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Five reasons so many pastors and Christian leaders are exhausted and discouraged

I have been professionally coaching pastors and Christian leaders for 13 years. I have lost count of the number who have pretty much worked themselves into exhaustion, significant burnout, discouragement and then (in some cases) moral failure.

I frankly know very few leaders who are not tired (very tired) most of the time. Is this the new norm for those in leadership? I certainly hope not. Based on my coaching experience and personal experience, here are five things which can send you down the road of extreme tiredness, exhaustion, burnout, discouragement and moral failure.

Please read what follow prayerfully and carefully.

1.  The leader’s identity is in the work of the Lord, not in the Lord of the work

When you first start out in ministry as a leader, you are very dependent and realize that you know next to nothing about pretty much anything. But as time goes on you gain confidence and experience success and there then is a tendency to move your identity from your walk with Jesus to your work for Jesus. Anyone in ministry for any length of time will attest to the fact that “Our work” can become the most dangerous idol of all. We can begin to get our sense of value, worth and significance from what we do (and how people respond to what we do) instead of who we are in Jesus. Trying to keep people happy is a sure recipe for discouragement, exhaustion and burnout.

2.  The leader doesn’t want to, or doesn’t  know how to, delegate decision-making authority to others

I have said for years you either “delegate or suffocate.” I still believe this with all my heart. I am talking about delegating decision-making responsibility and authority-- not just tasks. Most leaders are trying to do too much and simply won’t or don’t trust others with authority to make decisions. They don’t do this for several reasons. They want all the credit themselves. They believe they are the only ones who can do certain things well enough. They can’t stand the idea of someone failing as it reflects on them.  They don’t know what to give away and let others do. Exodus 18 is a great chapter on letting go of things (when you have capable people who can do those things) and moving on to things that only you can do.

3.  The leader doesn’t practice healthy rhythms of work and rest

It’s my observation that many leaders have what they think is a good work ethic (that at times borders on work-aholism) but have a lousy Sabbath ethic. We simply don’t know how to relax, to have fun, to take a full day off, to say no to pressing opportunities and needs. All work and no play makes Jack not only a dull boy, but also a sick boy in due time. With all of our tech gadgets we can work 24/7 without thinking about it.

4.  The leader doesn’t get sufficient sleep and good exercise

Even those who have a somewhat good work/life balance often don’t get enough sleep and sufficient exercise. Everything I have read on the subject of sleep says the average person needs 7-9 hours, but there are many Christian leaders who try to get by with 5-6 hours.  You don’t get more done by working longer and harder, but by working smarter. And being smarter is making sure that you are taking care of your body in a way that honors Jesus and his call on your life. A huge proportion of Christian leaders are sleep deprived and, over time, will pay a heavy price.

5.  The leader spends too much time competing and comparing with other pastors and leaders instead of being biblically content

Some leaders equate contentment with complacency and laziness. Nothing can be further from the truth. As a leader you can be ambitious and content at the same time.  Contentment is a biblical concept (Read slowly through Philippians chapter 4) that  is often misunderstood and insufficiently practiced. Just about every day I pray for contentment: content with who I am, where I am, what I’m doing and what God is doing. The greatest enemy of contentment is comparing and competing with other leaders you know. Stop it! Be yourself. Everyone else is taken. My go-to verse on this is 1 Corinthians 4:7 in The Message Paraphrase: “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?”

Love to hear your story. What would you add to this list?

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