Terry Shue is director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA
Every week members of our cabinet fill out a simple form to give Ervin an update of the work we have been doing. Near the end of the form there is a place to put a number to represent our personal satisfaction with the job we have. The task is to place ourselves on a scale between 0-100 with 0 being, “I am done” and 100 being “this job is super!” Usually I mark in the mid to low 90’s, although once I put 82 just to see if Ervin would catch it. He did!
Though I tend to be an upbeat, positive person, there are times that the challenges that we face in our denomination are really heavy on my heart. Relationships that are strained and broken drain off our energy. Decisions which are being made put some of us on different paths where we will very likely have less and less fellowship together. Not only is the polarization which is so pronounced in our culture being mirrored in our church, but friendships and families are often caught striving to manage this widening chasm as well.
We know as leaders at any level today that our congregations and organizations face realities which inevitably put us in stressful situations. In these situations we listen to those with whom we disagree and at times need to say things to persons who will not appreciate it. Sounds like the way Jesus lived.
It is here, in the messiness of the church, in the rift of the chasm between the volatile extremes of passionate believers, where the wear-and-tear of leadership takes its toll. And as I talk to pastors and other congregational leaders going through this type of difficulty, at times I hear them say they are ready to go work at Walmart, or drive a truck, with only a slight smile veiling their frustrations.
A decade ago, in my deepest season of despair of ministry, I found myself leading a bible study through the whole bible. Book after book we read through and reflected on the plight of the leaders of the Old Testament who were wishing they could “go work at Walmart” or anything other than lead these people!
I was struck with the fact that resiliency in leadership is a vitally important trait.
Moreover, it is a trait which is really only seen (and needed) when the organization, and thus the people, are going through stressful times.
In the stressful season of the church today, I commit to the following daily practices to kindle the resilience my spirit needs for the journey of leadership. I offer them to you and invite you to join me on this journey.
While going through difficult times in a church it is very easy for leaders to begin to over function and somehow fall into the mindset that it is up to them to get the “bus out of the ditch” alone. We quickly begin to think, “If I just work harder things will get better.” The sad reality is that an over-functioning pastor working in an acutely anxious congregational system rarely has the calming effect which is needed. If I have not tended to the realities of my own needs, I will have very little to offer the group I am called to lead.
Self-care for me is a broad category of deliberate attention given to the body, mind and spirit. Self-care requires creating space in the busyness of our work for sufficient time for an exercise routine, spiritual reflection, creative play, and time to tend to a network of loved ones around us. And the reality is, if you don’t tend to this yourself, no one else will do it for you, nor will they necessarily notice it if you don’t – until it is too late.
To look for and give voice to what is right in the world and the church
We are surrounded with so many sources of negativity and fear. But there are so many good things going on in the world and the church. When we believe this is true and open our eyes, we start to see this reality. Turn off the news feeds selling information and inciting fear, and begin to grasp the reality that God is at work in the beautiful world which is dearly loved. Allow our minds and our eyes to see these great realities. And then when we find it, point it out with encouragement and by telling the story! To tell the good stories of what God is doing through the church is just as contagious as the cancerous negativity of the evening news! When we celebrate what is right in the world, we find the energy to be part of fixing what is wrong with the world. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Assume the best of intentions
It is so easy to do and we all fall into it at times. A topic comes up and personalities are connected to it in ways which are not always fair or helpful. We have all done it – put persons and their perspective into small little boxes which are predicable caricatures for future reference. But I have found it to be much more life-giving and almost always more accurate to assume that the person I disagree with on matters of faith arrive at their position because of their faith, not in spite of it! The desire to follow Jesus with our lives, through our varied life experiences and in our own contexts can bring us to different places on a variety of issues. Rather than react with anger and arrogance of superiority, I have found a great source of strength for my resiliency by listening to the stories of how persons got to their positions as an expression of their faith. Not that this has caused me to change my mind on issues whenever I hear a compelling story. Actually listening and being listened to have done two things which sustain me in ministry. They allowed me to be clearer in my own thinking on conflicting matters of the day and with a healthy humility, given me the ability to celebrate that God is at work in others’ lives as well. And in this diverse broken world, all of the gifts God has given to the church need to be celebrated and used.
Yes leadership at any level today is tough. Likely, it always has been. Especially in a time like we are going through in the church, we as leaders would do well to develop the practices which will feed our souls, nurture our relationships and sustain us for the long haul. So how are you attending to these matters? What do you do to assure your resiliency in ministry through challenging times? I would love to hear your stories to be inspired and to share with others.