By Darren Walter
Whether you are a volunteer leader at your church or a paid staff member, you will face burnout and discouragement in ministry. Leadership is challenging, particularly in the church. Jesus is our example of the ultimate servant leader. In John 13, he wraps a towel around his waist and washes the disciples’ feet. But what happens when you feel more like throwing in the proverbial towel than tying it around your waist to serve others?
When you’re in the midst of burnout, it’s hard to believe that you’ll ever find your way out. You desperately want to feel that energy and passion for serving and leading that you once had, but it seems that’s water under the bridge and you are miles and miles downstream. With God’s help, you can paddle your way to healthy balance – once again serving the Lord and others with passion, and even find joy in serving and leading.
Here are five ways to stir up your heart of leadership and eagerly reach for the serving towel again.
1) BE A FOLLOWER
Every great leader is a great follower. No matter your role as a leader, you must be a great follower to be a great leader. When I am at my wits’ end with ministry, it just so happens that I have also neglected quiet time with the Lord. When I stop following Jesus closely each day, my ability to be a servant leader dries up. Jesus even modeled this. He followed after God. He was always in communication with His Father, always taking time to spend with God. Jesus also taught us to go to the source of our strength. Take a moment to soak up what Jesus invited his busy disciples to do when ministry became overwhelming. “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’" (Mark 6:31)
There have been times in ministry when my sure calling was the only thing that kept me focused, committed and showing up every day. A sense of calling is perhaps THE rudder of spiritual leadership. At the end of the day – no matter what happens, how the meeting goes, or to what extent the world crashes in around me – the one thing that keeps me white-knuckling the “ministry wheel” is a strong sense of calling from God. He has called me to serve Him in this place for this time. He has a purpose greater than what I see at the moment. Take a moment to reflect on your calling.
3) PERSONAL INTEGRITY
As a servant leader, sometimes you have to do some crummy stuff. For example, you may have to have a very private conversation with someone in your church about their sin or behavior. You may have to confront someone about something they said, or how they said it. You may even have to release a staff person from employment. None of these things are fun, but they can all be found on the “To Do” list of the leader. Trying to please God, doing the right thing, treating people with love and grace, and wanting the best for people and for the church, makes swallowing the big pills of leadership a bit easier.
Even in ministry you can become an uncaring jerk who thinks they are God’s gift to the world. You can make decisions like a jerk. You can fire people like a jerk. You can talk to volunteers or staff like a jerk. At the end of the day when you look in the mirror, or put your head on the pillow, you need to be able to say, “That was a really bad day, but I tried my best in the midst of difficult decisions and painful conversations to be a reflection of Jesus.” That’s personal integrity for the Christian leader.
Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing we are the masters of the universe. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar company, the pastor of a growing church, or the lead janitor at a high school, we all have moments when we think who we are and what we do are paramount to the existence of all mankind. Reminding ourselves that we’re not really in charge can be very freeing. I try to remind myself that my biggest responsibilities include: yielding my life to God, loving and serving my family, and doing what I can to serve and love others.
5) SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO GET IT
If you are a servant leader, you need a few people with whom you can vent frustrations and anxieties. Those same people should be close enough to you to say, “Okay, enough venting, it’s time to pray. It’s time for truth.” Surrounding yourself with a spouse, friends or others in ministry who understand the stresses and challenges of church leadership can help a lot. Above all, there’s no one better to share your stresses and tensions with than the Lord. Spend time at the feet of Jesus, pouring your heart out and allowing Him to fill you up again. This brings us right back to being a good follower.