What Missionaries Ought to Know… a handbook for Life and Service

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What Missionaries Ought to Know…

What Missionaries Ought to Know…
A Handbook for Life and Service

Ronald L. Koteskey

Member Care Consultant
New Hope International Ministries

(Revised, August, 2017)

Ronald L. Koteskey

122 Lowry Lane

Wilmore, KY 40390



Permission is granted to copy and distribute this book without charge in its entirety.

Send it to anyone you believe may benefit from reading it.

Please do NOT post this book anywhere else on the Internet.

Preface 6
Introduction 8
What Missionaries Ought to Know…
Part 1. Beginning with Basics 10

1. …about Maintaining Health 11

2. …about Laughter 17

3. …about Stress 23

4. …about Time-Oriented Cultures 29

5. …about Expectations 35

6. …about Contentment 41

7. …about Dissatisfaction 47

8. …about Attrition 53

9. …about Saying Goodbye 59

10. …about Those Who Stay 64

11. …about Coping with Change 70

12. …about Reentry 76

13. …about Home Ministry Assignment 81

Part 2. Everyday Challenges 86

14. …about Event-Oriented Cultures 87

15. …about Culture Stress 93

16. …about Compassion Fatigue 98

17. …about Bribes 104

18. …about Rejection and Betrayal (by Those They Serve) 110

19. …about Managing Money 116

20. …about Grief 122

21. …about Guilt 128

22. …about Anger 134

23. …about Sarcasm 140

24. …about Sleep 146

25. …about Loneliness 151

26. …about Memory 158

Part 3. Challenges That May Become Problems 162

27. …about Suffering 164

28. …about Burnout 170

29. …about Anxiety 175

30. …about Coping with Anxiety 181

31. …about Perfectionism 187

32. …about Panic Attacks 193

33. …about Depression 199

34. …about Coping with Depression 205

35. …about Suicide 211

36. …about Trauma, PTSD, & CISD 217

37. …about Healing of Memories 222

38. …about Passive-Aggressive Behavior 227

39. …about Whistleblowing 233

Part 4. Family and Sexuality 238

40. …about Children’s Adjustment 239

41. …about Adolescence 245

42. …about “Helicopter Parents” 251

43. …about Ministry Separation 256

44. …about Sexual Stress 262

45. …about Internet Immorality 268

46. …about Sexual Abuse 274

47. …about Maintaining Sexual Purity 280

48. …about Pornography 285

49. …about Same-Sex Marriage 290
Part 5. Relationships with Others 295

50. …about Relationships 296

51. …about Comparison and Envy 302

52. …about Victim Mentalities 308

53. …about Leadership 314

54. …about Serving under “Difficult” Leaders 320

55. …about Each Other: Builders to Busters 335

56. …about Generational Differences 330

57. …about Millennials in Adulthood 336

58. …about Conflict 342

59. …about Confrontation 348

60. …about Forgiveness 354

61. …about Reconciliation 360

62. …about Thankfulness 366

63. …about Nepotism 372

64. …about Rumors 378

65. …about Groupthink 384
Part 6. Caring for Missionaries 390

66. …about Member Care 391

67. …about Psychological Testing 396

68. …about Counseling 401

69. …about Danger and Risk 406

70. …about Debriefing 412

71. …about Uncompleted Transitions 418
Part 7. Ending Well 423

72. …about Premature Departure from the Field 424

73. …about Aging Parents 430

74. …about Retirement 436

Recommended Readings 442
Other E-Books by the Author 450
About the Author 452


I did not set out to write a book. However, in the late 1990s I did set out to make material on member care available to anyone anywhere at any time. At no previous time in history has that been possible, but with the invention of the Internet in the late twentieth century it became a reality for missionaries nearly anywhere in the world to access material posted there. As search engines have improved more missionaries have found the material.

