handle the pressures of ministry

Of all the mistakes I made as a young leader, I think the most surprising and the most costly mistake was knowing how to handle the pressure of ministry.

Ministry brings pressure that seems to be unique to the calling. 

It’s not that I hadn’t experienced pressure before.

I went through university working part time and often taking a extra courses to complete the program early.

In my brief time in law, I had to prepare for court almost every day, faced judges who were not impressed with lawyers, dealt with big clients who had high expectations and lawyers and partners who were looking for you to win. It was pressure (I loved it), but it was a different kind of pressure.

I love ministry and am so thankful to have been called into it, but with it comes pressures that is well, just different.

You feel the weight. 

As a leader, you need to get your mind and heart around why ministry is so challenging.

Here’s my theory as to why ministry is such a pressure cooker for many. (I wrote about it in greater detail here).

Ministry combines three areas of life that are intensely personal:

Your faith

Your work

Your community

Because of that, it gets confusing.

What you do is what you believe.

What you believe is what you do.

Your friends are also the people you serve and lead.

Throw your family into the mix (because they believe what you believe and are friends with the people you/they lead and serve) and bam – it’s even more confusing.

Because of this, things that normally happen ‘at work’ very seldom stay ‘at work.’

The pressure, if not handled well, can lead to problems that impact your home, your life, and even your faith, as Michael Lukaszewski so accurately points out in this post.  

And there’s a lot at stake. Those who don’t take the path of self care end up taking the path of self-medication. They develop addictions and habits that lead them away from God and others. And sometimes those habits end up costing them their families and their ministries.

There’s a lot at stake.

Here are six that have helped me learn to handle the pressure of ministry well (if you want more, I wrote about these factors in slightly greater detail here).

1. Understand the perfect storm of work/faith/community. Church world is the only place I know of where what you believe is what you do and the people you serve are also your friends. You need to understand this. Understanding why something is emotionally confusing is the first step toward untangling the confusion.

2. Find friends who aren’t in your church or organization. Be friends with the people you live with and serve. But find some friends you can talk to about anything. You don’t need many – even two or three is plenty, but they can be invaluable. If you only have friends ‘inside’ the church, there’s always a dual relationship. So develop some friendships in which you can talk honestly. It’s healthy. An easy choice is to find a peer (pastor or key volunteer) in another church or community.

3. Don’t base tomorrow’s decisions on today’s emotions. This one is so simple but so often missed. Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. Just don’t. Go to bed. Pray about it. Call a friend. Wake up in the morning and then make the decision. Or wait a week. Don’t make the decision Until. You. Calm. Down. You’ll thank yourself later.

4. Seek a Christian counselor. I’ve gone to a counselor numerous times over the last 12 years. I’m pretty sure it’s why I’m still in ministry and why I’ve got a solid marriage today. Don’t think of it as an expense. Think of it as an investment. Your spouse, kids, church and colleagues will be grateful you sought help.

5. Develop a devotional life that has little to do with work. I keep talking about this because it’s so important and so many Christians don’t have a solid devotional life. Here’s why: one of the common casualties of serving in the church is your devotional life. You get too busy to read your bible. Or you ‘cheat’ and make your sermon or lesson prep your devotional time as well. Don’t. God loves you for who you are, not for what you do.

6. Develop a hobby or interest outside of work. Or you might say, get a life. I struggle with this (because I love what I do), but if you have a hobby like photography, hiking, painting, woodworking, golf, skiing, cycling – something to get your mind and heart into fresh space, you will be richer for it. I cycle. I also write. And I love to travel. They’re all good for my soul.

How are you experiencing the pressures of ministry. How are you dealing with it in a healthy way?

This post is the last of a series of posts on mistakes I made as a young leader. For the rest of the series click below:

Young Leader Mistake #2: Tying My Self-Worth to Progress.

Young Leader Mistake #3: Inadequate Leadership Development

Young Leader Mistake #4: Trying to Help Everybody

Young Leader Mistake #5: Misjudging Trust


  1. Emmanuel Paul on April 3, 2021 at 2:28 pm

    Thanks for helping me with this powerful knowledge

  2. Benjamin Okoffo on December 23, 2020 at 10:36 pm

    Thanks for helping me, am so grateful for this information. This is what I was looking for thanks so much

  3. Gwaku Franko on August 11, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for helping me, am so grateful for this information. I pray that it may sink in my spirit and soul.

  4. Christina Kee on August 3, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    Love this series. Thanks so much for sharing. Your content is unbelievably helpful.

  5. Cha on July 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Thank you for this! Cheers from the Philippines.

  6. Rachel Blom on July 10, 2013 at 2:50 am

    This series was really helpful, thanks for sharing your life lessons!

    • cnieuwhof on July 10, 2013 at 6:34 am

      So glad Rachel!

  7. Lissie on June 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

    This is great stuff. I’m going to share this with our church staff. Thanks

  8. jpserrano on June 21, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Carey, you have a great list here. I might add #7. Have a colleague/clergy friend who you can share the trying times with.

    • cnieuwhof on June 24, 2013 at 9:38 am

      Excellent. It’s what I mean by ‘find friends’ but you said it clearly. 🙂

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