From time to time every leader and pastor and person faces burnout. The well runs dry. He or she becomes weary in well doing. He runs out of gas. She simply has nothing left to give. When we totter on the precipice of burnout, what can we do? As I’ve faced those times during my ministry, I’ve learned a few ways that have helped me dig out.
- Recognize the symptoms
- Everybody’s burnout looks a bit different. Sometimes burnout comes from doing too much outwardly with over busy schedules. Sometimes burnout comes from an inner world in turmoil: worry, incessant anxiety, and fear. I suggest starting with self understanding. What does your burnout look like? Which of these factors might indicate you are burning out?
- The joy you once had seems to have disappeared. You seldom have fun anymore.
- You consistently sleep poorly.
- You feel non-localized, free floating anger in your heart.
- You catastrophize in your thinking, assuming the worse in people and life.
- You easily snap, lose your cool with friends, families, or people in the church.
- After you recognize the symptoms, I’ve found that rest really helps. Whether it means taking time off, taking more breaks during your work day, getting more sleep, or trimming your schedule, the body and soul needs rest. Neuroscientists have coined a term for excessive wear and tear on our body due to prolonged stress and burnout, allostatic load. When we don’t give our body and brains time to rejuvenate, we prolong our burnout and its negative effects.
- Third, revisit your core values and mission. I encourage every leader to develop his or her own mission statement, their mission God has called them to achieve with His power. Most weeks when I do my strategic planning, I revisit my mission statement and personal values. If you’d like to see mine, you can click here. In this post I talk about the importance of developing your own personal values.
- The final step is to re-orient your time and effort to best live out your personal mission, without burning out. I suggest taking a half day alone to reset your goals and adjust how you use your time. Here’s a post on how to plan a retreat.
If you’ve faced burnout, what has helped you?
Dave Berry, one of the funniest guys on the planet once wrote, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.” I’m not sure if he’s 100% right, but he’s close. Meetings, and extended ones like retreats, often don’t achieve their intended purpose. Why? Because we make significant mistakes when we plan them. Consider these five mistakes and potential corrective measures.
Here are some dumb mistakes I’ve made when planning and holding retreats.
- Packing too much into a retreat (which have ranged from 1-3 days). I once handed out about 20 different documents for review and study.
- Talking too much. At times I’ve talked/taught so much that I left little time for thorough interaction.
- Going too long. As the adage goes, “The brain will absorb only what the rear can endure.”
- Not including R&R.
- Including other leaders too late into the planning process. In one church I asked our elders to join us after we had completed our planning. They ended up not being on the same page and the pastors felt like our retreat was a waste of time.
As I’ve grown in my retreat leading and planning, these factors have contributed to better success.
- Narrow your discussion to a fewer number of topics.
- Create a “talk about later” list of subjects that surface during the retreat.
- Hold your retreat off-site rather than at the office.
- Begin and end at a reasonable hour. Don’t wear people out.
- Do something fun like watch a movie together.
- Listen more that you talk. Remember the acronym, WAIT, which means Why Am I Talking?
What tips can you share that have helped make your retreats effective?
Our church is growing and as we grow, our staff faces greater demands on their time. So, we must work smarter. Since I’m trying to build a learning culture here at West Park Church, I asked myself, “How can I help our staff work smarter?” I’ve adapted and used the Getting Things Done process for years, but sometimes it seems cumbersome. Recently, however, I discovered insights from a Microsoft employee who wrote the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (I highly recommend it) It’s a simple process that helps improve personal productivity. I’ve summarized below the 4 simple decisions he suggests that can help boost our productivity. I’m beginning to apply them and they really work.
THE FOUR DECISIONS
- Monday vision: every Monday look at your week and determine the top three things you hope to accomplish. Write them down.
- Daily Outcomes: every day determine the top three things you want to accomplish. Write them down.
- Rule of Three: as you might have guessed it, practice the rule of three. That is, keep your high priority daily and weekly task/project lists to three items.
- Friday Reflection: on Friday look at what you accomplished, what you learned, and what you hope to do differently the following week.
This seems so simple that it seems simplistic. But, that’s it’s beauty.
Less is often more. Simple is often better.
In his book he expands upon these principles, and many more.
Here’s how we’ve tried to incorporate this insight.
- Some time back for several weeks each week we read 2-3 chapters of the book.
- When we met in our weekly staff meeting we discussed our learnings.
