“Just like churches, leaders can also eventually reach a plateau. If nothing is done to move them from the plateau their leadership begins to decline. If nothing interrupts the decline they become unhealthy.”
When I wrote The Unstuck Church, I really wanted to create a resource that unpacks each phase of the church lifecycle and provides strategic next steps that churches could take to find their way to sustained health. Many phases in the book are fairly easy to evaluate.
Just about any pastor can tell you how many people attend their services. Giving, growth trends, small groups, baptisms, social media followers and just about any other areas of ministry can all be measured.
I have to admit, I wish that the health of church leaders could be just as easily evaluated. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t always work that way.
On the outside, church leaders can seem to have everything together. They sit together with their families, they post happy moments on Instagram and most of the time, they always seem to have a smile on their faces.
Over the past two decades I’ve worked closely with church leaders from many different denominations and backgrounds. I’ve been blessed to meet and work with many healthy leaders whose lives are making a huge difference for Christ.
During the same time, I am sad to say that I have also watched many leaders become unhealthy.
It doesn’t seem to just happen overnight. People don’t just wake up and decide to be unhealthy; it is a gradual process that eventually catches so many great leaders off-guard.
Just like churches, leaders can also eventually reach a plateau. If nothing is done to move them from the plateau their leadership begins to decline. If nothing interrupts the decline they become unhealthy.
I just don’t understand why it has to be this way. I get it, leaders want to put a huge focus on attendance and giving. But it just seems too easy to ignore health. Leaders are more stretched and stressed than ever before. The statistics and real life examples that we read about nearly every week just don’t lie. Leaders are more stretched and stressed than ever before. The statistics and real life examples that we read about nearly every week just don’t lie. Click To Tweet
So today, I’m going to be blatantly honest as I share four warning signs that you may be starting to become an unhealthy leader:
1) You are more focused on doing the work God has called you to do than becoming the leader God has called you to be.
More than likely, you are where you are today because you felt God’s call on your life. At some point, you fell in love with Jesus and you were so passionate about that love that you wanted to give Him every part of your life.
Without even realizing it, you started plateauing in your relationship with God. Daily quiet times were replaced with meetings and phone calls. The concerns of staff, volunteers and disgruntled attendees starting consuming all of your energy leaving no time for God. Events and the daily grind of ministry pulled you further and further away from the very source you needed the most.
At the time, things seemed like such a big deal. Everything was urgent. Everything was important. Everything had to be dealt with immediately.
Jesus certainly understood this challenge. In fact, the Bible says that He constantly got away from the crowd to spend time with His Father.
How often are you getting away from the crowd? When was the last time you have turned off ministry interruptions and opened your Bible, not to study for a message or a leadership training, but to focus on becoming the leader God has called you to be? When was the last time you have turned off ministry interruptions and opened your Bible, not to study for a message or a leadership training, but to focus on becoming the leader God has called you to be? Click To Tweet
Dallas Willard once said, “The main thing you can give your church – just like the main thing you can give to God – is the person you become.”
God is probably more concerned about the leader, husband, dad or mom you are becoming than He is with how many people attended the last and next church event that probably doesn’t need to be on your calendar anyways.
2) Your schedule is so packed that there is no time left for self care.
Egos, ambition, pride and competition have really gotten out of hand. Yes…I said it because it’s true. The win-at-all-costs mindset is great for the Cleveland Browns but I’m just not sure I’m buying it when it comes to church health.
Too many ministries are trying to squeeze in event after event at the expense of the health of their leaders and volunteers. Too many ministries are trying to squeeze in event after event at the expense of the health of their leaders and volunteers. Click To Tweet
In just a few more months church leaders everywhere will find themselves with unused vacation and personal days. They will proudly say at the end of the year, “I just couldn’t use them because there was just too much going on.”
This is nothing to be proud about. Being burned out, over-scheduled and too busy to take a sabbath does not warrant a badge of honor. It’s a sign that you are unhealthy and that your leadership has plateaued or is declining.
