Is your cup empty? Jessica Anschutz of the Lewis Center staff writes that many church leaders feel drained by the demands of ministry in these challenging times. She says it’s important to recognize when you need help and outlines strategies to replenish your leadership capacity.
“My cup overflows” proclaims the psalmist, yet many church leaders find their cups are almost empty. After two years of navigating through various stages of the pandemic, providing pastoral care to the sick and grieving, and adapting to virtual and hybrid ministry, many leaders feel overwhelmed and tired.
Clergy and laity alike can avoid situations where their cups are empty by knowing when to ask for help. More often than not church leaders wish they had sought help sooner rather than later. So, it’s important to seek help before a minor situation becomes a crisis. Here are some ways you can know when you need help to keep your cup from running dry.
Recognize the signs of burnout.
Church leaders who lack motivation, have a negative outlook, and express feeling detached or alone may be experiencing burnout. Fatigue, anxiety, snapping at loved ones or coworkers, substance misuse or abuse, and failure to complete tasks can all be signs of burnout. Church leaders may also experience caregiver fatigue, which impacts those who spend time and energy caring for others. Caregiver burnout includes physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion. Learn to recognize these signs in yourself and in those around you, and help those experiencing burnout or fatigue to rest, recharge, and renew.
Be alert to unfulfilled responsibilities.
A failure to fulfill professional or volunteer responsibilities can be a major red flag. It’s a sure sign that help is needed when a pastor refuses to perform baptisms or repeatedly fails to show up for weekly worship or when a lay person does not make the weekly deposit or repeatedly skips committee meetings. A failure to fulfill responsibilities may be a sign of burnout, medical challenges, a lack of understanding, or even bigger issues. In cases like these, take note, ask questions, and seek help from other pastors, church leaders, and judicatory leaders.
Avoid the superhero myth.
We all have God-given spiritual gifts, but that does not make us superheroes capable of excelling in all areas of ministry all the time. Avoid taking on responsibility for ministry areas beyond your expertise, spiritual gifts, or skill set. Instead, empower those with passion or gifts for those ministries to serve. Delegate tasks, honor your sabbath, and take time off rather than work overtime to get the job done. Acknowledge your limitations, shortcomings, and growing edges and use these opportunities to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others.
Call on experts.
The superhero myth can also make church leaders reluctant to call on experts even though many experts will lend their expertise to the church either pro bono or at a reduced rate. Architects, engineers, lawyers, environmentalists, consultants, police, government officials, and other specialists are often excited to share their skills and expertise with others. And many community leaders welcome opportunities to share their gifts in congregations that are doing good work to support the community. If someone with a particular skill or expertise is needed, don’t be afraid to seek recommendations and referrals.
Regular adherence to self-care practices is essential to keeping a leader’s cup from running dry. It is important to take time off for regular checkups and doctor appointments and to tend to personal medical needs as they arise rather than putting them off until emergency care is needed. Spend time with family and loved ones, take renewal or sabbatical leave, and relax and enjoy activities that are not work related. An accountability partner, such as a therapist or spiritual director, can support you in practicing self-care. Self-care is never selfish. It sustains effective ministry because only when your cup is full can you share abundantly with others.
Maintain healthy boundaries.
An important aspect of self-care is maintaining healthy boundaries. Educate the congregation and community regarding boundaries around office hours, personal time, and personal space, especially when living in church-owned or church-supported housing. Teach people when it is appropriate to call, text, or email and when something can wait until you are in the office. And be mindful of those who are repeat offenders of your boundaries. If someone repeatedly violates your boundaries, alert your staff/pastor relations or HR committee. If someone threatens you, alert the appropriate church leaders, local authorities, and judicatory officials.
- Acknowledging the Toll of the Pandemic on Ministry Leaders by Mike Bonem
- 4 Practices to Help Prevent Clergy Burnout by Matt Bloom and Kim Bloom
- 3 Questions to Preserve Energy and Passion in Ministry by Heather Bradley and Miriam Bamberger Grogan