How do you spur on leaders? Oftentimes, spur team (we are in charge of encouraging the fellowship) focus on people like freshmen who have never taken a college exam yet, but we overlook those who are leaders and are possibly subject to even more burn out. Is it the same thing as spurring anyone else, or are there specific requests or things to focus on?
(I made you anonymous just in case you were misconstrued as “outing” your leaders.)
This is an awesome question and I’m so glad you asked it. While I don’t want to lock this down in a formula — it won’t help to walk in a group meeting and say, “Let’s knock out this list!” — there are some things to consider about spurring on leaders. Please feel free to skip around, and here is my other post on burnout.
1) Leaders need a safe place to vent and release their frustrations outside the sight of the congregation.
About ten years ago, I worked at a really popular restaurant which we’ll call E.F. Wang’s. In the back there was this sort of padded room with tables and rolling carts. Soon I saw a waiter in that room flipping the tables and kicking the carts over and cussing at the top of his lungs. He then emerged relaxed and ready to work with a big smile on his face. I realized: this was the Venting Room.
We all need a safe place to vent. Venting doesn’t always mean we’re showing our “true colors” or that we have anger issues. Certainly it can be dangerous and lead to a loss of control — but it’s even more dangerous if we never release our pent-up craziness. Everyone wants to be heard, no matter how petty.
Leaders often struggle with the balancing act of trying to be courageous in front of others while also being vulnerable enough to relate to people. At times this feels like an unfair game in which they’re constantly questioning their own authenticity and whether they’re holding up amidst piercing eyes — and it’s always at the twitching edge of collapsing.
This is why the more a leader can stay “in touch” with their personal struggle in a space of honesty, the less they have to worry about this split-anxiety. The more he or she releases these frustrations, the more strength they can muster for people while also remaining true to themselves.
If you haven’t yet, call for a monthly staff meeting and call it “Ugly Time” or “No Judgement Zone” or “Flipping Tables.” Or “Free Donuts.” Enforce a list of guidelines to avoid gossip, violence, and glorifying the self — and then let it rip.
2) Cultivate an atmosphere of circular encouragement.
One of my favorite times in staff meetings is the Ring of Encouragement. About once per month, we sit in a circle of chairs and I ask one person to encourage the person next to them, to be very specific, to cast a big vision for that person, and to keep going down the line. It starts off pretty awkward. No one is used to receiving (and giving) compliments. You know how it is.
But I’ve always noticed that the encouragement never goes in order. When someone is encouraged, they feel a cheerful urge to encourage right back. Soon it becomes this big sloppy laughing group-hug of high-fives and long embracing. I’ve seen people break down in tears, confessing they thought no one cared, that no one noticed, that they had nothing left. It was over a simple comment like, “I appreciate how you brought a water bottle to the praise leader last week.”
We don’t have to do this in a sit-down circle. We can pour out grace, without formulas, without chairs, outside meetings, at this very moment. You have a phone, a laptop, a voice. A vibrant church is always going to be filled with verbally spoken compassion, not just in prayer but in every opportunity. That must be true for all levels — with the leaders, congregation, youth group, praise team, missionaries, secretaries, and janitors.
I’ll add: I know this can become fake very quickly. But there is always a slippery slope somewhere, and we can choose which slopes to navigate. I’d rather slide towards fake than empty. It’s a poor excuse to say, “I don’t want to encourage them right now because I want to mean it first.” If I always waited until I felt sorry to apologize, well — I’d have zero friends. I’ll leave you on this point with a quote by the inimitable C.S. Lewis —
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
— C.S. Lewis
3) Cultivate an atmosphere of missional humility.
In the end, we can’t wait for encouragement. I have served in very hostile church environments where no one cared to compliment each other at all. At one point I hadn’t heard an encouraging word from the staff in nearly three years. That’s twelve seasons. Thirty-six months. I was starving.
At the time, I wanted to blame my church culture for my mistakes and even for my disobedience. “They’re all jerks so they brought this on themselves.” But when pastors are being arrested and beheaded for their faith in a crowd screaming for their blood, who was I to wallow in self-pity? Who was I to think I deserved anything — even God’s grace?
For your ministry teams, this means reminding them to keep their eyes on Jesus and above all else, to remember his mission. Ministry requires a tough humility, a certain type of self-death that many leaders will not understand until they hit the valley. So it’s okay if your leaders need a break to recharge in order to keep going. It’s also okay if they sincerely want to quit, because not everyone is called/wired/built for long-term ministry. But always: the mission.
Leaders are called to persevere through seasons of dryness, doubt, and burn-out. They rest when necessary and then give it all they have. This sets us apart from “secular humanism” or mere inspiration. Continually remind your teams of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and preach it to yourself, too.
“Some of you are doer, doer, doer types. You’re gonna burn out, you’re gonna get frustrated, you’re gonna be ineffective, unless you, literally, just block out your time, go to the woods, turn off your laptop, turn off your cell phone. Get your break, get with Jesus, pray, get your bucket refilled, get your Bible open, sing some songs. And some of are contemplatives and you do that too much. You’re always thinking about things that could be done, but you don’t do anything. You write nice blogs about things that other people should do, and you tweet things thinking that somehow in ‘Twitterland others will just obey you and do it, because you added a verse to it or you said, ‘Thou shalt.’ All right, and it’s the issue that some of you contemplatives, you gotta get up, man, put the book down, because you can’t see a lost and hurt, dying world through that book. It’s time to put it down, get your boots on, get in the game, get something done. That’s the way that it works: Action and then rest to replenish you to go back to action. For those of you who are contemplatives, you do too much resting, chilling, Jesus time. Those of you who are active, you need to schedule it, you need to make it happen.”
— Mark Driscoll