Some missionaries did not have Internet access, but they did have email, so I could send the material to them anywhere at a moment’s notice at their request. In addition, people working in member care in mission agencies asked for these as attachments so they could distribute them to the missionaries for whom they were providing care.b

Some missionaries did not have email (or they had it but had to pay by the kilobyte to download), so I printed the material in a series of “brochures.” I could send these to people who had postal service anywhere in the world. People working in member care could also copy these and send them to missionaries in their agencies.

I did not set out with an outline or a preconceived set of topics. However, I wrote one item (depression, because it is the “common cold” of psychological problems) and asked missionaries who read it to suggest other topics. Each article on the web page said, “You are invited to suggest other topics you would like to know about to the following...” Each emailed and each printed brochure ended with, “This brochure is one of a series, and you are invited to suggest other topics you would like to know about to the following…” Most of the chapters in this book are a result of missionaries’ suggestions.

Member care workers in several countries requested permission to translate the chapters into other languages, and they did so, distributing them to missionaries individually or publishing them in periodicals. Friedhilde Stricker translated them into German, and Verlan fur Kultur and Wissenschaft published Was Missionare wissen sollten… Ein Handbuch fur Leben und Dienst in 2003. Although I have never personally met Mrs. Stricker, I want to express my deep gratitude to her for translating the material and having it published in book form.

Of course, no author can express adequate thanks to everyone who had a part in developing a book. However, I want to thank all my colleagues in the Psychology and English Departments at Asbury College, with special thanks to three of them who made the most significant contributions. Art Nonneman read every brochure and made many invaluable comments over a period of more than five years. Marty Seitz co-authored several of the chapters with me, and his name appears on those. Yvonne Moulton did the final editing to correct grammar and punctuation as well as make sure the right meaning was conveyed. Art, Marty and Yvonne deserve credit for many good things in the book, but they are certainly not responsible for any shortcomings.

Finally, there is no way to adequately describe the contribution my wife, Bonnie, has made. We have talked to missionaries together, presented material together in seminars and orientation. We have led reentry retreats together. She has cooked hundreds of meals for TCKs in our home, and she has proofread everything I have written. Though not recognizable, her input is found on every page.


What Missionaries Ought to know… does not mean that the author sat down and decided what missionaries ought to know, but that missionaries themselves asked about these topics. During my 35 years of college teaching I learned that if one person asks a question, others probably want to know the same thing—and if two people ask, it was certainly a topic that others need to know about. These are things missionaries need to know because several missionaries have asked about each of them at one time or another.

Since EMQ is so widely read by missionaries, I emulated the EMQ style when writing the chapters. They are short; each one can be read in a few minutes. In fact, each chapter can be printed on two sides of a sheet of paper from a legal pad. They are written in non-technical language, meant to be an “easy read.” They present basic facts simply and include practical applications to missionary life and work. In a January 2001 EMQ article titled “Virtual Missionary Care,” Scott Moreau and Mike O’Rear said that the chapters “deal with practical mental health topics….providing practical advice without charge to the missions public” (p. 83).

Much of my professional life has been devoted to the integration of psychology and Christianity as reflected in the titles of my two more “academic” books, Psychology from a Christian Perspective and General Psychology for Christian Counselors. Although this book is not highly documented with numerous Scripture references, I have tried to present the best current knowledge in mental health within an evangelical Christian perspective. From time to time I have cited specific passages of Scripture to support particular points.

As often as possible I have illustrated concepts by using cross-cultural examples from the Bible. Joseph was a great example of forgiveness, and Daniel had an excellent set of priorities. I have used examples of missionaries in the Bible, ranging from Jonah’s problem with anger to Paul’s wonderful examples of transitions such as reentry. Early missionaries sometimes handled conflict marvelously, such as Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 when settling an important theological issue. Then the same two individuals turned around (in the same chapter) and parted company, arguing about who was going to accompany them on their second term of missionary service.

The book is meant to be a handbook with short chapters on particular topics of interest. The chapters are not intended as in-depth treatments of the topics but as brief overviews with practical suggestions as well. The book is not written with a unified theme gradually developed from chapter to chapter. Each chapter stands alone. However, the chapters do fall into several categories, so they are grouped into six parts, each part consisting of chapters on related topics.

