A Leadership Coach’s Perspective

I make it a habit to study what’s happening in churches across the country. I get the honor of coaching some incredible pastors, so I need to stay fresh. Any time I’m in a room of pastors I’m trying to sense the texture of the room.

How are they feeling?
What are they encouraged about?
What’s getting them down?

Our world is getting increasingly complicated, and leadership in the church reflects that. We are feeling both the primary and secondary effects of that complexity which is leading to a gnawing case of pastoral overwhelm. Extended overwhelm is dangerous and often leads to burnout. I coach business and nonprofit leaders, also, but the pressure pastors experience is unique. While burnout is creeping up in other professions like grade school teachers, medical professionals and university professors it is all too common among pastors and ministry leaders.

 

Overwhelmed by Expectations

One thing creating overwhelm is the expectation to preach and teach with excellence. Every. Single. Week. The increased expectations over the last decade to care for communities while providing excellent gatherings live-streamed to the world is unique to pastors. Somehow you get the idea you need the spiritual formation of John Mark Comer with the insights of Carey Nieuwhof with the passion of David Platt and the fascination of a TED talk. The pressure is real. That’s probably why you’re on this site for some help navigating the weight of preaching.

Another thing creating overwhelm in the navigation required to move between public and private arenas. Pieces of your life are easily visible; gatherings, preaching and social media posts. Many see the outward-facing pieces, but what about the pieces no one else sees? Jimmy Dodd, President of PastorServe, refers to the lives of pastors in three ways; “front stage”, “back stage,” and “off stage”. So much emphasis is put on the competencies of the front stage that it’s hard to have energy left for the backstage with your staff and volunteers and offstage with God and your family.

Man sitting on a couch with his hand over his face.

The Thirst for Authenticity

There’s a growing hunger for leaders with a robust life backstage and offstage. Recently I asked a question on social media; “What skills must a leader possess in order to thrive in this age?” Nearly every answer was about backstage and offstage. Humility, empowerment of others, integrity and honesty were a few repeats. I see similar themes across nearly every group of people I meet today; we are tired of gifted front stage leaders having lackluster lives offstage. In other words; we’re tired of gifted jerks. People are hungering for spiritual leaders who are whole, not partial.

Perhaps we’re slowly steeping in overwhelm because we’re efforting toward the wrong things. Life away from the stage is a largely hidden investment. It won’t get you dopamine-raising comments after the service, but it will set you up for health. People won’t cheer you on for a healthy life offstage, but it’s where true vitality comes from.

In The Emotionally Healthy Church Pete Scazzero says, “Our world treats weakness and failure as terminal… Few consider brokenness as God’s design and will for our lives.” I wish brokenness wasn’t part of God’s design, but it is. One scan through the lives of our faith heroes in the pages of scripture reminds us God uses imperfect leaders. My friend Lance Witt says, “The greatest gift you can give your church is a healthy soul.” People aren’t looking for perfect church leaders, but they are looking for leaders with healthy souls.

 

Start Investing in Health

Health is always worth investing in. Practices are where the rubber meets the road. It’s the little stuff repeated every week that leads to health and wholeness. It’s the pause before responding to the painful email, the call to ask for prayer, the date night with your spouse, the commitment to close to laptop on your sabbath and the discipline to stop over-preparing for your sermon. Is it time to take that long vacation you’ve avoided out of fear of it all falling apart when you leave? Is it time to start marriage counseling like you promised your spouse? Do you finally need to shut down the program taxing you and your team? I’ve never met a leader who thought their time investing in the back stage was a waste. Don’t wait. Start investing in your offstage life today.

 

Questions for reflection

  • What practices can you begin or reboot for bolstering your heart, soul, mind, body and relationships?
  • In what specific ways are you investing in your life off the stage?
  • Next time you experience pastoral overwhelm how might you respond differently?
Headshot of Alan Briggs

Alan Briggs is a mountain guide for the leadership journey. He loves outdoor adventures, but the greatest adventure of his being a father and husband. Alan is crazy about helping hungry leaders conquer overwhelm and navigate with courage. He serves leaders and organizations around the country through coaching, speaking, consulting, designing experiences, hosting mastermind groups, writing his own books and ghostwriting for others. He co-hosts Right Side up Leadership Podcast and regularly writes for Outreach and Field Notes .  

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