, or a lack of money. However, those things didn’t cause your stress. They merely triggered it. Your stress started between your ears. A positive life starts with positive thoughts. Notice Paul didn’t just say, “Stop negative thoughts.” He suggested that we redirect them.
Don’t just reject negative thoughts; redirect them.
- Reject worry and redirect your thoughts to the peace found in God. Be still.
- Confidently reject critical self-talk and redirect your thoughts to the love and affirmation of God. Show yourself the same compassion God shows you. Be kind.
- Reject negativity and redirect your thoughts to all the amazing blessings God has put before you. Be thankful.
If you want to change your ministry, change your thinking. Center your daily thoughts on God. Reject the negative, and redirect towards the positive.
What should you do when stress snowballs out of control?
Firstly, consider scripture meditation.
This is when you open the Bible and invite God to illuminate his specific message for you. Since meditation is all about hearing from God, it’s smart to start with His Words. Simply approach the Bible mindfully. In these times, look for transformation instead of just information. Always open scripture meditation with a prayer that asks God to illuminate the words to you. Unlike biology, you do not have to study this alone. The Holy Spirit will guide you and help you find peace. Christian meditation is not about emptying yourself, it’s about being filled with the peace and presence of the Holy Spirit. Consider a guided mediation app like Calm, Smiling Mind, or Centering Prayer.
Secondly, get out of your head.
Stress tends to take place right between your ears, so how do we get out of those treacherous thought patterns? It’s not always as easy as “think positive thoughts.” Sometimes you have to stop them in their tracks. Thus, find an activity that stimulates your mind and body, then throw yourself into it. Perhaps it’s running, dancing, basketball, yoga, listening intently to worship music, playing the drums, or cooking. If you enjoy it, employ it during times of stress.
Finally, consider professional help.
We need to work together to stop the stigma associated with getting professional help. Some people need to work through life with the help of Jesus and a doctor. That’s okay. Some people need both prayer and prescriptions. That’s okay too. Some of us deal with anxiety and stress in physically and spiritually healthy ways to win battles with darkness. Others have an actual chemical imbalance within their body, where their stress messengers are constantly sending false signals to their brains. They need some people on their team to help fight that battle. Anxiety and depression go much further than nervousness and sadness. For some people, these feelings can be debilitation. If that’s the case, then it’s time to consider professional help.
Do you need to talk? We’d love to be there for you. Please reach out to our pastoral support team to set up a call today.
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LET’S TALK ABOUT IT!
The pastors on our team would love to learn more about you and your ministry to help you apply these leadership lessons in your church. Send us an email at Pastor@ForMinistryResources.com or click the button below to schedule a call with a pastor. We hope to hear from you soon!
THIS BLOG CONTAINS LEADERSHIP MATERIAL FROM THE PASTOR CIRCLE. WHAT IS THE PASTOR CIRCLE?
We recently asked ourselves, “how can we serve pastors more personally?” The Pastor Circle is the answer.
It’s a virtual small group community of pastors who understand what you’re going through and want to offer you godly support and guidance. We meet on Zoom once a month to listen to a short devotional and topic introduction, followed by a small group discussion. We hope to see you there next month!