So if you are interested in a particular topic, just go immediately to that chapter and read about it. You do not need to read the first 20 chapters to understand the material in chapter 21. I trust that this material will be helpful. If you do not find a chapter on a topic you are interested in, I invite you to email me suggesting that topic. If several do, I will write a chapter on it.

Part 1.

Beginning with Basics

We begin with the basic things that all missionaries face as they minister to people in other cultures. Like other people, missionaries ought to maintain their mental and physical health, and following the two greatest commandments will result in such health. Missionaries have always lived under great stress, but they seem to be feeling even more stress recently. The chapter on stress and the hints in the chapter on time management in time-oriented cultures will help missionaries reduce the stress they feel.

Everyone has expectations, and missionaries are no exception whether anticipating going to the field or returning to their passport country. The chapter about expectations should help make these expectations more realistic. Missionaries say more goodbyes than most people, and such goodbyes are very difficult. The chapter about goodbyes may not make them any easier, but at least missionaries will realize that they are normal in the feelings they have about them. Most people now expect to experience difficulty as they enter another culture, but many are surprised by the reverse culture shock of reentry. The chapter about reentry makes it clear that changing cultures either way is difficult.

about Maintaining Health

(Mental and Physical)

A missionary asked, “What do you do when there are so many things to do, and not enough people to do them, and there’s no way to prioritize because everything’s a priority? This seems like a no-win situation and can lead to quick burnout. Because of such a high level of ministry responsibilities on the field, there’s no time for rest, renewal, or recreation, much less trying to be proactive and keep the body in shape, or to have quality time with the family.”

In this one paragraph the missionary has touched on the most important factors relating to maintaining your mental and physical health. Let us consider what we can do by considering our priorities.
Schedule your priorities.
The missionary was right in talking about priorities. Some people may tell you to “prioritize your schedule,” but it is much more important to “schedule your priorities.”

When you prioritize your schedule, you constantly feel under great stress, but you may accomplish little of lasting value. You may become one who is constantly putting out fires, rather than preventing the fires in the first place. Prevention is better than cure.

What is most important?
Jesus was asked this question in Mathew 22 when an expert in the law asked him which commandment was the greatest. Jesus told him to love God with all his heart, soul, and mind. Of course, Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 5 where Moses had told the people to love God with all their soul, heart, and strength. The command to love God motivationally, emotionally, physically, and cognitively has been around for centuries, and it is still valid today.

You may say that this command is certainly relevant to your spiritual condition, but what does it have to do with your mental and physical health. Consider the following quotes from an article by Harold Koenig in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October, 2000.

  • “More than 850 studies have now examined the relationship between religious involvement and various aspects of mental health. Between two thirds and three quarters of these have found that people experience better mental health and adapt more successfully to stress if they are religious.”

  • “An additional 350 studies have examined religious involvement and health. The majority of these have found that religious people are physically healthier, lead healthier lifestyles, and require fewer health services. The magnitude of the possible impact on physical health—particularly survival—may approximate that of abstaining from cigarette smoking, or adding 7 to 14 years to life.”

The best thing you can do to maintain your mental and physical health is to place your relationship with God on your schedule first. This should be time for at least the following:

  • Spending time with him

  • Talking to him in prayer

  • Listening to him through meditating on his Word

  • Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation

Like missionaries Daniel lived and worked in a culture different from the one in which he was reared. With his packed schedule of doing an outstanding job as one of the three top administrators in the nation, one might think that Daniel would not have much time for God. However, his custom was to be on his knees thanking God for what he had done and asking for his help three times a day (Daniel 6).
What is second most important?
When asked what was most important in Matthew 22, Jesus went on to say that the second most important was much like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. Of course, this had also been around for centuries as Jesus was quoting from Leviticus 19. This is especially relevant for missionaries as Jesus emphasized in John 13:34-35, that people will know we are his disciples by how we love each other.

