The Center for Leadership Excellence, in partnership with COSROW, is pleased to lift up the voices of women in ministry encouraging fellow women in ministry. Please enjoy this month’s Encouragement from Erin Roesch, ordained elder in the NCCUMC. Erin now lives with her family in Greater London, where she serves as a health and fitness coach. You can follow Erin @erin.c.roesch on Instagram. Anyone can sign up to receive these monthly emails here.
A few years ago, I sat down with the director of a $1M+ nonprofit and asked what she ate in a day. As her health coach, I waited—pen in hand—to take notes.
“Well, I usually have black coffee while I answer emails at 6 AM,” she said. “I’ll have a peanut butter sandwich at lunch (if I remember to eat). Then I grab dinner out with a friend before more evening meetings until 9 PM.”
I did some quick math in my head.
“So…you eat about 1100 calories a day and sleep six hours,” I said. “That might explain how you feel. Your work is admirable…but you’re doing it malnourished and sleep-deprived.”
Over 70+ other clergy women have shared similar stories of burning out their bodies in ministry since I began coaching women in fitness as an ordained clergy person myself in 2019. Let’s take a minute and see what God has to say about this phenomenon in Scripture.
Read: Matthew 12:23-28:
One sabbath he was going through the grain-fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiʹathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Reflect: You may have read this passage 1,000 times before, but today I want you to think about it through the lens of bodies and burnout.
Here the disciples are…likely exhausted after a long ministry-filled day of meetings, healings, worship, and keeping up with a spritely Jesus. They haven’t eaten. They’ve barely slept. All they want is a little grain.
So they take it.
And how do the authorities react? They’re furious.
“You can’t do that!” the Pharisees exclaim. “The system isn’t set up that way! Obedience to God means sacrifice of self. Don’t you know that? Put down that grain!”
I wonder if you’ve ever had a Pharisee-like voice inside your head in ministry. That little voice whispering that the cues your body gives you (signs that you need nourishing food, sleep, exercise, etc.) can wait because other things “trump it” or “need doing.”
That Pharisee-like voice fuels burnout (along with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, various cancers, etc.)…and Jesus is having none of it in Matthew 12.
Here we meet a Jesus who says “NO” to rhythms that keep the disciples ragged, hungry, and overworked. Burning out one’s body does not serve the Church, Jesus seems to say. It weakens it…so much so that God incarnate is willing to fight institutional leadership to make sure the disciples get a proper meal.
Take Action: Reflect on how your life in ministry feels in your body right now. If you were to rate it on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being “I can’t keep going like this! I need more sleep, exercise, and energy!” and 1 being “I’m feeling nourished, strong, healthy, and happy!”…what would you say? If your number is greater than 1, reach out to an accountability partner or mentor this week and set up a time to have an honest conversation. Talk about what needs to change for you to say “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to nourish and strengthen the beautiful, profoundly capable body God gave you for the work you do each and every day.
Center for Leadership Excellence and the Commission on the Status and Role of Women