Simmering the Stress (of church leadership)
Some years ago (when I was still “young-ish”) my health was in a rapidly declining state. Christ Church was moving from 400 in worship each weekend toward 750 and it was literally killing me. Our staff was a mess, the congregation was in flux and I was doing the hard work of re-defining our church culture (without really having any idea what I was doing). I was packing on the weight (the sweet tea, Q and Stew Diet), my blood pressure was soaring and I could suddenly snore the paint off the wall (I awakened each morning and all the paint was on the floor). In addition, I developed a persistent cough and there were involuntary physical “ticks” being displayed early and often. Perfect. After a medical analysis, it was found that stress was the culprit. My doctor told me that I either needed to learn to effectively deal with stress or find a new vocation. Something less stressful. In response, I dropped thirty pounds, developed a new mindset and instituted some techniques to deal with some of the stress in my life.
How I Attempt to Simmer the Stress
1) Do the best I can to prepare I have caused many of my own problems over the years because of a lack of careful preparation. Since procrastination is often our worst enemy when it comes to stress, preparing takes our primary foe out of the mix before we even begin.
2) Leave it with God and don’t let it consume me I try to handle most things by myself but when something gets “in my head” I recognize that I need help. I begin by talking it through with those closest to me and I am not above getting professional help if needed. I am not Superman (though I am a cape owner)…neither are you.
3) Don’t take opposition personally This is really a form of spiritual immaturity and “self” centeredness. Get over yourself.
4) Believe that things turn out as they should A part of having faith is found in realizing that God is in control (and that would make you not in control). Looking back at some of my “defeats,” much good has come of them and if I had controlled the board, history has revealed my proposed course of action would have been a mistake. Learning to believe that God can work though processes (as opposed as expecting processes to affirm your leadership) is a game changer.
5) School up on spiritual warfare There is a devil and he likes to tear stuff up. If you are doing God’s stuff, he is going to put a man on you (this is a basketball metaphor). If you are doing God’s stuff effectively, he is going to put an even better defender on you (still basketball). Those on God’s side win but Satan has certainly not thrown in the towel (boxing metaphor).
6) Realize stress is a tension to be managed, not a problem to be solved Stress is to be expected as we do ministry in a fallen world. Since we can’t eradicate it; we have to learn to manage it. Managing stress is an intentional leadership skill, not an involuntary disposition.
7) Realize the pressure is on God, not on you At the end of the day this is either God’s stuff or it isn’t. If am not planning to take the credit (and I am not) then I have to let God carry the pressure.
These days Christ Church runs well over 2,000 per weekend with no end in sight. We have helped plant two international sister congregations; planted three regional campuses and two Biker Churches. We have some real growth challenges in front of us, something is always going wrong, we are 5 million dollars in debt and have another building project in front of us. If I cannot handle things, God will need to find a leader who can. Some days I still feel the stress but by paying attention to these seven things, I can at least sleep at night (most nights anyway).
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois.