Last time, I asked the question, ‘Overwork – what’s that all about?’
Over the next few posts, I’d like to address the major reasons why church leaders work too much. So let’s be clear. This is a serious problem. It is not virtuous. It is not good. Some leaders may think they have ‘extra capacity.’ They do not. And finally, it is damaging. To the leader. To the church.
Time to figure out what’s driving your overwork.
This week, the Protestant work ethic.
The leaders I know are wonderful, caring, conscientious people. They are diligent, they are often disciplined and they get a lot done. But many work in environments created for them by the denomination or the church ruling body which, frankly, are unhealthy. The expectations are unrealistic – just one more home visit, one more meeting, one more service – and because of their work ethic, they soldier on. The virtue which resides inside so many leaders – that they are compassionate, caring people – is the very thing which is causing them harm. It’s damaging to health and relationships. They feel trapped.
The only word I have to offer is ‘boundaries.’ In many cases, leaders do actually have the ability to set out boundaries. You may think you don’t have this ability, but you do. I’ve lost count of the reasons I’ve heard from leaders trying to justify their overwork.
No one else can do it.
They want me, they won’t accept anyone else.
The leader has always done this.
The board says I have to do it.
It’s my job.
I could go on.
Boundaries. Yes, you can set them. Yes, some things won’t be done which used to be done. Yes, some people will be disappointed, perhaps even upset. They may even speak badly of you. But it’s simply false to say ‘I have no choice.’ You do have a choice. You also have a choice to see clearly the damage that results from overwork.
Here are some of the downsides of overworking:
As a leader, you are a model, so when you overwork, you create a culture in which your overwork is viewed as normative. Many, especially younger church staff, will view your overwork as virtue, when it isn’t. It’s unhealthy.
When you overwork, you are probably harming relationships in ways of which you are almost certainly unaware.
When you overwork, you do not present as a mature leader, but one who is driven by something other than a clear understanding of your identity in Christ. As a leader, that’s disastrous for those you lead.
Your overwork is almost certainly a sign that you haven’t learned to embrace a major part of your role: equipping and releasing your people.
So, here is a set of statements that might be helpful to embrace:
It is healthy to say ‘no.’
It is healthy to stop working at a certain time, and limit your access to emergencies only.
It is healthy to turn down invitations.
It is a sign of health when others take on leadership roles in your church.
It is a sign of health when others are equipped to serve.
Others can preach.
Others can lead services.
Your reputation is not paramount, your physical and spiritual health is more important.
You can change.
I’ve barely got started, but this is a blog post and my word limit is almost up. To conclude, however, I wish to offer hope. That final one, you can change. It’s a message we all need in some area of our lives.
God has called you into leadership because of his grace, not your work capacity. The grace that you have preached on more times than you’ve had hot dinners, it’s a never-ending stream of wonder. With God’s grace, you can address the problem. But only if you’re prepared to look it in the face and acknowledge it.
God’s grace is designed to draw you back again and again to your core identity: God’s beloved child. Out of this will flow good work practices.
Be encouraged. There’s hope.
This week, we’re releasing an article by Marcus Honeysett on the importance of a church leader’s home life. Click here