A friend said to me yesterday that they increasingly note a trend for Christian leaders to feel more exhausted and angst-laden the older we get. He wondered why that is. I can think of quite a lot of reasons, but here are some main ones:
1. Absolute number 1 is that Christian leaders too readily swap being worshippers themselves, for leading others in worship. And do so over long periods of time. We feed others more than we are fed by others, we help and encourage others to worship but always have more of an eye on them enjoying God than they have on us doing so. Others get to receive spiritual food given to them, the leader often has nobody feeding them. Ask your church leader who really takes an active, regular interest in discipling them for their nurture and growth, and you will discover that the great majority don't have anyone
2. Most people have ways to measure success in their work lives but we don't. Without outside oversight it is very hard to know whether we are doing a good job, especially as there is potentially no end to the workload and no line of demarcation between life and work. Most leaders genuinely feel on-call all the time and lots identify they never have an uninterrupted day off. If this is combined for a long period with people in a church not liking what we do it is very waring in the long term
3. Someone with a pastor's heart is likely to give a large percentage of their time to the most demanding and draining people. And those who spend the most time complaining about and resisting leaders, and godly vision, tend to demand the greatest amounts of time. Another friend described some members of his congregation as "yapping dogs who rather than being given too much attention need to be hit on the nose with a newspaper"!
4. By the time a leader gets to 40 it has become obvious that many of their contemporaries will enjoy material benefits in life that the leader never will. There is an inherent frustration that goes with sacrificing those things, knowing that other people are happy for you to do so, but won't do the same for the kingdom themselves
5. The older leaders get the more demanding their responsibilities tend to get. But there is an inverse relationship with the potential sources of them receiving. Burdens, demands and output go up while input and refreshment go down
6. The resisting of godly vision. When a large percentage of a congregation is there because it likes activities rather than vision, and refuses to adjust those activities to bring sharp focus to vision (while insisting that a leader run them against their better judgement), leaves leaders inreasingly frustrated that what needs to be done for winning the lost and building the kingdom, can't be done. Facing this in the long term in incredibly exhausting. I would almost tell most leaders to leave a church if they feel that this is so ingrained as to be unchangeable: it is a recipe for long term church stagnation and leadership death
The list could go on and on. What is the answer? Leaders have to find ways of receiving from God's grace regularly, and have to find mechanisms for their own sustenance and nurture. Whether that is inviting a few friends to form a peer group for nurture, getting a prayer triplet going where you aren't always leading it, being in a home group led by someone else in your church who isn't intimidated and doesn't mind feeding you (that works well for me right now), being part of a church network which really works for pastoral care of leaders (Living Leadership!! - come to the Pastoral Refreshment Conference!) Leaders not living in grace is not an option. Leaders finding ways to do it is tricky but essential.