18 July 2013
How to keep calm and carry on in church leadership
Time pressures, emotional pressures, financial pressures, deadlines, conflicts, responsibilities, expectations, stresses, anxieties, threats. All leaders will feel these pressures to differing extents at different times in their ministry. Unfortunately I cannot tell you how to get rid of them this side of eternity, but I can share four things that have helped me stay calmer when under pressure.
When I face pressure in ministry I am greatly helped by having friends who are not in the immediate situation I am struggling with. Having mates with whom I can blow off steam either on the end of a phone line or over a coffee or a walk is a lifeline to me. Even in the most difficult or complicated of situations, it always amazes me how many other people have been through similar periods – sharing with them has often been a lifesaver.
I am always encouraged by the embarrassing prayers contained in the book of Psalms. They encourage me that intercession does not need to be polite and proper but can be full of fury and candour. They not only give me permission to rant my honest frustrations to God, but also give me words when I have run out of words of my own. In this way prayer is more than a cathartic release – as we pray the Psalms we find our prayers are reformed to become more God-centred and God-honouring than they were before. But that reformation does not trump the Psalms' raw emotional honesty as a pattern for a leader's prayer life.
Sometimes I am shocked by how cruel, manipulative, nasty, complaining and ungodly Christians can be. And then I realise – I too have been all of these things more often than I like to remember. In fact the Church since its inception has always been made up of flawed, fallen and frustrating people. When Paul was suffering in prison for the gospel some other Christian leaders used it as an opportunity to discredit him (Philippians). Moses had to deal with God's people who, after escaping the clutches of the mighty Egyptian army by God's spectacular intervention, immediately complained about the catering arrangements (Exodus). Why should we expect in our day for the Church to be any better? Because people are the main cause of stresses and pressures leaders face in ministry, getting our own expectations right is vital if we are going to keep calm under pressure.
4.Relating to family
When I have faced the most stressful and pressurised times in my ministry being able to give and receive love from my family has been a great help. It has never been good for us to be alone and we were designed by God to be social, to need to give and receive love in committed covenant relationship. In my experience prioritising dealing with family pressures has helped me make sure I am best able to handle pressures at work. I have also found that being a foster dad has helped a great deal – being able to come away from stressful ministry situations and simply pour love into a young and often broken child's life is immensely satisfying; it brings perspective, and a sense of purpose and peace, knowing that we are called first of all to show God's love to others.