“In previous centuries, leading authors, scientists, politicians, and businessmen created masterpieces, won elections and captained industries while finding ample time for long walks and regular naps, weekends away, even weeks-long vacations. If living excitedly and hurriedly would only enable us to do more then there would be some compensation, some excuse, for going on so. But the exact reverse is the case.”
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang – Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less
“Many leaders compensate for feeling overwhelmed and over-busy by working even more hours. But neglecting self-care puts us on a downward spiral that leads to lower productivity and, ultimately, burnout. I’m convinced the things we do off the field, the things we do outside of work have a spillover effect in our careers. When you make the time to explore or create or compete, when you try something just for fun, it makes you better at everything you do. It makes you a better leader. Every leader should have a hobby.”
Michael Hyatt – Podcast: How Hobbies Make You A Better Leader
If you feel stuck, there is a great chance that what you are doing isn’t working. Possibly it’s time to quit being so hard on yourself and start trying something new. Rick Warren once said that one of the most effective things a ministry leader can do is to take a nap. Being burned out, over-scheduled and too busy to take a sabbath does not warrant a badge of honor. It’s a sign that you are unhealthy and that your leadership has plateaued or is declining. Click To Tweet
Maybe it’s time to exercise again. Possibly it’s time to pick back up the hobby that you initially stopped because you felt guilty about wasting so much time.
As you take your hands off every single detail of ministry new leaders will start rising up and more importantly, you will start releasing more control into the hands of Jesus.
Church leaders should have lives outside of ministry. If you feel like you don’t have a life, it could be a huge warning sign that you are unhealthy.
3) You are discovering small cracks in your character.
It’s easy for church leaders to read about ministry failures and think, “It will never happen to me.” This is actually the opposite of what the Bible teaches, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Leaders who fall are not bad people. Every situation is different but in many cases they are good people who just made bad decisions without realizing the costs.
“There are reasons people make bad choices, and it doesn’t happen overnight. There is an evolution—one thought, decision, or move at a time. They decided to go to the wrong place, ask the wrong question, look at illegal or immoral materials, or have a conversation with someone they knew was compromising. The behavior began somewhere. When their lives are analyzed, there are hints, oversights, and road bumps. The thought process had been going on, but the decision wasn’t made until the opportunity presented itself.”
Wayne Goodall – Why Great Leaders Fall
Here are a few questions that you should ask yourself on a regular basis:
- Would it be okay tonight if my spouse or church board read my Instagram DMs, Facebook messages and texts?
- Do I have any “friendships” or “staff relationships” that have become borderline inappropriate?
- Have my personal priorities gotten out of line? (date nights with my spouse, my kid’s school activities, personal devotions, etc.)
- Am I looking at inappropriate Instagram stories or websites?
- Do I always tell the truth to my family and leaders?
- Do I have any addictions that have gotten out of control?
It is so easy to give up so much for so little. Answering yes to one of the above questions should not be taken lightly.
4) You are starting to become cynical, negative and uncaring.
Unhealthy leaders definitely display some similar characteristics:
- Constantly second-guess their leaders, complain or have negative things to say
- Believe that other churches have all the answers and do ministry so much better instead of seeing the good things their teams are doing
- Focus on tasks and what people can do for them rather than showing love and care for people’s lives
- Allow past hurts to lead to bitterness and apathy
Without realizing it, too many church leaders have become jerks.
You may be starting to get unhealthy if you consistently walk by people without even speaking. Be careful if you have reached the point when you are constantly on your phone when people are talking to you. When hospital visits have become chores and hurting families have become inconveniences. If you have stopped expecting God to do big things in your life and ministry you may be in danger of spiritual plateau or decline.
The good news is that you don’t have to keep going down this path.
“But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from being so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it” (1 Cor. 10:13; NLT).
Too many leaders wait until it’s too late and they find themselves disqualified for ministry but you can do something about it.
On a related note to this post: My team and I are seeing so many church staff members across the country suffering from leader and team health issues. We feel a responsibility to help, for the good of you as leaders and for the good of the Church as a whole.
We’re working on some resources to help leaders work towards individual and team health. It’s just in the beginning stages, but if you’re interested in learning more, share your email address below. We’ll connect with you when we have something to share.