If we could step back and take a good look at our habits and lifestyle we would have to say the price I'm paying isn't worth it. It is ironic that often the life we believe God has called us to live is actually the stumbling block that keeps us from being what Christ called us to be.
The writer of Hebrews encouraged us to remove anything that hinders us or causes us to stumble in our spiritual life. Yet, it's hard to eliminate the trip wires when we are not even aware of them. Two of the most critical stumbling blocks that pastors seem oblivious to, are the way we eat and the amount of sleep and rest we get.
This was brought to my attention recently when I heard that one of the church planters I coach had recently been bed-ridden for a month with depression. I called him "super pastor" because he worked three jobs and was planting a church! I didn't realize how it was affecting his mental and physical health. At the same time another pastor I coach confided that he was having difficulty with depression and anxiety. As he described his lifestyle I realized he was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. He was the text book of what not to do. And he is not alone in his struggles.
We hear much about healthy eating but little is mentioned about sleep depravation. Yet, no single behavior, more fundamentally influences our effectiveness in the waking life than sleep. Recent medical studies indicate that to be effective during the day, you should average between 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night. The average for most upper level leaders, managers, and pastors is six or fewer hours of sleep a night. The Way We're Working Isn't Working cited studies that show failure to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night causes us to:
- Be less efficient at work and more dangerous behind the wheel of a car.
- Be less able to respond creatively to problems and opportunities, to be less original, flexible and divergent in our thinking and thus less likely to generate new ideas.
- Undermine the quality of our lives and make us more vulnerable to illness. Our immune response drops significantly among people who sleep less than seven hours a night. A study of 80,000 nurses over 25 years found that there was an increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer and coronary heart disease for those who did not get the average seven hours a sleep a night.
Yet most pastors wear lack of sleep as a badge of honor. They push themselves without realizing the consequences of their work habits and driven lifestyle will only hurt their ministry, family and congregation in the long run. Here are some suggestions that might help avoid these pitfalls.
- Honestly examine your life, schedule and sleeping habits. In surveys, workers said they average close to 7 hours of sleep a night and yet when their life was examined they discovered that they were actually getting less than six hours of sleep.
- Make it a priority to go to bed at a reasonable time. Your body needs at least 7 hours to recuperate from the previous day.
- Take short power naps in the afternoon. They are very good for your health and for your production in the afternoon and evening.
- Take vacations and spiritual retreats. These are critical for the physical, emotional and spiritual health for all of us, especially pastors who often fail to take time away from church.
- Avoid setting an unreasonable work schedule for yourself and your staff that lays the foundation for unhealthy expectations from your congregation.
- Recruit an elder or spiritual coach to hold you accountable for your rest and healthy schedule.
- Get time management help from a coach or mentor.Several pastors I have coached said that they just have a difficult time getting everything done. Yet when we examined their schedule, we discovered plenty of activities that were unnecessary. Get rid of the stumbling blocks that keep you from getting the sleep you need! Eliminate distractions and manage your time better. Choose to do things only you can do. Delegate the rest.