Many of us are exhausted. We have faced challenges that we never expected to face, and without warning or preparation, we were thrown into a blizzard of change. It has been draining. Leaders across the country are starting to feel the strain. There are times when the calling of leadership can leave us feeling like we have been placed in a vice, squeezed from both sides and stuck in the middle of expectation and reality.

None of this denies God has been faithful or that amazing things have happened. The church in the power of the Spirit has done fantastic work across our nations: people have encountered Jesus and many have been helped. However, planning, trying to connect people, preparing material and being available are all energy sapping. Some of us have also had the deeply emotional challenges of helping people through the grieving process or working with those who are dealing with fear and anxiety.

As we begin to move into a new season of opening buildings, making changes and meeting expectations, it could be that some of us are burning out. We will move into another challenging time already feeling anxious, tired, weak and a bit down. In my 20 years of church leadership, I have reached the point of exhaustion twice. Drawing on research and my own experience, these are my top 10 tips for self-care.

  1. Think about the rhythms in your life
  2. Have accountability
  3. Look through a different lens
  4. Learn to laugh

We need to work at creating space for personal renewal and for God to speak – time set aside every day for family, friends and yourself. Make sure that days off become boundaries and ensure you book holidays. Don’t work more, work smarter. If you feel refreshed, you will work more effectively. Walk, look at the wonder of creation, allow yourself to relax, let stress lose its grip.

Do you need to rework your diary?

It is vital that we have two or three people who we trust. These people should be mature followers of Jesus who have wisdom and confidence. More importantly, they should be committed to your flourishing. They should be willing to honestly tell you what they see. Sometimes when things are getting difficult it’s hard to be objective; we need people who have permission to speak the truth to us, even when it is difficult to hear.

Do you need to start a small accountability group?

Sometimes viewing the key issues we are facing from a different perspective can help us put things into context. Are others going through similar trials? Is there wisdom to glean from other parts of the world? Can we find things to reflect on in other disciplines? Perhaps church history has stories that will help, or maybe there is expertise to learn from in our own congregation? When we are overstretched, we can sometimes become myopic. We stick our heads down and just keep working. Sometimes we need to stop, take some time, and look at things from a new perspective.

Do you need to get your head up and look at your situation from another perspective?

Some of the things that tired me out the most were, in hindsight, pretty absurd. Exhausted, I would worry about things that I could not change or, in the light of day, that really didn’t matter. I realised that the more tired I became, the more insignificant things would loom large in my thinking. Exhaustion takes away perspective.

Have you noticed that the more anxious you become, the less you laugh? One of the best pieces of advice I received from a consultant was that laughter is key in combatting anxiety. It decreases stress, increases immune cells, releases endorphins and, all-round, helps to promote a sense of wellbeing. I took my consultant’s advice and bought a few episodes of my favourite comedy series. After a long or tiring meeting I’d put these on; they made me laugh and this helped energise me.

What and who makes you laugh? Do you need to spend a little more time watching or listening to them?

  1. Get involved
  2. Take time out
  3. Switch off
  4. Practice what you preach
  5. Be a worshipper
  6. Remember who you are

This may seem counterintuitive, particularly when you feel drained, but spending time with people with whom you share a passion can be beneficial. Becoming a sports coach, joining a movie club, perhaps even baking or brewing. Reconnecting with a totally different group of people that has a shared interest and entering a completely different headspace can energise you at the end of a difficult day.

Do you have a hobby or passion you can share with others?

Retreats don’t appeal to everyone; it completely depends on the type of person you are. Some of us derive energy from others, so we need folk around us when we are tired. For some, however, time away, be it one day or three, may be what we need in order to recharge. Time to go to a quiet place away from everything we normally do in order to reflect and rest. I have found that a prayer counsellor or a planned retreat can also be helpful. It enables us to stop and allow the healing and restorative work of the Spirit.

Do you need to make space to listen?

For most of us, this will be the hardest tip to follow. Switch off the laptop, tablet, mobile and anything else that means lots of people can get hold of you. Just do it. No more social media, nothing to remind you of all the things people expect of you, no instant replies. At first you may feel guilty and you may be tempted to check for messages – don’t do it. Give yourself a night to yourself. God is in control, not you. Things can wait until the morning and others can pick up the slack. Get away from that irritating ping’ that demands your attention all hours of the day. Switch off.

Can you turn off your devices for a couple of nights?

I am pretty sure you will have taught people about sabbath and rest and that God understands our limitations and that we live by grace. You may have said from the pulpit, platform or office that God does not need you to exhaust yourself but offers life in all its fullness. Remember that talk you gave on it is Christ who builds the church’? Could it be that you need to listen to your own teaching and put into practice what you have urged others to do? If someone came to you from the congregation as tired as you are, consider what you would advise them.

Do you need to put into practice the things we would encourage others to do?

Our own devotional lives can get squeezed when we are worn out is. I am not in any way trying to make you feel bad or give you a sense of spiritual guilt, however, we are meant to be worshippers – those who delight in Jesus and spend time with Him. It pays to take time to remind ourselves that Jesus is in control and that He is with us in both our successes and our struggles. We are called to be worshipping witnesses, not to build the church.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into your wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

Do you need to review your devotional life?

It is okay to take rest. God does not love you more because you work yourself to the bone. He calls you to follow, but your success or failure in anything does not alter who you are and how much you are loved. Many of us are activists by nature and we drive ourselves hard, which can move us from grace into works.

See what great love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called children of God. And that is who we are.” 1 John 3:1

Can you start and finish the day by taking time to remember who you are in Christ?

All of us go through periods of exhaustion, anxiety and confusion. This comes with being in the world. This has been a time of huge challenge, with church leaders taking many funerals and pastoring deeply hurt people. We have had to find creative ways to bring unity and hope, continue to engage our congregations, and create online services, prayer meetings and resources. It’s no wonder that some of us will be weary and will lack a creative spark. 

We must recognise these seasons and take steps to take care of ourselves. It is okay to take a break. Fit things into your life so that your ministry has better rhythms. Remember that God is committed to you not because of what you achieve but because of His grace.

I have found this prayer helpful in my own journey of faith:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision
Where I live in the depths but see in the heights;
Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up
That to be low is to be high
That the broken heart is the healed heart
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul
That to have nothing is to possess all
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown
That to give is to receive
That the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine.
Let me find thy light in my darkness
Thy life in my death
Thy joy in my cogrowth
Thy grace in my sin
Thy riches in my poverty
The glory in my valley.

Puritan prayer cited by Marva J. Dawn – Powers, Weakness and the Tabernacle of God, p67