- I created four posters reflecting the four key insights above and as a reminder I taped them to our conference room wall where we met.
This author is quite unselfish. He offers a 30-day free plan here where he takes one key insight and expands it each day for 30 days.
As I seek to boost my productivity, while keeping healthy margins, I’m reminded that the Bible even tells us to use our time wisely.
- Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5.16, ESV)
- So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90.12, ESV)
How can you boost your productivity this week?
As leaders, it seems we spend an inordinate time in meetings. However, we can’t lead well without face time with others. And face time means we must meet with our teams in person. At the same time, an unproductive meeting wastes time and creates frustration. What are some common meeting killers? Consider these 11 and potential solutions for each (some very obvious).
- You do more than 25% of the talking.
- Solution: monitor how much you talk and ask others off-line if they feel like you jabber too much.
- Team members regularly jump to conclusions and make pre-mature judgments about what others say.
- Solution: train your team that great listeners seek understanding first before being understood (a famous Covey quote)
- Some people seldom speak up.
- Solution: specifically ask the quiet ones what they think about an issue.
- Team members get easily hurt and offended when their ideas aren’t received well.
- Solution: if a staffer consistently does this, talk off-line and find out what root issues are causing the touchiness.
- There is too much happy talk. Seldom do you discuss emotional and/or difficult issues.
- Solution: don’t fear difficult conversations. Encourage them. Those can provide some of your greatest leadership learnings.
- Someone interrupts to complete somebody else’s sentences when he or she is having a difficult time formulating ideas.
- Solution: if that happens, ask the person who was cut off if she felt she was able to fully share her thoughts.
- Personal stuff comes up that should have been addressed off-line and 1-1.
- Solution: set expectations annually about how you expect meetings to go. Include the importance of discussing personal issues off-line.
- Too many rabbits get chased that have nothing to do with the agenda items.
- Solution: if you lead the meeting, again, set the expectation that as the meeting leader you have the prerogative to shoot the rabbit.
- You try to accomplish too much in a meeting and as a result feel rushed.
- Solution: schedule different kinds of meetings…perhaps some need to focus on weekly tactical items while others should focus on just one or two strategic items.
- Your meetings are waaaaay too long.
- Solution: Shorten your meetings. Meetings beyond 2-2 1/2 hours are seldom productive unless you break them up with lunch, dinner, or something that isn’t mentally draining.
- You don’t start or end your meetings on time.
- Solution: start and end on time.
What meeting killers have you seen in your experience? How have you killed those killers?
Casting vision is a key role every pastor must fill. Yet sometimes corporate attitudes and unhealthy cultures can get in the way. I’ve discovered five attitudes that will stifle even the best cast vision. See if you agree.
- Consumer Christianity reflected in the attitude, What’s in it for me?
- Healthy churches realize they can’t consume their way into discipleship. Following Jesus is not all about us. Great churches rally around a unified cause centered in Jesus and move forward for the good of the whole and the glory of God even it means some people won’t get their preferred way. Good leaders will teach that flexibility and a deferential spirit are crucial ingredients for prevailing churches.
- Losing sight that the church gathers on Sundays to scatter the rest of the week.
- Leaders and churches must not lose sight that we live in a troubled world desperately in need of the Gospel. Attending church was never meant to be an end in itself.
Rather we should gather to be transformed, taught, challenged, discipled, and inspired so that we then can scatter into our respective worlds as salt and light for the Gospel.
- Risk aversion.
- Minimizing risk and maximizing safety can becomes a trait for risk averse leaders. J Oswald Chambers who authored the devotional My Utmost for His Highest wrote, “The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.” Great churches can’t play it safe, huddle and cuddle, strive for safety and security, nor guarantee comfort and convenience. While not throwing caution to the wind, great leaders and churches must take bold steps of faith
- Programs and processes that trump passion and people.
- It’s easy to assume that great plans and strategies will automatically and easily reach people. They are important, but without a driving passion for God and a love for people, they are, well, only plans.
- The barrenness of busyness.
- Busy pastors often struggle with this one. I know I do with what seems to be a limitless to-do list. However, busyness can make us miss God. And it does not always translate into productivity. As Bill Hybels has famously said,”Doing the work of Christ was killing the work of Christ in me.” When that happens, our hearts become calloused and cold, we lose our leadership edge, and vision gets stifled.
What have you experienced that can stifle a God-directed vision?