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Conquering Dandelions: Stress Management for Women in Ministry

By Joann Butrin

If you are a woman in ministry, and the sensation of wanting to quietly slip out the back door of your life creeps up more often than the dandelions in your front yard, you should read this article. If you feel like PMS, pastoring, and pampers are synonymous, then it’s time for some action.

Stress is an inevitable part of most people’s lives; but add ministering to others, figuring out your role as a preacher, mother, wife, student, teacher, friend, confidante, and general fixer of all things, and you might qualify as a star scorer on the life-stress scale.

Stress can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, resentment, depression, anxiety, and ultimately burnout. Stress can take a toll, not only emotionally, but also physically, causing a host of symptoms such as high blood pressure, gastric ulcers, insomnia, headaches, and aches and pains related to muscle tension.

When pastors’ wives were asked to name the things that cause the most stress in their lives, the most common responses were: balancing the demands of the congregation with the responsibilities of raising children, being a supportive wife, keeping an organized household, and feeling guilty for not giving enough time for any of these roles. Other responses included: feeling frustrated at being relegated a lesser role while feeling the same call to ministry as one’s husband, feeling unappreciated in the support role of pastor’s wife, feeling drained by the constant schedule demands that go with ministry, and feeling isolated and alone due to taboos concerning friendships in the church.

Single women in ministry, though often not having the family pressures, feel they tend to overcommit, then become burned out by too much of a load. Or they feel they are often asked or expected to do more than married women in ministry do because they don’t have family obligations. An increasing number of women today are serving in ministry leadership roles and face the challenge of juggling family responsibilities and ministry demands.

Some women expressed a need to work harder and do better to prove themselves worthy to minister in a traditionally male-dominated profession.

Despite the variety of stressors, a common theme throughout the questioning was that of guilt–guilt for harboring negative feelings about ministry and people demands; guilt for not being there for the children; guilt for feeling jealous of a husband’s freedom in ministry; guilt for not spending more time with the Lord.

A beginning point at bringing the effects of stress on your life under control is first identifying the three things that stress you the most. Once those are identified, look at them realistically. Writing them down is helpful. Some women found it difficult to figure out what it was that was stressing them–they just felt stressed. Working on something vague is tough, so make that list.

If guilt is number one, start by asking yourself, Is there really a reason for guilt, or is it self-imposed? We often put a lot of shoulds into our lives–carryovers from what society or our parents tell us is the right way to do things. If it is guilt over time not spent with your children, examine the time you do spend. Are there ways to make your time with them more meaningful? Can you arrange your schedule to be more available? Often kids just need to know you are nearby if they need you. If you are feeling guilty about negative feelings over the demands people place on you in your ministry role, examine why that is so. Are the people really being difficult or are there just too many demands coming at the same time?

Most ministers, regardless of gender, start off trying to be all things to all people. Experience usually proves that there are limits to what we can give. Set some boundaries for yourself. The best investment you might make is an answering machine to screen calls. Set up times when you will take calls and when you won’t. You may need to make your home off limits; and, if people wish to see you, set a day and time to be available at church. People and their needs can be draining of your time and your emotional energy, and setting boundaries as to how much you can handle is appropriate. Your husband may need to be the buffer between the church’s expectations and those of you and your family.

You need people in your life who will encourage you. Time spent with them leaves you feeling energized rather than drained. These are people with whom you have reciprocal time to talk about yourself as well as listen to them.

On the list of things that bring you the most stress, write in the three things that give you the most pleasure–lunch with a close friend, reading a novel, working in the garden, taking a walk alone, (OK, so put the kids on their bikes to ride beside you. They’ll ignore you but consider it time spent together.)

Time management often goes a long way in reducing stress–a daytimer really does work. Even though schedules may go awry, arranging your time for an hour here or there just to do what you’ve written on your list is really important. Plan a date with your husband, even if it’s once in 2 weeks or once a month. Spend time anticipating it and planning to make it a special event. Write down the children’s activities and divide attendance and car-pooling responsibilities with your husband. Just writing these things in your schedule can often bring some order into the seeming chaos of your life.

Some authors suggest taking mini-vacations, which may be only brief mental or visual excursions to look at, savor, or mentally imagine something that brings joy and relaxation to an otherwise crazy day. Running through days with frenzied activity can cause us to miss much of what God has put around us to enjoy. Savor the moments, smell the roses, do more hugging. These can help relieve the stress and pressure of the day.

People in full-time ministry are often dealing with deadlines–articles to be written, sermons to be prepared, ceremonies to plan. Deadlines bring stress, but this kind of stress can often work in our favor. The pressure of having to get something done can cause adrenaline to flow and actually enhance our creativity. Even if the time is tight, scheduling (the daytimer thing, again) writing, and preparation time can reduce the stress so your day doesn’t end up being overloaded.

Most important, when writing out the day’s plan, a priority on the list is time spent with the Lord. The temptation to stay in bed a few extra minutes and have devotions later usually results in not getting to it at all. There is no better stress reducer than putting on some worship music, reading and meditating on Scripture, and talking with the Father.

If the screaming baby demands a quick jump-start in the morning, take a few minutes to drive by a lake or a place of beauty. Pull over and enjoy a few moments with the Savior. Let His presence flood your being, revive your spirit, and bring calm and peace to your outlook for the day.

Stress–there is plenty of it. Demands, schedules, deadlines, difficult situations, and people–like dandelions–will not go away while active in ministry. But dandelions can be kept at bay when we take measures to overcome them. We can reduce the effects of stress and even use it to make us more valuable to the ministry, to our families, and most important to the Father.


JoAnn Butrin, Ph.D., is director of HealthCare Ministries for the Assemblies of God, Springfield, Missouri.

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