No recent evidence is needed to support this. We have known for years that your social support system is one of the most important factors in maintaining your health, both physical and mental. This includes a variety of people. The specific persons depend on your situation in life, but probably include some of the following.

  • Your spouse

  • Your children and teenagers

  • Fellow missionaries

  • Nationals

  • Aging parents

  • Etc.

To maintain your mental and physical health, place your relationship with fellow Christians as the second thing on your schedule. This should be time for at least the following:

  • Spending time with them

  • Talking to them

  • Listening to them

  • Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation

When faced with a crisis of life and death proportions, Daniel had a long-term relationship with three other expatriates to whom he could turn to ask for urgent prayers. Their prayers were answered (Daniel 2).

What is third most important?
Jesus said we should love our neighbor as we loved ourselves. Like loving God and loving our neighbor, loving ourselves means at least the following:

  • Setting aside some time for yourself

  • Thinking correctly about yourself (your self-talk, as a person made in God’s image)

  • Generally taking care of God’s temple (our bodies)

God dwelt in the Tabernacle, then in the Temple, and now dwells in us. The apostle Paul pointed out that our bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit so we should honor God with our body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So the question becomes, how are we doing in taking care of God’s Temple? That includes at least the following:

  • Eating right. At creation (Genesis 1) God gave us all the seed-bearing plants and fruit trees to eat—that is grains, vegetables and fruits. That is very much like the recommendations of the US Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid. After the Fall when we began eating meat, God put a number of restrictions on what kinds of meat and what parts of the animals we could eat. As a college student in a culture very different from home, Daniel questioned the food in the cafeteria. He proposed and conducted an experiment showing that vegetables and water are healthier than rich food and alcohol, an experiment repeated with the same results many times over the centuries (Daniel 1).

  • Getting rest. God instituted a day of rest in each week in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). This was a day in which no one in the household was to do any work, a day of restoration in each week. Jesus later pointed out that the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath (Mark 2). New research points out that sleep (rest) is an essential component of a long and healthy life. Although two kings had difficulty sleeping (Daniel 2 & 4), there is no indication that Daniel every had that problem even though his circumstances were far more dangerous than those of either king.

  • Exercising regularly. Although not mentioned as much as food and rest, Paul wrote that physical training is of some value (not as valuable as godliness, which is valuable for both this life and the next). When he wrote that, there were not so many “labor saving” devices so that people got sufficient exercise in the tasks of daily living. Today we do not, so it is best for us to schedule exercise in our day. We have to stretch things somewhat to find an example of exercise in the book of Daniel. Although we do not recommend walking in fiery furnaces (Daniel 3), we do recommend walking, running, playing your favorite sport, etc. past the point of perspiration for at least a half hour several times a week.

You may wonder what eating, rest, and exercise have to do with mental health. In general psychology the three major categories to help cope with stress:

  • Social support (Priority 2)

  • Aerobic exercise (Priority 3)

  • Time for relaxation (Priority 3)

Six characteristics of happy people are that they tend to have the following:

  • A meaningful faith (Priority 1)

  • Close friendship or a satisfying marriage (Priority 2)

  • Good sleep and exercise (Priority 3)

  • Work and leisure that engage their skills (Priority 3)

  • High self-esteem (created in God’s image)

  • Optimism

What is new about all this?
Nothing. For thousands of years people have known these things. The problem is in doing them. When the expert in the law asked Jesus about important things in Luke 10, Jesus asked him what the law said, and he replied that one should love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus told him he was right—that he should just go do it. Then, to justify himself the expert asked who his neighbor was. Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, and then he asked the expert who was the neighbor. Again the expert answered correctly , and again Jesus told him to go and do it. Like the expert in the law, we know what we should do, we often just do not do it and try to justify our not doing it.
about Laughter

When Martha first became field director, she had a mixture of emotions toward Peter. Martha was annoyed when Peter cracked jokes during field meetings, genuinely liked him because he was so funny, and envied him because he was so popular among other missionaries.

As time went on she came to really appreciate Peter for what he did. Martha realized that she was often so intent on getting the job done that she needed someone like Peter to temper her intensity at times. She came to value his jokes and no longer envied his popularity.

