I have been a pastor for almost 30 years. I’ve seen it all. I recently heard a young staff person say, “You have no idea what It’s like to have ministry stress like I have.”
Actually… well I’ll leave that there for a minute.
It got me thinking about the difference between stress and pressure. Because that young staffer may actually be right. I have certainly felt all the pressure that comes with ministry, but maybe I haven’t felt the same level of stress that he was feeling.
My gut says that most leaders are able to handle more pressure than they think they can. Especially younger leaders. Their perspective is so clouded by things like social media, information overload, and FOMO that it has driven up their tendencies toward comparisons that lead to anxiety and depression. However, walking through pressure situations is one of the best ways to grow as a person. Like physical muscles, most leadership muscles can only be strengthened with the help of pressure and resistance.
And, the more you can handle pressure, the higher you’re going to rise in leadership and the greater your impact and influence will be. But is there a way to walk through pressure without the accompanying debilitating stress levels?
Pressure and stress are related, but they are not the same. It’s possible to be stressed without pressure and it’s possible to be under pressure without stress.
- Pressure exists AROUND you. Stress exits INSIDE you.
- Pressure is a condition of your MINISTRY. Stress is a condition of your SOUL.
- Pressure comes from your RESPONSIBILITY. Stress comes from your PERSPECTIVE.
After differentiating the two, you can also then effectively separate them in your leadership. This is key because it means you can live under great pressure without great stress. I think the bible affirms this distinction.
Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace (LOW STRESS). In this world you will have trouble (HIGH PRESSURE). But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
And Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16 — Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away (HIGH PRESSURE), yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (LOW STRESS).
In considering this reality there are 3 types of leaders:
These leaders carry more stress than pressure. Their internal dialogue is not developed. They fall into unhealthy patterns of dealing with their stress. They are inclined toward harboring toxic emotions. Poor time management skills like procrastination, disorganization and distraction leads to constantly feeling on edge. This inner stress keeps them from growing in ministry responsibility because they can’t handle the pressure that comes with it.
These leaders carry equal amounts of pressure and stress. There is external pressure, but it’s being matched by internal stress of their own making. They are contributing to ongoing relational turmoil, like unresolved conflicts with co-workers and marital spats. Spiritual immaturity rears its head in the form of pride and arrogance and the need for constant image management. They are seen as leaders but underneath there is an inner reality of prayerlessness and a lack of clear spiritual identity. While they are holding external pressure and inner stress in the balance for the most part, it will eventually stall their growth and it will limit further responsibilities and overall impact.
These leaders have figured out how to carry increased pressure without being overtaken by accompanying stress. They have the ability to absorb substantial ministry responsibility and pressure without moving into unhealthy patterns like catastrophizing, complaining, blame-shifting, or isolating. They have learned to meet increased pressure with increased resiliency. They are clutch under pressure without crumbling. How do they do it?
9 Resiliency Practices for Transcendent Leaders
1. Keep your SPIRITUAL BUCKET full
In the words of Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, figure out what fills your spiritual bucket and what drains it. Once you know these things, the goal is not to get rid of all the things that drain you, it’s to offset seasons of draining with seasons of replenishment. Develop a proper rhythm of inflow and outflow. The mistake many vulnerable leaders make is thinking they’re too busy with all the things that drain them, so they stop making times for the things that fill them. And without some re-filling, eventually you’ll wind up empty.
2. Remember your CALLING
Paul starts off his letter in 2 Corinthians 1:1 with the words, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. It seemed as if his calling was always on the top of his mind. He was reminding himself that he was on assignment from God. When pressure mounts, I have found it uniquely helpful to fall back on my calling. When pressure mounts, instead of an internal voice that says, this is too hard, you’re over your head, you’re unqualified. It’s replaced with a monologue saying, you’re right where you’re supposed to be, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. It was never about your ability, but your availability. Remember you haven’t just been hired to do a job, you have been positioned to live out your divine calling. Let that truth be an anchor for your soul. Remember it often.
3. Talk TO and not AROUND the key players.
When pressure mounts it’s easy to vent and gossip and blame others. Resilience means recovering from setbacks, adapting, and keep moving forward. A major pressure release valve during difficult moments is increased communication with the right people. Sometimes more dialogue seems like a waste of time when it’s actually the best use of your time. Push through image management and get to honesty and clarity quickly. Don’t accept vague agreement, force yourself to clear action steps. Transcendent leaders don’t settle for statements like, “Can you believe so and so did that -what a jerk – what’s he thinking.” You are only adding stress to the pressure. Talk directly to the key players.
4. See yourself as a LEADER not a VICTIM
Joseph Grenny and Brene Brown and others have done such great work pointing out the importance of the stories we tell ourselves. In the midst of pressure situations, it’s important to tell yourself the right story, and to cast yourself in the right role. During challenging moments, leaders can become hypersensitive to negativity. Everyone is against me! But it’s in these moments that leaders need to think and act like leaders. Don’t panic, take charge of the situation. Take baby steps like asking, what are the first three things a really good leader would do right now? Or just make one positive decision that will move the situation forward. I took over a dysfunctional team one time, and I didn’t know where to start. So I changed the meeting venue from a board room to my living room. It was a first key step in getting that team healthy. But remember, you’re not a victim, you’re a leader. Act like it!
5. REGROUP and REPRIORITIZE
When you face a pressure situation, it’s important to step back and take a bigger look at what’s going on. Instead of working in your job, work on your job. Ask things like, “how do I need to rearrange my life to accommodate this new reality? How can I make space for new priorities right now?” I think of Eisenhower’s Urgent and Important Principle. You can google it for more details but the summary version is to orgainize your tasks into a 4 box matrix. If something is Important and Urgent – DO it right away. If it’s Important but Not Urgent – PLAN time to do it in the future. If something is not Important but Urgent – DELEGATE it for someone else to handle. And if it’s Not Important and Not Urgent – ELIMINATE it altogether. This little system can be helpful in regrouping and reprioritizing.
6. MOBILIZE your TEAM
High pressure seasons are not a time to go it alone. It’s obviously also not a time to go all-in on recruiting new team members. These moments can provide a learning experience for the whole team. A healthy approach can help a team to form deep bonds and even make unforgettable memories together. But use this crisis as an all-hands-on-deck moment. As I look back, one of the reasons our church is so healthy and being led by a healthy team, is that we mobilized together during difficult seasons.
7. MAJOR on the MAJORS
It is easy to distract yourself by being busy working on lesser problems. To focus on little annoyances because it’s something you can actually solve. But this approach creates sideways energy for what you should actually be focusing on. Seasons of high pressure are not the time to address team culture issues or minor dysfunctions, it’s the time to make and execute key decisions. Don’t dismiss those smaller issues altogether, keep a list of things that surface related to specific team members, and processes, and dysfunctional culture concerns. But address them at a later time after you have majored on the majors.
8. Balance COURAGE and CAUTION
Every leader has a default setting on the courage-cautious scale. Figure out your go-to setting and then seek counteract it with contrarian thinking or outside voices. Transcendent leaders don’t go to extremes in this department. They know that an overly courageous approach can lead to things like reckless decisions and illogical spending sprees. And an overly cautious can lead to the deadly paralysis of analysis. Strike a balance on the scale.
9. Remember the POSITIVES
Resilient leaders never wander too far from their blessings. It’s important to come back regularly to the goodness of God in your life. Focus on the benefits. Count your blessings. Start and end each day with gratitude making lists of all the good things in life. Negative voices come out of the woodwork during times of struggle, make an effort to remember the positives.