One night, during a busy season of speaking engagements, I suddenly stopped preaching before the sermon was over. I turned to the pastor and said tersely, "I can't go on!" I had come to my limit. I felt no physical pain, just a deep sense of fatigue. I had experienced the feeling before, but never to the extent of being forced to bow to that weariness so abruptly and so publicly.
Soon after that incident, I began having difficulty sleeping. I felt stinging sensations and numbness. My heart would begin beating very fast at times. Most frightening of all, I had moments of intense anxiety. For a month or more, I was entangled in something I had never experienced before and could not shake.
This crisis started while I was pastoring in Chester, Pennsylvania. I was also a husband, the father of two young children, and a Ph.D. candidate. I was busy. Like most pastors, too busy.
The busy church has become the norm in America, and with it the hurried pastor. It almost feels wrong if the church calendar has an empty space, if members aren't involved in three or more ministries, or if we don't sense a quickened pace in our conversations, meetings, and worship. Congregational expectations are high, but pastors' expectations of themselves are even higher. For many, reputation, self-image, and the perception of their standing with God are at stake.
In my own pastoral experience, the resulting overload expresses itself in three basic ways: over-scheduling at church, under-scheduling with family, and no scheduling when it comes to doing things for my own personal nourishment.
It was during this period that I turned to Mark's Gospel. There I found practices that have reduced my stress level and changed the way I approach my personal and vocational ...