Candles burning in a church background

As I reflect on the holiday season, a period filled with joy, celebration, and its own set of demands, I felt led to share my insights on navigating this intense period for ministry leaders, especially for local church pastors.

The Essential Nature of Rest

This time of the year, marked by Advent, Christmas, and the New Year, brings heightened responsibilities and various gatherings. The demands of these festive days make intentional rest not just a luxury but a necessity. I believe it is paramount to prioritize good sleep, practice effective sleep hygiene, and manage adrenaline consciously to approach the season with resilience and joy.

The Critical Role of Good Sleep

Through research, experts have learned that maintaining an average of seven to nine hours of good sleep per night is vital for well-being. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment and health issues. Sleep hygiene practices can help us rest well: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine, avoiding stimulating activities an hour or so before bed (such as screens), and creating a sleep-conducive environment (dark, quiet, cool) are essential steps for quality sleep. It is also important to engage in practices like reserving the bed for sleep, and avoiding work-related activities (such as email or sermon prep) in the sleeping area. 

Managing Adrenaline: A Key to Well-being

Ministry is an adrenaline-demanding job. This reality is often ‘below the radar’ for most ministry leaders in my experience. We are overtaxing our adrenaline and other stress hormones without realizing we are doing so, just to meet the demands of our role. Beyond sleep, managing our adrenaline is crucial, especially during the holiday season’s heightened demands. Stepping back from the busy flow of ministry demands, appraising a given situation, and deciding what level of pastoral response is required can be an enormously helpful practice in maintaining our physical and emotional wellbeing. Learning to discern which “fires” to pay attention to, and consciously choosing when to expend adrenaline helps in managing stress and fostering well-being. Practical strategies include limiting caffeine intake, handling unpleasant tasks promptly, and addressing conflicts early can lower adrenaline overarousal. Sufficient exercise (particularly non-competitive forms), along with sleep, are crucial for replenishing adrenaline and managing stress hormones. Contemplative Christian spiritual practices, such as Christian mindfulness, are also very helpful practices that sustain us during this particularly busy season.

A Pastoral Call to Self-Care and Thriving

As pastors, we must pace ourselves, embrace breaks, and seek support. Setting boundaries and intentionally creating space for self-care ensures we are not only serving our communities but also thriving personally. Taking care of yourself is, in fact, doing something vitally important for your family, staff, congregation, and community. Understanding the importance of rest, establishing healthy sleep hygiene, and managing adrenaline are key aspects of this self-care.

Embracing the Rhythms of Rest

In closing, as we navigate the festive season filled with celebrations and pastoral care demands, it is crucial to embrace the rhythms of rest. I encourage my fellow pastors to take breaks, find spaces to process difficult feelings, and avoid indefinitely carrying internal emotional stress. This holiday season, let’s reflect, replenish, and feel the deep sense of God’s sustaining presence in our journey of flourishing in ministry.