Stress Management Series
Ministry Stress: Study Resources


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

Information Note: The following study resources are provided for more specific or in-depth examination
of stress – its causes, symptoms, and positive responses. Three of these resources are the research and insights of others; my abstract is very selective focusing on the purposes of this series of articles. Three others are selected from my published resources because they support our effort to provide resources for dealing with stress. Study them together or examine and apply them one at a time.


#1 Study Resource–“Achieving
Success Over Stress”

Adapted by Lloyd Elder from The 108 Skills of Natural Born Leaders by Warren Blank
New York: AMACOM, American Management Association, 2001 (pp. 41-45)

Author Warren Blank affirms that natural born leaders have stress, but the best leaders achieve success over stress. How? His suggested actions include:

  • Assess your level of physical and emotional stamina.
  • Pay attention to physical activity and food diet.
  • Audit your level of mental clarity and stability.
  • Put worry in its place; expend your energy on analysis and action.
  • Conduct a perspective audit: how important will this issue be five hours, months, or years from now?
  • Consider your rest routine; the body and mind need balance.
  • Review your lifestyle choices; include fun that keeps you alive.
  • Review your work style mentality; expect excellence of yourself, but avoid perfectionism.
  • Try “transcendental meditation” for a six-month period.

Reflection: These methods require discipline, time, and action; but the benefits are worth it.


#2 Study Resource–“Desensitizing
Yourself to Coming Stress”

Adapted by Lloyd Elder from Asserting Yourself: A Practical Guide for Positive Change
by Sharon Anthony Bower and Gordon H. Bower (pp. 53-57)

Five-step process: “Desensitizing”  is to your stress system like dipping your feet in hot water is to your pain
threshold–entering a little bit at a time until the whole foot can handle the heat. It is future-oriented, aimed at reducing stress in a specific future situation:  you picture yourself acting and reacting positively in successive events of increasing stress threat, leading up to the problem scene so that you will have less fear. When it actually hits you, the 5-step process recommended by Bower and Bower works like this:

  1. Maintain deep relaxation as you imagine a frightening scene leading to anxiety or stress: “Tomorrow, I’m going to get fired.”
  2. Stay with the imagined scene with relaxation 10 to 20 seconds; mentally keep yourself in the picture.
  3. Imagine the next scene in the progression of your discomfort: “I am going to work today for the last time.” Stay with this image until your stress is reduced.
  4. In a relaxed fashion, move to the next scene, still of lower threat, and face them with full mental effort and relaxation: “My appointment with Mr. X is in 15 minutes.”
  5. Complete the process with imagining the big one–the 100% stress threat level; inhale and exhale slowly and deeply and say, “Good morning, Mr. X. I have come to collect my last pay check and severance pay.”


  • Now choose a “stress threat” of your own and follow this process to imagine, pre-live, and desensitize yourself toward a more self-controlled, calmed presence.
  • Of course, you may not need to use this in minor functional stress experiences; but in continuing, or in-depth stress, such reflective desensitizing may be most helpful.
  • A calm presence for yourself is the goal of this process.


#3 Study Resource–Priority
Time Management

Copied from SkillTrack® 12.1 Time Management
by Lloyd Elder
Nashville, TN: Moench Center for Church Leadership; adapted from the “Time
Management Matrix”
by Stephen R. Covey in First Things First (p. 37)



  • How well do you manage your time? Poor time-management contributes directly
    or indirectly to much of the stress in life and ministry.
  • These four quadrants help you to diagnose your present time, and indicate how you might make changes to reduce stress and enhance satisfaction.


#4 Study Resource–“Getting
Along with Difficult People”

Summarized from SkillTrack®
7.5 Resolving Conflict
, by Lloyd Elder
Nashville, TN: Moench Center for Church Leadership

  • Personal conflict is universal in human relationships; normal in patterns of behavior; and inevitable in most arenas of life, including Christian congregations.  Conflict in its simplest expression is a situation in which two or more people desire and struggle over what is or appears to be mutually exclusive or incompatible.
  • Whereas, church conflict within bounds may provide for vital fellowship, healthy spiritual growth, program improvements, and church expansion; out-of-bounds conflict often has a destructive impact.
  • Troublesome church members most often function within negative, out-of-bounds conflict patterns. If permitted unlimited expression, such members can damage church leadership, unsettle the congregation, and diminish its ministry.
  • Personality differences and conflicts are not only experienced today but were also in the New Testament era: among the disciples of Jesus over power and greatness (Mark 10:35-45), between Paul and Barnabas at Antioch (Acts 15:36-41), over the nature of the gospel at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-21), between two women at Philippi (Phil. 4:1-3), and in a party spirit at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10-17).
  • An honest self-inventory of your own personal behavior patterns that contribute to conflict puts into practice the teaching of Christ: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?” (Matt. 7:3)–NIV


  • These observations about interpersonal conflict set the stage for the one major source of stress.
  • How can you improve and practice interpersonal skills in a way that reduces dysfunctional stress?


