top of page

Pace: A Conscious Lifestyle Choice

karl-hedin-_ZRl9veKxV4-unsplash medium.jpeg

The demands of ministry can be significant. Sermons to write and deliver. Services to plan. Parishioners to visit, counsel and minister to. Weddings and funerals to officiate. Ministries to create and direct. Not to mention all of the meetings… Pastors regularly address an extraordinarily broad range of tasks – in fact research shows the average pastor deals with 41 different task activities in a single day! 1

The response to these consistent, varied and heavy demands is often a relentless pace as clergy try to keep up with it all. Almost 75% of pastors report that the greatest stress they experience is “having too many demands on their time.” 2 One of the first things to go is a regular day off or a weekly Sabbath observance (in a 31-day period only 28% of clergy did not take a day off and an additional 28% had taken just one or two days away from work 3). Perhaps an even greater warning sign is the fact that 65% of full-time pastors work more than 50 hours in their average week. 4 As Pastor James Emery White notes, “Ministry sometimes seems at war with time management. … The work is never done. You never reach a point where the word ‘finished’ seems pronounceable.” 5

Not surprisingly, the consequences of keeping an unsustainable pace can be disastrous for the pastor, their family, and their ministry. An unhealthy pace is a foundational issue that can negatively impact virtually every area of pastoral wellness and self-care: physical health, emotional health, relational health, spiritual health, professional effectiveness, and more. Pastor J.R. Briggs notes, “Often it is not a major catastrophic event that brings pastors down, but the ongoing, unrelenting oppressive stress on the treadmill of ministry, where we simply cannot keep up the pace.” 6

While the demands of ministry are real and persistent, the question of lifestyle pace requires a deeper examination of what contributes to a pace that is unhealthy. One consistent factor is often unrealistic or overbuilt expectations. These can be expectations others’ have of us (congregants, supervisory boards, our family, etc.) or they can be expectations we have of ourselves. Our shadows often drive, influence or magnify the expectations we carry of ourselves, as well as how we internalize or respond to others’ expectations of us. Our shadows may make us doubt if we are enough, may make us reach for achievement and affirmation to try to fill our souls, or may make us less willing or able to say “no” to requests and demands that are unhealthy for our lives, our families and our ministries. As a business executive, my shadow at times was so present that I viewed my unhealthy pace as a badge of honor – a reinforcement or symbol of my perceived importance or relevance to others, not recognizing the cost it extracted from other areas of my life and from those close to me. Such is the impact of our shadow on the pace we take in our lives.

A second common contributor to an unhealthy pace is not understanding or internalizing our limits and mistakenly believing that we can operate without margin in our lives for extended periods of time. Our lives have natural limits in a number of areas: time, physical energy and stamina, mental energy, relational energy, finances, and many more. Keeping an unhealthy pace is essentially a lifestyle choice that chooses to ignore or minimize these limits, despite the risks and negative impacts living without margin can mean for us. As Dr. Richard Swenson notes, “It is God the Creator who made limits, and it is the same God who placed them within us for our protection. We exceed them at our peril.” 7

Given the inherent requirements of leadership and the unique demands of ministry, it is impossible to overstate the importance of pace. I propose that the decision to have a healthy pace is a conscious lifestyle choice -- a decision to prioritize and claim the abundant life that Jesus offers us over continually choosing the immediacy of attempting to fulfill others’ unrealistic expectations of us or the unhealthy demands we place on ourselves. How do we make this conscious choice for health and balance when facing the daily pressures of ministry? Here are a few thoughts or suggestions to consider:

  • Consider the example of Jesus’ pace. Jesus’ ministry was passionate and focused, but it was not hurried. Rev. Kirk Byron Jones characterizes Jesus as moving “at a sacred pace – a living speed characterized by peace, patience and attentiveness.” 8

  • Think of your lifestyle as having multiple “gears”. Swenson describes the healthiest lifestyles as having four gears: (1) “park” – for times of contemplation, rest and renewal; (2) “low” – to be in relationships, with family and friends; (3) “drive” – our usual gear for work and play; and (4) “overdrive” – to be reserved for few occasions when extra effort is required. 9 We cannot run on “drive” or “overdrive” indefinitely without causing damage to ourselves and to those around us.

