Heather Bradley and Miriam Bamberger Grogan are executive coaches with a particular concern for the wellbeing of clergy. They say that spiritual leaders are often held hostage by their own belief that their work never ends, that they have to do it all, and that whatever they do, it isn’t enough. Bradley and Grogan suggest three key questions that can challenge these assumptions and help clergy “switch off” and restore their energy and passion for ministry.
Even the most energetic congregational leader has limited energy. Structured free time, such as a weekly day off or a periodic sabbatical, is a great start, but this may not always be practical. And even if you are able to enjoy time off the clock, now and then your mind can drift back to your role.
Every time we say “yes” to one thing, we are saying “no” to another. When we make conscious and intentional choices, we’re better able to reclaim our sense of control.
Like a light bulb, if you don’t allow yourself to turn off from time to time, burnout is likely to catch up with you. Finding your “off switch” means identifying the issues that keep you “on,” examining them in a fresh light, and giving yourself permission to address them in a way that will allow you to relax and refresh. To “re-soul,” if you will.
Three expressed concerns tend to dominate the thinking of spiritual leaders who find it difficult to switch off: “My work never ends.” “Whatever I do, it’s never enough.” “I have to do it all.” As coaches, we’ve seen over and over again that three questions are useful in challenging these assumptions and opening new possibilities.
Where am I taking on stuff that isn’t mine?
Where does a minister’s job begin and end? This is not the beginning of a joke. It’s a serious question, often with no clear answers. Each congregation and each congregant are different, with different ideas of what their spiritual leaders should be doing. With unclear boundaries and often incompatible expectations, it’s no wonder clergy and congregants can be confused about the pastor’s role. In the absence of clear, agreed-upon expectations, all players — congregants, staff, family, and even you yourself — make up different interpretations of what is expected. Without a clear sense of where your job begins and ends, it’s difficult to find an off switch and know when to use it.
How much is enough?
The role of clergy has few metrics, another reason the “off switch” can be so elusive. How many visits to the hospital are enough? How many revisions of a sermon are enough? How many conversations with congregants are enough? But what if “How much is enough?” is ultimately the wrong question because it is unanswerable? This question can, however, be a doorway that can lead to more useful questions, ultimately including “How do I make peace with feeling that whatever I do, it isn’t enough?”
To what do I need to say “yes” or “no”?
With so many competing calls for our time and attention, we may find ourselves operating on autopilot. When we’re on autopilot, we abdicate control over our choices and allow ourselves to be buffeted by other forces, worrying about other people’s demands and the pressure of shoulds. As a result, we lose focus. We waste energy complaining, leaving us too spent to address the things on which we want or need to focus. Our switch becomes permanently stuck in the “on” position.
To increase your ability to switch off, establish clear boundaries between “off” and “on.” Remember every action or reaction — even no action— is a choice. Every time we say “yes” to one thing, we are saying “no” to another. When we make conscious and intentional choices, we’re better able to reclaim our sense of control.
The important thing is making the choices rather than the choices making you. Because not making a decision is a decision to leave things just as they are. The first step in regaining our sense of control is to become aware of the choices we’re making, whether consciously or on autopilot. As you become more aware of the choices you are making and the circumstances you are tolerating, you may decide you need to make different choices. Maybe you can’t change your circumstances, but by consciously and intentionally choosing the way you approach them, you reclaim control of your experience.
This material is excerpted from Switch Off:The Clergy Guide to Preserving Energy and Passion for Ministry (Abingdon, 2016) by Heather Bradley and Miriam Bamberger Grogan. The book is available through Cokesbury or Amazon.
- The Myth of Balance by Karoline M. Lewis
- Stewarding God’s Gift of Time by David Gray
- Leaders Need Holy Friendships by Tom Berlin