Here, in no particular order, is the list of spiritual-leadership killers. I have personally come across instances of all of these – often more than once – in the past five years. Some of these discouragements are more common among full-time leaders, but many are echoed by leaders at all levels of church life. Leaders, flee these early on and make sure that you don't get into patterns that will allow them to insinuate their way into your life and ministry later on. Everyone else, take not and make today an "encourage your church leaders" day.
Pressures on family and friendships
- People are happy for me and my family to make sacrifices that they aren’t prepared to make. People think I can live on thin air. The pay and conditions are terrible. This gets harder and harder, the older I get, especially as they all have houses to live in, but have never paid me enough to get on the property ladder or to buy a house when I retire.
- People think there should be no line between personal life and church life. Lack of boundaries damages my family life by making my family public property. My children have to be the best behaved in the church or it reflects badly on me.
- The church has inappropriate expectations of the role my spouse should play.
- I am expected to not have any friends among those I lead in order to avoid favouritism. I am lonely.
- My work skills are trivialized. Everyone else has a view on how I should do the job, but it would be inconceivable for me to tell them how to do theirs.
- There is no sense of honouring and obeying leaders, as the Bible teaches. There is a fear that if people do so, then leaders will fall into the trap of needing to be adulated. The congregation think that not honouring leaders keeps them humble.
- I connect what I do and who I am very closely. When what I do is challenged, resisted or fails, my personal sense of self-worth is damaged.
- I am regularly accused of not delivering what people want.
- My congregation compare me to their favourite preacher on the internet or The God Channel. Or to the previous person in the job, or to their favourite historical preacher – always unfavourably.
- A large percentage of congregation members think the role of leaders is simply to run all their favourite activities.
Feeling unable to lead
- People won’t follow my leadership, or they actively resist me.
- I have multiple competing interest groups in the church, with incompatible wishes and demands.
- My congregation is full of passive receivers and consumers. They expect me to do everything while they don’t do anything.
- The church is made up of people who may be believers, but for all the difference it seems to make in their lives they might as well be atheists. The only functional difference is that they attend church on a Sunday.
- A large percentage of people are long-term spiritually stalled and do not wish to leave the rut they run in. Everything I do to encourage them to take new steps is resisted.
- Whenever I face down opposition, it only ever gets worse. To try to wear me down people will query procedures, then my wisdom, then my integrity, then suggest that I have hidden motives, then threaten to split the church, then write me hateful letters.
Feeling the job is too big for me
- The job is simply too big for me. I am exhausted all the time. I reach the limit of my time and abilities long before I reach the limit of people’s expectations.
- I am spiritually drained.
- I feel out of control, spinning too many plates.
- I don’t have an evaluative process or any other way to know whether I am doing the right things as a spiritual leader.
- I am judged exclusively by visible work. Therefore I am tempted to squeeze out my personal devotional life.
Feeling spiritually isolated
- I can’t talk to anyone about doubt or sin without losing my job. I am the only person in the church whose job depends on an appearance of sinlessness.
- I am expected to take responsibility for everyone else’s spiritual growth and health. No-one expects to take responsibility for mine.
- I see two different stories: the church as it ought to be and as it really is; me as I ought to be and as I really am. Therefore I have to live behind a mask all the time, so that nobody really knows me. My church expects pretence and a veil of superficiality.
- I can’t express fears, frustrations or sins to a denominational supervisor because they have power over possible future ministry opportunities.
- I try to develop structures such as home groups for everyone else’s spiritual help. However, I am the only person who is expected to not participate as my presence would intimidate a group.
- Whenever I lead worship, I don’t really get to worship myself. I regularly teach others but don’t have opportunities to be taught myself.