These days my conversations with church leaders often follow a similar pattern.
Me: How are you? How are you holding up in midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic (let’s hope), a national awakening of racial injustice, and an incomparable political season?
Church leader: I’m tired and disappointed. I’m working harder than ever to keep everyone connected and heading in the same direction but every time I turn around, I am disappointing someone and honestly, they’re disappointing me.
I can’t tell you how many of these conversations I’ve had with leaders from across the country over the last several months. The stress of keeping the church connected and moving in the same direction during the pandemic has been overwhelming. Most leaders I’ve talked to are physically and emotionally drained. In addition, with what looks to be a long road to reaching a new normal, the stamina of leaders are in question.
In his new book Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change,” Tod Bolsinger explains how leaders are formed to adapt to change by being forged in the fire of leadership, self-reflection, relationships, commitment, and experience. He describes a resilient leader as someone who is like a chisel that has been crafted and tempered into a useful tool. Bolsinger writes, “If the work of using a tool adds stress to the tool and that stress both strengthens it and hardens it, it would seem that the key to making a tool that is resilient in the face of resistance would mostly require that we just keep using it. And if we are that tool, then we should just keep chipping away at the challenges and obstacles that face us, trusting that we will become stronger and tougher the more energy and effort we put into it.”
Yet, it seems there is a shadow side of just chipping away at the challenges and obstacles. Out of context, Bolsinger’s quote could be interpreted as “just try harder.” In the very next paragraph, Bolsinger talks about the lesson he learned from blacksmiths that “a tool is tempered through a process of stress and rest, of heating the steel and letting it cool, of using the tool and releasing the stress that needs to become the regular rhythm of the tool.” Even before the pandemic, many leaders were “just trying harder” and burning out. Now in this season of the pandemic and shortly after, leaders burning out and leaving the ministry might become an epidemic.
So, what should leaders do?
1. Take the time to rest
I’m terrible at creating time and space for rest. However, I understand the importance of shutting down the phone and the computer and letting yourself take in deep breaths.
Before COVID, one of only ways that I allowed myself to shut down from work and ministry was to go on a cruise. Honestly, the destination of the cruise didn’t matter. I was too frugal (some might call it cheap) to purchase the internet package. Once we left the port, I was forced to turn off the phone, my internet access, and my connection to the world. After a couple of days of eating too much and sleeping by the pool, I could finally relax and experience rest.
Every leader must figure out ways to disconnect and trust that the ministry will continue for a few days. This idea of trust has less to do about the ministry and your team but more about your self-perception. It has taken me a lot of years to understand this.
2. Take the time to listen
Listening isn’t one of my natural gifts. It is a skill I’ve had to develop over the years in ministry. Often, my mind runs ahead to what I want to communicate rather than listening intently to the person in front of me—or even to the Holy Spirit. Every time I hear Scott Cormode, Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Seminary, talk about listening, I am reminded that when I am in a hurry or when I am busy pursuing my own agenda, I fail to listen to the longings and losses of the people entrusted to my care. He writes in his book, The Innovative Church, that God calls leaders not to a task but to a people. The needs of the people around me should define the work that I do as a leader, not my own plans or even my own passion.
When we are in the midst of great challenges, it is best to slow down and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to the people who are entrusted to our care. By listening, we stay connected to our calling as leaders and to the people we are called to lead.
Tweet this: The stress of keeping the church connected and moving in the same direction during the pandemic has left many church leaders physically and emotionally drained. Here are 2 reminders for those leading through crisis.
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1. Tod E. Bolsinger, “Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change,” in Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), p. 194.
2. Ibid., 194-195.
3. Scott Cormode, “The Innovative Church: How Leaders and Their Congregations Can Adapt in an Ever-Changing World,” in The Innovative Church: How Leaders and Their Congregations Can Adapt in an Ever-Changing World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2020), p. 43.
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