What Martha did not realize was that Peter and people like him are more than just a help to leaders in maintaining team unity, they are valuable in many other ways including physical health, mental health, and social relationships in general.

Physical Health
People often say that laughter is the best medicine, and that is often literally the case. Laughter brings healing and renewal through the following physical changes.

  • It relaxes muscles all over the body, and that relaxation may last for up to an hour.

  • It lowers stress hormones which have an effect on the whole body.

  • It releases endorphins which make people feel good and may even relieve pain.

  • It boosts the immune system making it less likely that individuals will become ill.

  • Although blood pressure may rise briefly during laughter, such laughter lowers blood pressure overall.

  • It helps people relax and fall asleep.

  • It has many of the effects of exercise (although it cannot replace exercise).

Mental Health
Laughter is good for mind as well as body. Here are some mental health benefits.

  • It makes individuals feel good so they can keep an optimistic outlook.

  • It reduces anxiety, fear, anger, and sadness.

  • It helps people relax so they can stay focused to complete tasks.

  • It allows individuals to see things from a more realistic point of view.

  • It creates psychological distance to keep people from feeling overwhelmed.

Social Relationships
Shared laughter is good medicine for social relationships. It is a requirement for strong relationships and has the following effects.

  • It produces positive feelings to strengthen emotional connections.

  • It produces a bond which protects against stress and disagreements.

  • It allows individuals to lower their defensiveness so that they can disregard criticisms and doubts.

  • It lowers inhibitions so that people stop holding back and avoiding others.

  • It lets individuals be more spontaneous and express their true feelings.

In general mutual laughter heals resentments and hurts helping to unite people during difficult times and see each other’s points of view.
Laughter in the Bible
Not all laughter is good for us. The Bible mentions two kinds. Basically “laughing at” someone is bad, and “laughing with” someone is good. Laughing at someone in scorn or ridicule is not good medicine. Here are some examples.

  • They will laugh at him saying… (Psalm 52:6).

  • I have become a laughingstock to my friends (Job 12:4).

  • But they laughed at him (Matthew 9:24).

Here are some examples of laughter as good medicine.

  • He will fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy (Job 8:21).

  • A feast is made for laughter (Ecclesiastes 10:19).

  • Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:2).

The same event may produce both kinds of laughter in the same people at different times. This was the case with Abraham and Sarah in events surrounding the birth of Isaac. When God told them they would have a child, both laughed in derision.

  • Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself… (Genesis17:17).

  • Sarah laughed to herself as she thought about it (Genesis 18:12).

  • God was not pleased with their laughter and rebuked them—and then rebuked Sarah’s lie about it (Genesis 18:13-15).

After Isaac was born, Sarah laughed, but this time it was healthy laughter.

  • Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6).

  • At God’s command, Abraham gave the name Isaac (Laughter) to the son Sarah had borne (Genesis 17:19 and Genesis 21:3).

Who says that God has no sense of humor?
Jesus’ Humor
Asking parents to name their child “Laughter” after they laughed in derision when told they would have a baby shows God’s sense of humor. Likewise, we find Jesus’ sense of humor as he talked to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Here are the events from their point of view.

  • They were walking along the road when a man they did not recognize joined them (vv15-16).

  • Jesus asked them what they were talking about, as if he did not know (v 17).

  • One of them asked Jesus if he knew what had happened in Jerusalem (v18).

  • Jesus asked, “What things?” as if he did not know (v19).

  • They told him about the crucifixion, as well as their dashed hopes, and confusion (vv19-24).

  • Jesus called them foolish, rebuked them, and asked if Christ had to suffer (vv 25-26).

  • Then he explained prophetic Scriptures, still not revealing who he was (v 27).

  • When they neared home, he pretended he was going on, still not telling (v28).

  • They urged him to stay with them, so he did, still not telling (v29).

  • As they ate with him, he gave thanks and broke bread—and suddenly they recognized him! (vv30-31).