  • Proactively engage to clarify or align on expectations. While unrealistic expectations are often the trigger of an unhealthy pace, we do not need to tacitly accept unrealistic expectations (or the damage they cause our lives and ministries). In fact, it is critical for clergy to actively engage to address, align and manage expectations to ensure they are realistic and consistent with a healthy, sustainable pace and lifestyle. While these discussions may be difficult or uncomfortable, an intentional commitment to clarify and align on fair and reasonable expectations is essential to your self-care and wellness.

  • Make a commitment to being intentional about time management and about rest. A healthy pace requires a healthy approach to how you use your time and a commitment to rest. That includes being protective of your time, dedicated to not letting role ambiguity add inappropriate demands to our day. It means viewing time as both a gift and as a finite resource to use wisely. It requires regularly delegating and relying on others to utilize their gifts alongside your own. And it necessitates being disciplined in how you protect your time, as well as in your commitment to your own rest, renewal, and retreat.

The choice is yours. Pace does not need to be the byproduct of your career choice, the environment around you or the demands placed upon you. Choosing and committing to a healthy pace can be a choice that positively impacts and reinforces virtually every element of your self-care and wellness.

Reflection Questions

  • If you could wave a magic wand, how would your pace (of life or of your ministry) look different from what it does today?

  • What might be contributing to an unhealthy pace in your life or in your ministry? What shadow motivations might be driving you?

  • What commitments might you want to make to support a healthier and more sustainable pace?

Additional Resources and Suggested Next Steps

If you are interested in reading more about pace and how to develop a healthy pace in your life, I recommend the following resources:

  • Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (NavPress) by Richard A. Swenson.

  • Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers (Judson Press) by Rev. Kirk Byron Jones. (In addition, a video discussion of pace with Rev. Jones is available online at

  • Switch Off: The Clergy Guide to Preserving Energy and Passion for Ministry (Abingdon Press) by Heather Bradley and Miriam Grogan.


In addition, the Pastoral Respite Ministry at Silver Bay YMCA (Silver Bay, NY) offers online Pastoral Self-Care Cohorts where groups of pastors come together to support each other and explore different wellness topics, including choosing a healthy pace. Please contact Rev. Garth Allen ( or Rev. Bruce Tamlyn ( if you are interested in joining a pastoral self-care cohort or in initiating a spiritual direction relationship to further support your self-care efforts.


Finally, if you are interested in exploring either a short-term or ongoing mentoring relationship to strengthen your leadership and management skills, please contact Chris Clark of Northern Elm Mentoring Group (email to All mentoring engagements are conducted on a pro-bono basis, with the request that participants prayerfully consider a donation to Silver Bay YMCA’s Pastoral Respite Program in lieu of mentoring fees.

About the Author

Chris Clark is a strategic, passionate, faith-based, retired executive with over 20 years of executive leadership with a successful global med-tech company, as well as extensive lay leadership experience. Chris seeks to help address what he refers to as “The Crisis in Comprehensive Pastoral Health” through public and lay advocacy, and by walking alongside pastors in individual mentoring relationships focused on providing leadership and management insights. You can learn more about Chris and his ministry, Northern ELM Mentoring Group, at

Anchor 1


  1. Kuhne, G., & Donaldson, J. (1995). Balancing Ministry and Management: An Exploratory Study of Pastoral Work Activities. Review of Religious Research, 37(2), 147–163. Referenced in Gauger, R., & Christie, L. (2013). Clergy Stress and Depression.

  2. Alban Institute at Duke Divinity School. (2007, January 10). Great Expectation, Sobering Realities: Findings from a New Study on Clergy Burnout. 3.

  3. Irvine, A. (1997). Between Two Worlds: Understanding and Managing Clergy Stress. Wellington House. Referenced in Gauger and Christie.

  4. McConnell, S. (2008). How Protestant Pastors Spend Their Time. Lifeway Research. Referenced in Gray, D. E. (2012). Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Life. The Alban Institute.

  5. White, J. E. (2011). What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary: 25 Lessons for Successful Ministry in Your Church. Baker Books. 175.

  6. Briggs, J. R. (2014). Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure. InterVarsity Press. 50-51.

  7. Swenson, R. A. (2004). Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. NavPress.

  8. Jones, K. B. (2001). Rest in the Storm: Self-Care Strategies for Clergy and Other Caregivers. Judson Press. 50.

  9. Swenson, R. A. (2004). Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. NavPress.

bottom of page