24 April 2015
Spiritually fresh leadership
by Marcus Honeysett
I wonder if the people in your church have ever stopped to ask who is feeding the people who have the responsibility of feeding them? There is just a possibility that church leaders, and those to whom they are married, might be among the least spiritually fed people in the church.
The situation is startlingly common. Church leaders –and their spouses, don't forget them –work with consistently high demands and pressures. So, of course, do people in many other professions. But church leadership has some unique burdens not shared by others.
Often they might feel on call 24/7, and even when the phone isn't ringing in the middle of the night with an unexpected pastoral crisis, leaders always take the work home with them. In addition, many feel that they are the only ones in their church who must never struggle with doubt or temptation or sin. They help others, they are purveyors of hope for the church. Surely the leaders can't struggle themselves? In the worst case scenario they can fear their jobs, houses, support for family and future employment are dependent on being sinless. Which is, of course, fatal to any desire to live with transparent honesty.
Add to that the pressure of being the sole focus of everyone's hopes for the church and, when things go wrong, the fear of being the focus for every bit of criticism. Few have clear job descriptions or processes for working through conflict with their employer –the church –that would be normal, and legally required, in many other workplaces and many never get an uninterrupted day off.
The consequence is that many Christian leaders live on the red line pretty much all the time. The level of their spiritual outgoings can be consistently greater than their incomings. As Eugene Petersen says: "Far more activity is generated by [spiritual leaders] than there are resources to support them… The final consequence is bankruptcy. The bankruptcies are dismayingly frequent."
Petersen hits the nail on the head. Let a Christian leader exist in that situation for any length of time and they become unable to lead out of a centre of a satisfying life with God.
Ten years ago Living Leadership was established to disciple church leaders. Through its ministry I started to meet many who live on the ragged edge, running on fumes. Here are some of the main things we see debilitating leaders time after time:
·Persistent discouragement compounded by isolation. Being the only person carrying final responsibility in every area of church life all the time
·Trying time and again to change a spiritually stalled and resistant church
·Unrealistic expectations placed upon them leading to worry and impoverished prayer and worship life
·Regular overwork leading to lack of sabbath rest and exhaustion
These things work like slow punctures, gradually draining leaders out until there is nothing left to give. Unless leaders are spiritually well-sustained they can't feed others.
So how can leaders sustain themselves spiritually? And how can the whole church encourage it? The good soil in which Christians grow consists of: church community of depth and encouragement, prayer, scripture, Sabbath rest and worship. Leaders need to experience all of these just as much as anyone else and churches can help ensure they do. Helpful things include:
1. Clearly shared expectations of what leaders can and can't do. This helps prevent an ever-upward spiral of unrealistic expectations
2. Uninterrupted rest. If the Church wants spiritually fresh leadership it is wise to give attention to this
3. Fellowship and friendship of depth and honesty. The Church that denies its leaders the opportunity to have real friends is setting them up for a fall. Valuing leaders' families. It's easy for leaders to think: 'If I don't respond to this or that demand the church will fall apart,' but not to apply the same reasoning to their family life. Treat leaders' families well and there will be warm love between leaders and church.
4. Provide opportunities to receive input that is tailored to their unique needs and to worship for themselves with no responsibility for leading others.
The Pastoral Refreshment Conference from Living Leadership, originally the brainchild of three church leaders who asked what they would most like to help their spiritual walk with God, has grown over the last 10 years into an oasis of pastoral encouragement and sustenance for leaders and spouses from around the UK and abroad. It's a spiritual mini-break aimed to help leaders continue to fan their walk with God into flame in a nourishing community of grace and encouragement.
"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of now benefit to you." (Hebrews 13:17)
Marcus Honeysett is director of Living Leadership.