  • Then he disappeared! (v31).

Of course, then they remembered cues that should have let them know who he was. Imagine yourself in Jesus place watching their puzzlement and laughing inside!

Getting Started
Anyone can get in on laughter which is free, fun, and easy to use. Living in another culture provides many things to laugh about. Here are some tips on getting started.

  • Count your blessings. It is harder to begin laughing when thinking about things that make you sad, so literally write down a list of things you are thankful for, such as medicines that prevent or cure diseases.

  • Smile at people. Like laughter, smiling is contagious in most cultures. People will often return your smile, and that may lead to laughter.

  • Laugh at yourself. Stop taking yourself so seriously. Instead of trying to hide your embarrassing moments, share them with others so that everyone, colleagues, nationals and even you can get a good laugh.

  • Move toward laughter. Sometimes laughter is the result of an “inside” joke for a small group, but more often it is “public,” and people enjoy telling it again. If you do not understand, ask, “What’s so funny?” Not understanding humor often occurs before you know the culture well.

  • Keep things in perspective. We cannot control many things that happen to us, especially the actions of other people toward us. Rather than getting angry, laugh about those absurdities in life in both your passport and host cultures.

  • Read the comics. I enjoy “Pickles” because it pokes fun at people my age. The cover on one of the books of those comic strips on our table says, “The older I get, the better I was.

  • Watch a funny TV show that you like. “Americas Funniest Videos” makes me laugh out loud, but my wife empathizes with people who fall down or run into things. DVDs of your favorite funny shows are probably available.

  • Hang out with funny people. Find other missionaries who can laugh at themselves and at the absurdities of life and can find humor in a variety of things.

  • Spend some time with children. Young TCKs know how to play and take life lightly. They can laugh at nearly anything.

  • Post reminders to “lighten up” on your office wall or screen saver. How about a picture of yourself with a mustache drawn on it? How can you take yourself seriously if you see that all the time?

  • Do something silly. Help someone wash their car and end up with spraying each other with water!

  • Put on a silly skit for others on your team. Of course, in the skit, poke fun at your own agency—not malicious fun, but humorous fun!

  • Share your language goofs!! Thinking they are talking about being embarrassed, Americans learning Spanish often tell people they are pregnant (embarazada). Beware of false cognates.

The more you laugh, the better it is for you! Have fun laughing at yourself.

about Stress

(with Marty Seitz)

From the time they first followed Jesus, Christian workers have faced great stress. Soon after they were called and appointed to ministry, the disciples found their ministry to the crowds so pressing that they did not even have time to eat (Mark 3:20). Nearly a year later, the stress was still so great that they still did not have time to eat, and they could not escape the crowds even when they tried (Mark 6:31-33).

Paul, first missionary to the Gentiles, listed some of his stressful situations for us.

  • Worked hard, labored, toiled

  • Imprisoned repeatedly

  • Beaten, lashed, stoned

  • Constantly on the move

  • Shipwrecked, a night in the sea

  • In danger from own countrymen

  • Danger in the city, danger in the country

  • Danger from “false brothers”

  • Went without sleep

  • Hungry, thirsty

  • Cold, lacked clothing

  • Pressure of the concern for the churches

(2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

Reading the book of Acts, you will find that early Christian workers faced a variety of stressors.

  • Physical disability

  • False accusations

  • Opposition by local religious leaders

  • Lies and criticisms of other believers

  • Weather delays halting travel

  • Headwinds slowing travel

  • Theological differences within the church

  • Sharp personal disagreements

  • Riots

  • Limited financial resources

  • Evacuations

  • Snakebite

  • Legal action against them

What is stress?
Stress is a process involving environmental events (stressors), our own reactions to the stress, and the resources we use to cope with the stress. Think of this like the bills you receive in the mail. Example 1: You have $500 in the bank (resources), and you receive 20 bills totaling $800 due immediately (events), so you panic (high stress reaction). Example 2: You have $5000 in the bank (resources), but you receive 20 bills totaling $800 due immediately (events), but you have little concern (low stress reaction). Note that the stress you feel depends both on the events and on your resources. So to cope with the stress, you want either to decrease the stressful events or to increase your resources or both.

