Stress Management Series

“Getting on Top of Stress in Ministry: An Overview”
by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack®
Vol. 11Stress Management


    1. Considering Stress Matters

      • Study Series Objective:To develop and present leadership skills for managing stress in Christian ministry and everyday life: (1) by exploring ways to understand stress and its causes; (2) by examining methods for guarding against excessive stress and burnout in church life and leadership; and (3) by developing strategies for lifelong coping with stress.

      • Stress Texts at the Start:
        Matt. 6:33-34–But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.2 Cor. 4:8-9–We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.1 Pet. 5:7–Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
      • Contemporary Thoughts:
        “Stress can be fantastic. Or it can be fatal. It’s all up to you. As well as respecting the dangers of stress, you can learn to harness its benefits.” (from The Joy of Stress by Dr. Peter Hanson)“Don’t let the alligators get you! A motto for those who have too many people or things in a tug-of-war for your time and attention?”  (from a SkillTrack® cartoon)“It is better to bend than to break.” (Aesop)
      • Stress–Short-Term/Long-Term:
        Often we increase our skill in coping with stress by analyzing its duration; stress in personal, family, and ministry life. As a part of this overview article, take a preliminary look at the pattern and duration of your stress.
        Let’s keep it simple for now:

        • Short-term stress may be like a “blip on the screen”–it’s there and begs to be acknowledged but could be experienced, identified, and resolved in moments. Target the stress; don’t let it submerge and bubble up later, such as: late for a staff meeting, severe headache, out of cash, heated words with salesperson, lost in a new neighborhood, etc.
        • Long-term stress may be permanent or reoccurring and often severe; so it could be feared, avoided, or expected but requires intentional coping skills. Examples include: personal or business–family conflict, high blood pressure, maxed-out credit cards, trouble with personnel committee, schedule demands, etc.
      • Where do you fit in?
        The American Institute of Stress has recently reported: sixty to 90 percent of people seen in their primary care physician’s office have symptoms or illnesses linked to stress and lifestyle choices. Seven out of 10 of the leading causes of death in the U.S. could be greatly reduced if lifestyle
        habits were modified, including poor or negative responses to stress and tension.
    2. Understandings about Stress
      We all have some basic ideas of what stress is, even if specific in-depth definitions are a bit elusive. Common sayings linked to stress are used all the time: “on edge,” “up tight,” “under pressure,” even “bad hair day!” Understanding more about stress is a large step toward managing it.

      Stress is a person’s response to overload, the accumulation effect of the pressures of life. Daily tasks, job-related duties and volunteer projects may not appear staggering when viewed individually, but when they begin to layer one upon another, they can reach overwhelming proportions.  Strength for the Journey, p. 110.

      Getting under the surface of stress in order to understand its makeup, reveals a few basic truths about stress that can be counted on, no matter what definition is our starting point:

      • Stress is the buildup of pressure on the outside that makes you feel tense on the inside.
      • Stress always involves both outside stimuli (stressors) effecting us and internal responses by us.
      • Stress is your body sending signals that your physical or emotional well-being feels threatened.
      • Stress is the body’s “alarm system” activating its defense system.
      • Stress is unavoidable in life, and is indeed a necessary sign of life.
      • Stress is not all bad; it can be essential to life.
      • Stress is a fact of life–stimulating, motivating, challenging.
      • Excess stress can make you unproductive, miserable, unsure, fearful, even ill. What are your own thoughts about stress that you want to explore in this series of articles?
    3. Servant Leaders Library Articles
      In this overview of articles on stress management, let me briefly outline how we intend to publish other articles in four subcategories. Consider the overview and articles that may specifically interest you:

      • Introducing stress management: raises awareness of stress and understandings about its meaning in relationship to your life and leadership in ministry. A cartoon quip oversimplifies the whole matter: “I feel much better now that I have given up completely.”
        We will report working understandings about what stress is and how it affects us.
      • Assessing causes of stress: examines common causes of stress and identifies stress factors related directly to Christian ministry. A “stressor” is any phenomenon that triggers a stress
        response. This category will explore many of the stressors and stress
        issues that seem particular to those in ministry.

        “No matter how old you are, you always think that there may be something hiding under the bed.” –Monica, age 13, from Youth Calendar

      • Guarding against stress: establishes practical ways to discover and to guard against excess stress, or burnout, in life and leadership. Burnout is the ultimate, downward spiraling result of ignored stress, like the condition of a car run for too long, too hard, and with no maintenance.
      • Strategies for coping with stress: develops and proposes sound practices and strategies to cope with ministry stress in a life-long, healthy manner. Ministers have unique outlets for managing the stresses that are particular to the work of church leadership, even to turn them
        into positives for your life and leadership.

Phil. 4:6–Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.–attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr

  1. What About You and Stress Management?
    SkillTrack® first published this material as a text curriculum for conference and independent study. It has
    been acclaimed by many in diverse audiences of Christian ministers to be effective in developing stress managers. We have the same reason for publishing these articles on stress management with very specific goals:
    • to add to your understanding
    • to guide your self-assessment
    • to develop coping skills
    • do diagnose ministry stressors
    • to provide you a “toolbox”
    • to call for action planning
    • to use for lifetime growth
    • to call on Christian resources

Why not study this article and those to be posted by recording your thoughts about stress in your life and ministry. Just let your ideas flow like a video camera around your life. Then look for tools and benefits throughout the series.

© 2006; hosted and copyrighted by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership


Abstract Study Resource: Symptoms of Anxiety
From an Internet article by Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D.
presented on
(A study abstract prepared by Lloyd Elder)

Dr. Archibald reports that anxiety symptoms fall into three categories:

physiological, cognitive, and emotional.

If you count the following symptoms that apply to you, you may get an idea of your stress level. The checklist is designed to communicate a variety of symptoms; the more symptoms you experience, the more likely you may need to explore treatment for anxiety-related problems. Now, the symptoms list:

Physiological symptoms: What do you feel?

  • Weak all over?
  • Rapid, pounding heartbeat or palpitations?
  • Tightness around your chest?
  • Hyperventilation (a feeling that you cannot get enough air)?
  • Periodic dizziness and sweating?
  • Muscle tension, aches or tremors?
  • Chronic fatigue?

Cognitive symptoms: What thoughts do you think?

  • I can’t carry on. I’ve got to get out of here.
  • What if I make a fool of myself?
  • People are looking at me all the time.
  • I’m having a heart attack.
  • I’m going to faint.
  • I’m going crazy.
  • I can’t go on alone; no one will help me.
  • I can’t go out; I will lose control.
  • I feel confused and can’t remember things.

Emotional symptoms: How do you respond to yourself?

  • I’m full of fears that I can’t get out of my mind.
  • I feel like something terrible is going to happen.
  • I worry excessively.
  • I feel uneasy and alone a lot of the time.
  • I often feel isolated, lonely, down in the dumps and depressed.
  • I feel I have no control over what happens to me.
  • I feel embarrassed, rejected and criticized.
  • I often feel like screaming with anger.