Stress Management Series
Stress Factors: Study Resources


by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., adapted from SkillTrack® Vol.
11 – Stress Management

The following three
study resources seek to support and enlarge the examination of both common
causes and ministry factors that become stressors. Repetition, or a different
viewpoint may enlarge your understanding of the stress you experience and
the response you may want to consider.


#1 Study Resource:
Church Triangles Cause Stress
From a review of several sources, including
Creating a Healthier Church:
Family Systems Theory, Leadership, and Congregational Life
. Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1996

What is a human triangle, or “triangulation”? Briefly,
it is when one person in a conflict with a second invites a third to enter the
conflict and take responsibility for its resolution. Richardson (p.116) explains:
“Generally, triangles serve two purposes: (1) absorbing anxiety, and
(2) covering over basic differences and conflicts in an emotional system.”

Let’s give this an actual ministry situation: The diagram below
represents three parties. Edward Education (A) has an ongoing
conflict with Mildred Music (B) over the Wednesday night church
schedule. As the conflicting issue escalates into emotional anxiety, Edward
(A) seeks to get Pete Pastor (C) to take his side and become
responsible for resolving the issue. A and B is a one-to-one (dyadic) relationship,
which normally could and should manage the situation. C joins A to form a triangle
of two against one B. In emotional systems, like families and churches, that
increases–rather than decreases–anxiety (stress) for A and B and adds stress
to C. C may also secretly side with B, confusing A completely. Resolution does
not come easily, if at all (see Richardson, pp. 114-130).


(adapted from Creating a Healthier Church, Richardson,
p. 116)

Since triangulation causes anxiety rather than resolving it, it
is worth your careful forethought. Richardson (p.129) provides some clues about
responding to people triangles; these are adapted:

  • Remember, triangles may be normal, but are not necessarily
  • Be clear about your own role in the triangulation process;
    be intentional about your involvement, not just accidental.
  • Since triangles are about other people’s anxiety, ask yourself,
    “what could I do to contribute to a calmer, safer environment?”
  • Become an able resource in the system by recognizing triangles
    and their driving emotions; be less reactive; stay in contact with the human
    elements, including your own; ask good questions.
  • Don’t jump into every triangle that comes along.

Reflection: How often do you get tangled into triangulation?
What changes should you consider in your responses in order to nurture a healthy,
calmer environment within the experience?


#2 Study Resource: Major
Event Assessment
adapted by Lloyd Elder from “The
Social Readjustment Rating Scale”
by Thomas H. Holmes & Richard H. Rahe; Journal of Psychosomatic Research,

The following test is based on the premise that good and bad events
in our lives can increase stress levels and make us more susceptible to physical
and mental health problems. It also weaves together personal and work events
and situations. Directions–check the following major life/work events which
have taken place in your life in the past six-to-twelve months. Then calculate
your stress level index by adding up the points for each event or experience.
Remember: this is not to substitute for medical consultation; however, it may
indicate its time to see your medical doctor.

Major Life/Work Events or Experiences

_____ 100 Death of a spouse
_____ 73 Divorce/separation
_____ 63 Death of close family member
_____ 53 Personal injury or illness
_____ 50 Marriage
_____ 47 Fired from work/ministry position
_____ 44 Change in family member’s health
_____ 40 Trouble with the congregation
_____ 39 Employment change/retirement
_____ 38 Change in financial status
_____ 36 Change to a different line of work/ministry
_____ 35 Change in number of marital arguments
_____ 32 Change in work responsibilities
_____ 29 Trouble with in-laws
_____ 28 Outstanding personal achievement
_____ 27 Change in church activity
_____ 25 Change in living conditions
_____ 24 Revision of personal habits
_____ 22 Change in work hours, conditions
_____ 21 Change in residence
_____ 18 Change in social activities
_____ 16 Change in sleeping habits
_____ 15 Change in eating habits
_____ 13 Vacation
_____ 12 Christmas season

______ Calculate Your Total Stress Score and Use for Assessment.


Life/Work Stress Assessment

This Life Stress Assessment shows some life pressures that you
could be experiencing. Depending on your coping skills, this index may indicate
the likelihood of stress-related illnesses. Potential stress-related illnesses
could be mild such as frequent tension headaches, acid indigestion, or loss
of sleep to very serious illnesses like ulcers, migraines, and cancer. After
calculating your total score in the left-hand column, apply to the following
stress levels.

0–99: Low susceptibility to stress-related illness; about 10% likelihood
of mild stress-related illnesses. Relaxation and stress management skills
can help you cope with minor life stressors.

100–249: Mild to moderate susceptibility to stress-related illness;
about 30-50% likelihood of illness. Learn and practice relaxation, stress
management skills, and a healthy lifestyle.

300 and above: Major susceptibility to stress-related illness; about
80% likelihood of mild to very serious stress-related illnesses. Daily practice
of relaxation and stress management skills is very important for your wellness
before a serious illness erupts or an affliction becomes worse; professional
consultation may prove helpful.


#3 Study Resource: A
Minister’s Time Analysis

Adapted by Lloyd Elder from pp. 16-18 of Time Management for Ministers

by Mark Short; Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987

A Minister’s Survey: A survey conducted by
the Baptist Sunday School Board reported in 1985 that seven of the top ten
stress factors identified by ministers were related to time–particularly
the lack of it. The other three stressors among the top ten related to expectations
for productivity and leadership. Approximately the same amount of stress was
reported by the various classifications of ministers, but the causes of stress
were not the same.

For pastors, the two items with the highest percentage
of stress were too many demands on their time (21.5%) and inadequate retirement
plans (18.8%).

For ministers of education, the top two stressors were
too many demands on their time (21.7%) and administrative responsibilities

For ministers of music and ministers of youth: the two
highest stressors were too many interruptions and too many demands for their

The top ten stressors for pastors were:

  • too many demands on my time
  • lack of study time (reading time)
  • administrative responsibilities
  • lack of time to visit prospects
  • expected to take the lead in everything and to be a motivator
  • too many interruptions
  • demands for productivity
  • groups in church expecting different things of minister
  • too many promotional materials to read
  • establishment of time with family.

Much has been written about stress that leads to burnout in ministry. These
ten stressors point to that type of growing frustration. One of the better
solutions for dealing with burnout is to draw support from the church leadership
in an act of shared responsibility. Other strategies are presented in succeeding

Stressors for the Minister’s Family: The minister’s
family is not exempt from time pressures. A 1983 survey (conducted by D. G.
and Berlie McCoury and reported by Jim Hightower in “Proclaim”)
asked 250 pastors’ wives to establish the major stressors in the parsonages.
Eight stressors were clearly identified in this order: (1) time pressure,
(2) the husband’s needs and expectations, (3) financial pressures, (4)
church pressures, (5) parenting pressures, (6) lack of friends and family
needs (a tie), and (7) personal expectations. In this helpful editorial, four
helpful suggestions were given to the pastor’s family: be yourself, encourage
your wife to be herself, schedule weekly time for your wife and your children,
and expect love, care, and affirmation from your people and give it freely
in return.

Such surveys point to the management of time for the minister and minister’s
family as a major problem in the church. Careful evaluation of time robbers
might aid in corrective scheduling and therefore–less stress to all involved.

Reflection: Where do you see yourself in the time picture?
If you were to update these surveys and add yourself to the picture, what
would be your findings? Your time-use planning almost always merges the concerns
of personal, family, and work issues. Each ministry role is both common to
all and unique of itself. Reflect on your unique ministry stressors.

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© 2008; hosted and copyrighted
by Lloyd Elder & Associates, Inc.
For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership