A few months back I read a great article online by a man who tried just about everything to lose weight. (I wish I had kept a note of it but can’t now track it down). Nothing he tried seemed to work for him. Finally he took a drastic step: he moved to the desert and deliberately put himself somewhere where food was in short supply. And the pounds dropped off.
His point was this: that the habitual structures and patterns of our lives have to be the right ones to deliver the goals we want to achieve. He knew where he wanted to get to. He tried a variety of other systems and they didn’t work for him. This one did, I guess largely because it was so proactive. His other attempts encouraged growth and change, this one forced it. Just having a desire to lose weight didn’t work for him. That’s why new year resolutions always fail. They are based only on vague desire not on a long term habitual system.
All of us have habitual structures in our lives. If you don’t think you do then that is your habit! Our habits can work for us or against us.
Christian leaders also have systems and workflows in our lives. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Some are good and some bad - in the sense that they don’t deliver what we need them to deliver.
Take a minister who showed me the list of his responsibilities a few months back. It went on and on. Page after page after page. It was clearly killing him but he perceived no opportunity to change it, drop things, delegate or scale back. It was obviously unachievable but it was expected of him and he had normalised the idea that he would try to do the list. Now everyone else in the church expected it and he was worried about their reaction if he tried to renegotiate. He had unwittingly colluded in a system that is bound to fail. The question is whether it will take him down with it.
(One of three things always happens in this situation: it gets renegotiated, the person runs away or they stay without renegotiation and eventually get destroyed by it or have a heart attack).
That’s quite an extreme example. But I wonder what you have normalised in leadership that isn’t working for you? Perhaps most importantly that is working against your spiritual life, your walk with the Lord and you having a discipleship-oriented rhythm to your life? What have you embraced that regularly interrupts you having a heart that is happy in God?
These questions seem to come up a lot for leaders in their early to mid 40s. Perhaps over the preceding few years we have allowed our commitments to rise to the maximum while we have the energy. We get a buzz out of being busy. But all of a sudden we take on one thing too much, some external factor weighs us down, there is a spate of tough pastoral issues in the church and we get overwhelmed. We realise that we had been working too close to the edge of capacity.
(I think this is one reason why pastors so regularly announce they are called to leave a church on returning from a sabbatical. They take the sabbatical at the point they are exhausted in the hope that it will help them change the situation. Then they despair of finding a solution and know they don’t want to just return to things as they were. But they get up just enough energy and courage to flee. Of course if the church doesn’t know the real reason then the conditions that cause the exhaustion never change).
At the point we realise our systems aren’t helping us it isn’t just a question of getting some new ones. We also need to deconstruct the ones that don’t work.
One big habit that was destroying my ability to make space for God was the way I used email. (Email is a curse - it won’t be in Heaven!). Essentially I used it as my to-do list and let it build up and up. Anyone could add to my to-do list any time they liked from anywhere in the world. And I got into the habit of checking it very frequently and dashing off replies. Which of course immediately generated more and more! I’ll blog some more on how I am getting over this addictive and unproductive habit and system.
Perhaps the main question here is how do Christians - and Christian leaders in particular - enjoy sabbath rest with God? In Genesis 1 people were created on the 6th day, in order to enjoy the 7th. Our very first experience of Creation was enjoying the Sabbath with God in Eden. If the pressures of our leadership life have squeezed that out and our long-term life habits and systems don’t deliberately work to build it back in then not only will we lead badly but we won’t be living as God intended. Most people don’t drop out of Christian leadership because they forget how to lead a service, pastor the broken or preach a sermon. They drop out because they have forgotten first and foremost how to be a human being who is enjoying God.