Running on empty
Sometimes church can be a drag; and sometimes it all gets a bit much. Fran Beckett shares some ideas on what church leaders can do when leadership fatigue strikes...
Are you finding it hard to muster enthusiasm for leading home group this week? Does the thought of preparing Sunday sermons depress you? Do conversations with individuals leave you full of exasperation? Do you think frequently – “I can’t do this anymore” – and then quickly tell yourself not be so silly and move swiftly on to the next activity or meeting?
That place of weariness in leadership, which many experience but few admit, can take many forms due to the uniqueness of our circumstances and our individual reactions. The symptoms are similar: regularly experiencing impatience; irritability; lack of concentration through to tearfulness; difficulty in sleeping - even drinking too much. Energy is harder to summon up. Situations and conversations that once would have made our spirits soar don’t have the same effect or, if they do, it’s short-lived and followed by a dragging inner tiredness.
“As leaders aren’t we supposed to somehow hold it all together?”
As former models of tolerance, we find ourselves running out of capacity swiftly and consequently have to work exceptionally hard to maintain our cool. When faced with the high expectations of others, or when they have no problem in telling us how we should be doing our job differently or our church is failing them, understanding proves elusive.
To cap it all, praying can become a struggle and cease to be the comfort that it once was. In our heads we know God is with us but somehow that He is also ‘for us’ is less certain. Heaven may seem strangely silent.
The problem with all this is that it can leave us feeling desperately unspiritual. After all, as leaders aren’t we supposed to somehow hold it all together? Despite what we know in our heads in our emotions we may continue to entertain super-hero (or heroine) images of Christian leaders.
I know it’s all too easy to describe the symptoms but what do you do when you find yourself in this situation and what steps can you take to reduce the likelihood of it occurring?
Firstly, and most importantly, stop pretending there’s nothing wrong. Admit to someone else how you’re feeling and give them the opportunity to feed back on what they see as contributing to your situation. Consider how you would advise someone else in similar circumstances. Remember physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions are all interconnected so start tackling the physical tiredness. Take a good holiday then ensure regular days off and exercise. If you remain overly tired book a doctor’s appointment to get a physical check up.
You need to establish new rhythms of work, leisure, prayer and study. Find someone you can be yourself with and meet up regularly. Alternatively, form a peer support group with other leaders from elsewhere.
Each one of us should regularly take the time to consider how much of what we do now is still shaped by our original calling and what God has said to us over the years. Are you still on track or do you need to make changes? Occasionally place yourself in situations where you are not directly responsible for others by attending conferences, retreats and worship events. And, when you can’t find the words to pray, using the ancient words of liturgy written by others can be liberating.
Lastly, don’t forget the importance of laughter and fun!
Fran Beckett OBE
Leader (Restore – Peckham)
Consultant (Anthony Collins Solicitors)