Dear Church Worker, You Need to Get Out More: 4 Unique Benefits of Getting Outdoors for Those Who Work in Ministry

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I love being physically present in the outdoors. My ideal vacation is a few weeks in the Rocky Mountains with each day split equally between fly fishing on a rock strewn mountain stream and spending hours in a comfortable chair just staring at the mountains. Being outdoors and in nature is where I find peace and mental refreshment. I don’t love that it is a struggle for me to find time to be outdoors. I must intentionally look for opportunities to get outdoors often because I know that it makes me a better leader and servant.

A simple google search reveals numerous mental and physical health benefits to being outdoors. I won’t attempt to discuss all the possible benefits of being outdoors. I know that those who work in a church or related ministry struggle with a unique set of challenges and stressors that can cause a multitude of spiritual, physical and mental pitfalls. A speaker at a recent church leadership conference I attended noted that most church work environments are designed (unintentionally) to keep workers “spiritually disillusioned, physically fat and out of shape, and mentally drained.” His words were a harsh indictment of most ministry work places. I agree with his assessment.

Most of the stress that church workers experience stems from the fact that we place an extra burden on ourselves because we believe (rightly so) that our work has eternal consequences. The local church is God’s way of bringing people to faith and keeping them spiritually fed. As church workers, we are a crucial component in that mission. We shouldn’t take our charge lightly. Those who work in the church walk a fine line between being motivated by our mission and being overwhelmed by it. I believe that getting away from the church and being outdoors has some unique benefits to offer to the church worker.

Getting Outdoors Better Connects You to Jesus
My most influential school teachers made learning an experience. They immersed me through their storytelling and made sure I learned science through hands-on activities. We learn best through experience. What better way to learn from and experience God than to sit in the midst of His creation
and let Him do the teaching. Look at the beautiful words of Job 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (NIV)
By simply being present in God’s creation, we experience Him, we learn about Him and are drawn closer to Him. There is good reason that most church camps and retreat centers are in wooded areas and not in the middle of a suburban subdivision or on the 12th floor of a city skyscraper.

Getting Outdoors Reduces Ministry Stress
I suppose being outdoors reduces stress for most everyone, not just church workers. There is research that it helps increase good chemicals and hormones in our bodies and decrease the bad ones. Breathing in clean air and getting more Vitamin D helps reduce stress for the church worker and the atheist alike.
I feel that the unique benefit for the church worker is that being outdoors helps put things in perspective. There is nothing like standing in a vast open space or gazing at a mountain to remind us that God is big and the day to day worries of our ministry are small. Most of the time this realization comes not in a conscious thought: “Hey, look at those trees. Wow! God is mighty and not having the outline for the next worship series done is small.” Rather, this realization of perspective occurs most often as at subconscious level. As created creatures, we instinctively know that our value is in the one who created us and not in the things that we do. The more we experience the wonder of His creation, the more we realize that our work, while important, is not larger than the one who made us.

Getting Outdoors Helps Set Clear Boundaries
Dr. Henry Cloud says that “Every human being must have boundaries in order to have successful relationships or a successful performance in life.” Most dedicated church workers feel a deep commitment to their job. For many, that commitment serves their church and people well. For others, that commitment makes it difficult to set healthy boundaries in life. Church work comes at the expense of margin, family, physical health, mental clarity, and healthy relationships. Making time to be physically away from the church and in nature sets a clear boundary for you physically and mentally. Physically, the boundary is clear: I am in the outdoors and I am not at church. A boundary is also established mentally:
I am not at church, therefore I am not required to think about it (although my mind often wanders back to work issues and stress). Making a commitment to being outdoors and away from church is a commitment to set healthy boundaries.

Getting Outdoors Improves Your Ministry Focus
In ministry, there is never a shortage of good ideas or new ways to do things. The challenge for leaders in ministry is to discern the important from the not so important and to keep our eyes on our church’s mission and vision for ministry. We know focusing on what is important is key to ministry growth, but there always seems to be more distractions and legitimate challenges that need to be addressed. Push the eject button and get away for a while. Take a walk, a one-day retreat, or some extended time away and in nature to clear your head and remind yourself of the important things in your ministry. Simply being away from the office limits the distractions and the opportunity for others to fill your time and mind with competing ideas. Being outdoors lets you escape for a bit and helps you focus. Your ministry will benefit greatly from your increased focus on what is truly important.

Getting outdoors can benefit you and your ministry. In my next post, I will look at practical ways to make your commitment to getting outdoors more often a reality. What are some things that you do to get outdoors more often? Let me know.

Bryan Blackford