Leadership in any realm can be challenging. A good leader doesn’t just forge the trail up the mountain, but she moves ahead to make a way while always stopping to go back to help those she is leading up the trail. A leader has to think forward while caring for the person who is falling behind.
Have you ever thought about a dance instructor or aerobics instructor? I used to be in a zumba class and, not to brag or anything (maybe a little), I was awesome. I love to dance and I pick up steps quickly. So, when our instructor knew she would be on vacation for a couple of weeks, she asked me to step in and lead. I hesitated because I’m no Jane Fonda but I decided that I knew the routines perfectly and could surely handle two weeks of leading.
Y’all, that is no easy job. The class instructor has to not only be able to do the routines perfectly, but there is the whole thing about calling out the steps before you get to them so everyone else knows what’s coming. Your mouth is saying jazz square while your feet are still cha-cha-cha-ing. It’s insanity! Also, take into account that as the class leader, you can’t half-way those dance moves. If you aren’t all in, booty shaking, salsa dancing, Sharkira-hippin it up, the other people in the room sure as heck aren’t going to give it their all. It’s the perfect analogy for leadership really. Eight counts ahead without leaving everyone in the dust. Over the top enthusiasm so others bring just an ounce of their own energy. Leadership is rewarding but let’s get real. This stuff is exhausting.
So in the church, how can we bless our leaders so they don’t burn out but rather lead with joy? I have a few thoughts to share with you and would love to hear any you have as well.
1) Don’t demand to be 1 of the 12.
Everyone wants to be in the inner circle. I get it. I do too. There are people that I observe and I think, “I want to be like them. We should be friends.” And I want so badly for them to give me all the attention they give their closest people.
This is just unrealistic. Jesus had thousands of followers. He loved all of them. He, at times, met the needs of the masses. But He also had 12 guys with whom He did life. These 12 got the inside scoop on the parables and front row seats to the miracles. Even still, within the 12, He had the 3, Peter, James, and John. These guys were His best friends. They didn’t just see the works of Jesus, but they saw the emotions of Jesus more than anyone else.
I’ve had friends in ministry who have cut themselves off from community because so many people have expressed hurt and frustration over not being invited into their inner circle. Y’all, this is not ok. If we are demanding that our leaders let all of us into their inner circle and are so angry when they dare to have a small group of trusted friends, we push them into isolation. An isolated leader is a dangerous leader. With no one to speak truth into their lives, to stand guard with them, to pray over specific struggles, there is a good chance that our leaders will take wrong turns that go unnoticed for months or years because we have told them that if we can’t have them, no one can.
So, don’t demand to be one of the twelve. Rejection is hard. I get it. No one wants to be left out. But, I promise you, if we would set our leaders free from the pressure of having to make all of us their number one, our churches would be much healthier.
2) Pick a new topic
Vocational ministry is one of the most difficult jobs to “leave at the office”. Ministry is a lifestyle more than a job. But, if every time you run into them, all you can think to discuss with your leaders is the ministry of the church, they will very quickly begin to feel less like a human being and more like a means to an end. One can only talk about the “success” of the Christmas Pageant so many times before he starts to wonder if people remember that he did more over Christmas than play Herod in the pageant and sweep up pine needles around the pulpit.
Ministry leaders can morph into little house-elf type creatures in their imaginations. Where do you work? “The church.” Where do you sleep? “The robe room at church.” Where do you eat? “There’s this closet where we keep communion crackers…” Why are you always at the church? “My sole function in life is to pull off a successful Christmas Pageant. That’s all my congregation ever talks about with me so I eat, sleep, and breathe pageant because if I give an ounce to anything else, I’ll have failed them.”
Ask them about their family. Ask them what they are reading for fun. Tell them about the new wine you tried and how much you think they would like it. Maybe offer to buy them a bottle. (If you’re Baptist, substitute tea for wine.) Talk to your leaders about something other than work. They need a break.