Some stressors (events) are always present in the background, such as noise, heat, insects, poverty, discrimination, minority status, and you are not even aware of them. Other stressors are the almost daily irritating hassles of life, such as traffic jams, waiting in lines, fender benders, struggling with language in new situations, loneliness, computers down, difficult co-workers, and bureaucracy. You feel the strain whenever they occur. Still other stressors are major life changes experienced by nearly everyone at some time, such as death of a family member, moving to a new church or field of service, serious illness or accident, and divorce of close friends (or yourself). You struggle with them when they happen. Finally, some Christian workers experience life-threatening stressors, such as assault, tornadoes, deadly diseases, earthquakes, evacuation, or war. The effects of these traumas can be long lasting.

Even positive things, such as marriage, the birth of a child, and promotion can be stressful. They require change or adaptation and draw on a person’s resources.
How do people react to stress?
Some people react with physical symptoms, such as headache, stomachache, diarrhea, and so forth. Others people react with psychological symptoms such as anxiety, difficulty concentrating, depression, and so forth. Still others react with behavioral symptoms such as driving too fast, picking fights, overeating, going on spending sprees, and so forth. Stress can affect many areas of our lives.
What can I do about stress?
Remember that to cope with the stress, you want either to decrease the stressful events or to increase your resources for coping with the stress or both.

  • Changing the time you do things may decrease the stressors. Shopping at a different time may decrease the traffic jams, result in fewer lines at the market, and make a fender bender less likely.

  • Stress is cumulative, so try to space out stressful events rather than clumping them together. For example, if you have to deal with a difficult co-worker, do not schedule the meeting right after a shopping trip that is likely to involve long lines and traffic jams. You may even be able to spread out major life change events. If you are due for a change of assignment this year and you have just experienced a death of a family member, your church or agency may allow you to wait another year before that change.

  • Background stressors may sometimes be decreased with things at hand. If noise is constantly draining away your energy, listening to soothing music through a set of headphones may eliminate that source of stress.

  • Anticipating and preparing for stressful situations serves to inoculate you against the stress reactions. If you are going to change assignments, read about the new assignment and plan how you will fill it. If you are in a situation that may call for an evacuation, develop a plan for knowing the time to evacuate, evacuation routes, and alternative means of evacuation. If kidnapping is likely, take steps to avoid it, and learn how to act when kidnapped.

  • God is our major resource for coping with stress. Do not neglect reading God’s Word because the Holy Spirit often illuminates passages of Scripture relative to the stressful situation you are in. Search the Scripture for what God has already said about your situation.

  • Pray for yourself in stressful times. Prayers of intercession for others are wonderful, but at times you need prayers of petition for yourself. Christian workers who spend much time in intercession need not feel guilty for petitioning God for their own needs.

  • Meditate after you have asked God for direction. Listen for the answer. Sometimes the Spirit uses a memorized passage of Scripture, a word from a fellow Christian, or an event that occurs in your life to direct your coping efforts.

  • Ask others to pray for you. These may range from unspoken requests to detailed explanations. Ask people to commit to pray for you by name during specific days or specific times of great stress.

  • Research shows that social support is the single most important human means of increasing resources to combat stress. The fellowship of believers in Christ is an invaluable source of strength for the most difficult stresses you face. The positive supportive relationships of Christian community are great resources, so do not hesitate to draw on them. Ask for help and accept it.

  • Use your problem-solving skills to help reduce your stress. Read about the stressful area in your life. Talk with others who have experienced the same types of stress. Brainstorm solutions yourself, comb books for ideas, and ask others for possible solutions. Select a potential solution, try it out, and evaluate whether or not it works; then adjust it if necessary or try a new solution. Repeat the process as often as necessary.

  • Take time for a healthy diversion. You may need time to cool off a while or recharge before trying to cope any more. You may need a time to rest in addition to your Sabbath each week. Spend some time on reading, listening to music, enjoying a hobby, playing a favorite sport, or doing other things that you enjoy.

