Genesis 25:29 - “One day when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau arrived home from the wilderness exhausted and hungry.”
Deuteronomy 25:18 - “They attacked you when you were exhausted and weary, and they struck down those who were straggling behind. They had no fear of God.”
The Small Town Church Leader, especially in the beginning years, is usually the ‘I Can Do It All’ person. They know how to run the sound, they have keys to every lock, they design the Sunday experience, they do the counseling, they lead in outreach, and they are the primary speaker. All that along with leading a family and the other responsibilities of just doing life. Many times they run on adrenaline and passion, keeping a schedule that would kill most humans. And too many times they run until they are exhausted, totally spent. And that’s when they are in a dangerous place.
No ministry leader started out with the intention to end up in the headlines due to some type of moral failure. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew because he was exhausted, weary and hungry. The ‘wilderness’—your small town-- is a place of ministry, but it is also a place of temptation. An exhausted, weary, hungry minister is in danger of swapping everything for a bowl of stew. Casey Graham developed this list of what happens to the exhausted leader:
As we become more tired we:
• Learn less – A tired brain doesn’t learn very well
• Overreact – A tired brain makes things a big deal that shouldn’t be
• Under react – A tired brain makes us “not care” about things we should care about
• Get angry quicker – A tired brain decreases patience and will operate out of anger
• Become afraid – A tired brain will create massive amounts of fear that things are falling apart when they really aren’t
• Feel increased desires to escape – A tired brain leads to overeating, over drinking, and sexual temptations
• Deflate our self worth – A tired brain makes us feel like we aren’t any good or worth anything
• Withdraw – A tired brain tells us to withdraw from our family, friends, and team emotionally
• Criticize – A tired brain makes us see things more negatively
Some Keys to Defeating Exhaustion:
1. Failure is inevitable—embrace it and learn from it.
Some lessons are tough, but perfection as a goal makes them even tougher. Not every project or idea will be a success. The best way to relieve the pressure of trying to be perfect is to be honest when you fail, even if it’s just apologizing or admitting things didn’t work. It’s exhausting to try and NEVER fail! Failing helps you stay human and reduce pride.
2. Turn Off Your Technology and Disengage from Social Media
This sounds shallow, but really helps. The reason you get exhausted is because the brain isn’t turned off. Disengaging from work is impossible if you are connected to social media & your phone 24/7. Just turning off any notifications or sound on your phone can help. And here’s something I learned: Don’t read all the stuff on social media, especially the stuff from people who attend your church. You’ll find out stuff you don’t want to know and it will affect the pulpit. I found myself not saying something I should have said or, saying something I shouldn’t have. I heard somebody say, “I used to wish I could read people’s minds and then we got Facebook. I wondered why I ever wanted to do that!” Use social media as a tool for the life-giving message of Jesus but put boundaries on what you allow in to your thinking. My buddy, Guy Walker, helped me out with this tip. I had totally disengaged from social media and he told me that it is an important tool to help the people you pastor feel connected to you. So, instead of disengaging completely, he recommended that I change my profile to let people know I didn’t communicate through the social media and if they needed me they could email, phone or see me in person. Then he told me to simply link Twitter to Facebook and others and then just post from my phone. Remove all notifications and just go to your account once a week to confirm requests without reading all the stuff.
3. Managing is more exhausting than leading.
Managing people, budgets, volunteers and day-to- day stuff is demanding. We are made in God’s image—to be creative rather than just managing. Leadership requires us to be creative and if we don’t create will literally die slowly. When we do stuff that drains us for long periods of time, it creates defeat and exhaustion. You might be thinking, “Yeah, but I’m the only one that can do this.” Well… That’s not true. The reality is, there are many people that can do what you think only you can do. Wayne Cordeiro teaches that, in reality, anybody can do 80% of what we do and that we can find and train the right people to do another 15%. That leaves 5% that only you can do and most of that is pertaining to your family. Only you can be the spouse your spouse needs. Only you can be the father or mother your kids need. You HAVE to let go of some of that other 95%! Sure we have to manage, but if your leadership style is more managing than leading, then you are not leading since leading requires the empowerment of others. Rearrange your way of doing things to move as many things from as possible from the managing list to the leading list.
4. Embrace the Sabbath Principle.
Pastors are always ‘on duty’—everything we say and do is magnified because of the place we hold in people’s lives. That’s a good thing, but it also can lead to exhaustion. We must measure every word and every action. So it is important that we develop times and zones where we are ‘off duty’. Now if ‘off duty’ to you means an opportunity to drop your boundaries and participate in things you think you are missing out on, ungodly and unholy things, then you need more than a Sabbath, you need a re-evaluation of your commitment to represent Christ! I’m talking about those places and people with whom you can relax without wondering if your words will be taken out of context or misinterpreted. Here are a few tips on doing that. Have a quitting time every day. Very few ‘emergencies’ are really emergencies. Learn how to quit every day. Find things to do where you don’t have to be ‘on duty’. For me, I like walking 9 holes of golf in the evening when the course is empty.
Take a real day off every week where you find ways to disengage. Years ago, Sheryll and I developed the habit of doing little ‘getaways’ every 6 weeks or so. Go away for a night or two. Doesn’t have to be expensive or even far away. One of our favorites was a getaway in our own neighborhood. On weekends, Embassy Suites would run specials since most of their business was during the week with business travelers. At that time, we lived in a metro area and there was one nearby. We would load up the kids and spend a night there, enjoying the indoor pool, the free breakfast and just hanging out. Find some spots where you can escape every 6 to 8 weeks and have fun.
And take a real vacation every year. Not the kind of vacation where you include people with whom you are always ‘on duty’. Those are great, but frankly, you aren’t really vacationing because you are always measuring everything you do so you can be the leader they need. Make sure you really ‘vacate’ at least once a year.
What are some of the things you do to make sure you don’t swap your birthright for a bowl of stew? Share them with me at tony@mylifegatechurch. And plan on being at our SmallTown.Church Conference in October so we can all connect and make some more of those friends we all need.