Some years ago (when I was still “young-ish” and in my early forties) 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 dysfunctional mess, the congregation was kicking and screaming 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 determined that stress was the culprit. My doctor told me that I either needed to learn to effectively deal with stress, find a new vocation or downsize the church to something I could handle. I chose Option A. In response, I dropped thirty pounds, got back in shape, developed a new mindset, started delegating ministry leadership and tasks and instituted some techniques to deal with some of the stress in my life.
1) Do your best 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 you 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 Taking everything personally is really a form of spiritual immaturity and “self” centeredness. Get over yourself. Ministry is not about you…or me.
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 us not in control). Looking back at some of my “defeats,” much good has come of them. If I had run the table (pool metaphor) and had things my way, 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 crap 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) Don’t worry about things you can’t control I place things into a mental Bucket #1 (things that are my problem) and Bucket #2 (things that are not my problem). As my Bucket #1 gets ever smaller, stress simmers down… Don’t let worry cause you to die a thousand deaths. Deal with things out of your control when they come rather than ruminate on them.
7) 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. Get a plan. Execute it.
8) 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 2,500 per weekend with no end in sight. With four campuses and a huge staff, our systems have never been more complex. We have some real growth challenges in front of us, something is always going wrong, we are seven million dollars in debt and there is always a major project looming just ahead. If I cannot handle the stress, God will need to find a leader who can. What God is doing here is too important to hold things up for me. Some days I still feel the stress but by paying attention to these eight things, I can at least sleep at night (most nights anyway).
Leaders can’t avoid leadership stress…but we can manage it!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Senior Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.