  • On the other hand, don’t procrastinate. Procrastinating can also cause increased stress, so set reasonable deadlines for yourself to complete your personal and professional responsibilities.

  • Get some exercise. God gave us reactions to stress that prepare us for flight or fight. Running, swimming, walking rapidly, or playing active sports are analogous to flight. Throwing or hitting balls with your hands or with bats or paddles are analogous to fighting. Both disperse the biochemical buildup that prepares us to cope with stress. Fresh air and sunshine (but not heat) are also usually helpful.

  • Take time for adequate rest and relaxation. Remember that God made the Sabbath for us as humans, and be sure you take that day of rest, relaxation, and restoration each week, whether it is on Sunday or another day of the week.

  • Sleep is a major coping resource for dealing with stress. Take time to sleep, and if you are having difficulty sleeping, learn about ways to get better sleep—see our brochure in this series.

  • Monitor your self-talk. Be sure you have helpful thoughts so that you are an encouraging “coach” to yourself. A mean, cruel, discouraging coach may say something like, “That is really a dumb idea. It’ll never work. There’s no point even trying it.” A caring, hopeful, encouraging coach would say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

  • Pour our your soul. Express your thoughts and/or feelings in any of several ways. These include journaling, writing letters to friends, praying, composing poems or songs, singing songs or reading Psalms that reflect your thoughts or feelings, creating art, and sharing with another person. God created us to communicate with others and to express our thoughts and feelings. This provides a healthy release and may help us understand ourselves better as well as help others understand us.

  • Use relaxation techniques of stretching and/or breathing, and/or imagining one of your favorite places as described in our anxiety brochure.

  • Learn how to appropriately say, “No,” to reduce lower priority demands on your time. God’s people can appropriately refuse the requests of others. At times Jesus himself dismissed the crowd and went off by himself to pray, and he even often withdrew for prayer when people came to hear and be healed (Matthew 14:22-23, Luke 5:15-16). He chose to say, “No,” to one kind of request to meet a higher priority.

  • Delegate some of the responsibility to someone else, such as Jesus did when he sent out the disciples (Matthew 10).

  • Ask for what you need from others. Jesus told his followers to ask, seek, and knock to get things they needed (Matthew 7). Asking for help from others may be a blessing to them. Sacrifices on their part may be spiritually helpful to them.

  • Read good books on stress management, such as Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Matthew McKay, and Elizabeth Eschelman. Read good books on managing your time such as Organize Yourself by Ronni Eisenberg.

  • You may want to explore the Internet for further suggestions

about Time-Oriented Cultures

(Time Management)

(with Marty Seitz)

Since the time of Jesus, those who work for him have found themselves very busy and have needed to manage their time. As revealed in the book of Mark, Jesus himself seemed to be in control of his time. In the dark of early morning after a busy evening Jesus rose early, left the house and went off by himself to pray. When his disciples found him and told him that everyone was looking for him, he said, “Let’s go somewhere else…” (Mark 1:35-38). He said no to some people to make time for others.

Later the crowds surrounded Jesus and his disciples and kept them so busy that they were not even able to eat. When Jesus’ family heard about the tremendous time pressure on him, they came to take charge, but they could not reach him either, so they sent someone in to call him out. That time he stayed where he was teaching even when they told him that his family was there for him (Mark 3:29-33). He did not stop teaching just because his family came.

Still later after his disciples had been called, instructed, commissioned, sent out on an evangelistic crusade, and returned, there were so many people around that they again did not have time to eat. Again Jesus asked them to come to a quiet place with him and get some rest. They went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place (Mark 6:7-32). All these examples demonstrate that Jesus took control of his time.

To this day missionaries, pastors, and other Christian workers find themselves besieged by people with problems. If these Christian workers are not able to take control of their time, they will soon find themselves burning out, thus being of little use for the work of the kingdom of God.

Following is a collection of time management tips grouped into several categories.

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