Sometimes ministry can be very stressful. It may be conflict with a staff member or a few of the elders. Or, perhaps you are under stress due to the church’s financial problems. Maybe there has been an incident in the church that has become very, very draining.
Sometimes when we become stressed, we either over-function or under-function. If I over-function, I may begin to feel like the solution to this problem is entirely up to me. There is a sense in which I feel like I am carrying the weight of this problem on my shoulders.
That can be a real problem, especially when I begin taking responsibility for the behavior of others. It is like a parent who feels guilty because her college student son (who is away from home studying at the university) makes poor grades. The college student is responsible for these grades, yet his mother is shouldering the anxiety for those grades herself. The mother seems to want good grades more than her son does.
Ministers and other church leaders who over-function often bear stress and anxiety that others ought to be carrying. Consequently, if someone drops the ball and does not follow through on their responsibility, these over-functioners will quickly fix the problem themselves (sometimes through clenched teeth). In times of great stress, the over-functioners often become incredibly exhausted and anxious.
Or, perhaps a person in the elder group over-functions. When members of the congregation come to that elder with their anxiety, he takes on the anxiety and they walk away.
Does this sound familiar?
On the other hand, some people under-function. They do not carry their weight. Some ministers attempt to deal with conflict or crises in their congregations by detaching. They are present physically, but they have already checked out emotionally. Their co-workers sense that this person is a thousand miles from the present. They are not fully present and engaged. Rather, they are attempting to deal with tension and stress in the church by stepping away emotionally.
Many years ago, I was part of a congregation in which a group of members began to verbally attack our elder group. Week after week, there were harsh words and accusations. It was a draining, exhausting atmosphere. For a time, I responded to this by detaching emotionally. That was a not a wise or mature way to function. For a leader to detach causes others to feel that no one really cares.
So, how does a minister or elder keep sane through tension and strife? The short answer is this: Stay fully present and engaged while you put some of your energy into whatever brings you joy and nourishes you. Stay engaged, but make sure you are cultivating your emotional life.
Are you right in the middle of tension? This is the time to read one of your favorite mysteries or work on your glass-cutting hobby. Have you been wanting to learn how to plant a garden? Have you thought for years that one day you would like to learn how to work with wood? Take a class now! Work on that hobby now! Do it right in the middle of tension at church.
Do you feel like doing this? Probably not. Yet, this is actually one of the healthiest ways you can function.
When difficult times come in ministry, you may be tempted to either take on way too much responsibility (consequently, you feel weighed down) or detach from it all. One way to move ahead in difficult times is to stay fully present in the moment while reminding yourself that life is much more than the situation you are dealing with.
In this post, I have not dealt with the value of prayer or the spiritual disciplines in times of stress. That is for another time. This post is simply a call to examine how you tend to function.
What helps you keep your sanity and good judgement during tough times?