#5 Study Resource–Hardiness and Resilience
(Abstracted by Lloyd Elder, 2004, from two published sources)

* “The Hardiness Factor: Surviving the Stress of Change”
Source– The Leadership Challenge, How to Get Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations
by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner; San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1987 (pp. 65-69)

This research describes studies discovering the attitudinal distinction called “psychological hardiness.” The authors found that, instead of associating high stress with illness, some stress can even energize us. Their personal best leaders were clear examples of difficult, stressful projects that generated enthusiasm and enjoyment.

The big three, “commitment, control, and challenge,” combine to block the strain of stress and its resulting illness. High stress/low illness executives were more committed to the various parts of their lives. They felt a greater control over things that happened in their lives; they experienced more positive challenge in change and development.

Studies also revealed that family environment is the most important breeding ground for a hardy attitude. But organizations [including congregations] can do three things to develop hardiness among its leaders:

  • to build commitment, offer more rewards than punishment;
  • to build a sense of control, choose tasks that are challenging but within a person’s skill level;
  • to build an attitude a challenge, encourage people to see change as full of possibilities.

* “Resilience–Thriving on Stress”
Adapted by Lloyd Elder from Working with Emotional Intelligence  by Daniel Goleman; New York: Bantam Books, 1998.

“Emotional intelligence,”
sometimes called Emotional Quotient (or EQ ) is described by Goleman as a new focus on personal qualities, such as character and personality, initiative and empathy, adaptability and persuasiveness–most especially for
leadership. He claims that IQ takes second position to emotional intelligence in determining outstanding job performance (pp. 3-5).

The tale of two executives: Goleman speaks of stress control by drawing a distinction between two executives of a regional telephone company filled with changing work stress.

Tension: One executive is plagued by tension: “My life seems like a rat-race catching up and meeting deadlines–most not even important. So even though I’m nervous and tense, I’m also bored a lot of the time.” The other executive thrives on stress: “I’m never bored. Even in doing things not interesting, I’m always out there straining to make a difference, to shape a productive work life for myself.”

Hardiness: The second executive was high in a quality called “hardiness,” the ability to stay committed, feel in
control, and be challenged rather than threatened by stress. This person bears the physical burden of stress much better, coming through with less illness.  “There are two kinds of stress–good and bad–and two distinct biological
systems at work. There is also a balance point when the sympathetic nervous system is pumping (but not too much), our mood is positive, and our ability to think and react is optimism. Here lies our peak performance.” That is striving on stress! (see Goleman, pp. 88-89)


#6 Study Resource–Practicing Servant Leadership
Copied from SkillTrack®
1.3, Servant Leadership Practices: Charting Your Course

by Lloyd Elder, Nashville, TN: Moench Center for Church Leadership

“Servant leadership in ministry is self-giving service with others after the pattern of Christ
in order to achieve, by example and persuasion, extraordinary commitment

contributions toward mutually shared kingdom goals.”

— Lloyd Elder

  • Servant Leadership is explained in depth through three SkillTrack®
    CD-ROM courses: Principles
    (1.1), Pathways (1.2)
    and Practices (1.3).
  • The more you understand the content and conduct of your leadership, the more stress will be dissipated.
  • The more consistently you practice servant leadership, the more you will welcome functional stress to help you achieve your purpose in ministry.



Stress Series Conclusion:
“When stress is your friend”

The upside of stress management is not just the absence of negative, unhealthy forces in your life. Managing your stressors successfully can turn them into positive, helpful elements of your life and leadership. Think of it this way: a totally stress-free existence is not taking enough advantage of the opportunities around you, and is not challenging you enough to be the best you can be. Without some stressors pushing you, how will you know all the heights you can reach in your ministry?

The process of managing stress can motivate you, organize you, connect you with your community and disclose your strengths to yourself.  In short, positive stress, that is, stressors that are managed, can make you a better leader, a better servant, and a stronger person. It can equip you for new challenges and possibilities you may have never seen otherwise.

Instead of letting stressors stifle your ministry, are you doing everything you can to make sure they are opening up possibilities for your life and leadership? What steps do you need to take? You could start with 1 Peter 5:7–“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

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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