3) Pray for them
This seems like a fairly simple one, right? Except, we are terrible at it. I’m terrible at it. It’s so much easier to wonder why our leaders are so awesome (or perhaps even easier, why they are so terrible). We spend so much time thinking about our leaders through our own filters but we never get to the prayer that should be at the end of those thoughts (or perhaps, the beginning).
As followers of Jesus, we know that God’s Word tells us over and over about the effectiveness of prayer. Moses stood in the gap for his people and asked God to spare them and God changed His mind. We know that God hears our prayers and James tells us the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. And yet, we don’t seem to believe this. We know, like we know the chair is built to hold us, but we never sit down in the chair, we never open our mouths to call on God.
Hopefully, our leaders are being led by the Holy Spirit. But there is most definitely an enemy who does not want them to keep in step with The Spirit. We need to be praying for our leaders. Not sure where to start? Here’s a few suggestions: protection, a healthy and safe community for them, rest and physical health, that they would hear from the Lord regularly, that He would guard them in moments of temptation, that they would trust what God has spoken over them more often than the criticism spoken over them, that they would walk in humility with teachable hearts.
4) Write it down
Speaking of criticism, there is no shortage of it for our leaders. If there is one thing I have learned this year about myself and about human nature, it is that criticism is more natural and constant than praise. Here is the problem with that. It weighs us down. It weighs our leaders down. For every ounce of victory, it seems like there is 10 tons of criticism. It probably isn’t that much of a disparity, but it feels that way.
Here’s why: We are a people that tend to focus on what is right in front of us. When we experience a victory, we acknowledge it, celebrate it even, but in a blink, that moment has passed. A few days, a few hours, maybe even 30 minutes goes by and that triumph becomes old news. But the problems, they aren’t solved in the blink of an eye. They linger as solutions are sorted out. They stick to our ribs and weigh us down. So we bring up the problem. And a few days later, it’s still staring us in the face, so we mention it again. And when it hasn’t been solved by the next month, we bring it to everyone’s attention that we still have an issue. Perhaps, we are just wanting what’s best and we are trying to help. But our leaders live under constant reminders that our churches are broken. They hear the same complaints hundreds of times each month. And usually, they are painfully aware of the truthfulness in the complaints. (There is usually some truth in them, although sometimes there isn’t any truth other than people like to get their own way.) So even when someone else isn’t reminding them about the problem, those voices of criticism play on a loop in their minds.
Those moments of celebration get buried in a hail-storm of things gone wrong. What we if started writing down the victories? What if, instead of telling the pastor as you exit the sanctuary that his sermon really spoke to you, you write him an email and let him know specifically why it blessed you? What if instead of just reviewing how many people came to an event or how much money was raised, we took time to write down the stories of the day…places where we encountered evidence of God at work? What if we wrote out our celebrations so that our leaders (and we) could revisit them on the days that we feel we are being buried alive by criticism?
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (NIV)
I’m both a ministry leader and a church member. Most ministry leaders also have someone leading them. (If they don’t, pray for them to find someone to be led by. It’s healthy.) I see both sides. I am in need of your prayers, of the freedom to not have to give everyone full access, of conversations about something other than mission trip or what’s on the calendar. I’ve had a parent hand me a note, telling me how grateful they are that God has brought me to invest in their students. That note came a year ago. I still have it and every time I see it, it is a reminder that there are great things happening, even if the failures are a more popular topic.
I’ve also been the one hurt over not being invited into the discipleship group that my leaders were starting. I’ve been the one wondering why it feels like I value them more than they value me. I’ve been the one having to teach myself to let them build their own small group of trusted friends, their 12, without demanding I be a part of it. I know what it is to get stuck on the problems of the church. Y’all, there are plenty of problems with the church, it is easy to get fixated on them. But I want to be a person that speaks louder and more often about the triumphs than the defeats. I’m not faithful in prayer. I think about how I would like my leaders to be different but I rarely pray that they would hear from The Lord and be brave in following.
So blessing our leaders, it just doesn’t come naturally. I totally get it. But that doesn’t excuse us from it.
What are some other ways you have discovered to bless leaders? If you are a leader, what are ways you have been blessed?