On a road trip, I like to set cruise control to 100kph and then manage the speed when corners come up. That’s a very simple strategy for getting from one place to another.
In my work life, I’ve attempted to do the same: find the optimum pace and establish a consistent level of output. Not surprisingly I’ve found that this model is good for driving but miserable for life: it assumes that all my dials can be managed simultaneously and that I have control over all the challenges I’ll face. But when unexpected problems hit and I already feel like I’m operating at maximum, the road can lose traction – this is problematic.
So over time I’ve begun to use my highway illustration in a more sustainable way. Like a road trip, life will have times when it’s all uphill. During these times I have to slow down: I can’t expect to maintain 100kph without boiling over. Equally, there are times when decisions are challenging to make and awkward to navigate. I have to slow down to ensure I make good decisions and take people with me as I go. Then there are downhill times when I can take my foot off the accelerator and allow for some gravity- fed momentum to keep up the speed.
My default setting (which I’m still learning to overcome), is one of feeling guilty when I look around and see that life is pleasantly sustainable. Pastors can have a bad habit of maintaining busy schedules to justify their existence.
While laziness is unacceptable, there are times when you can take advantage of the quieter periods, knowing full well that the reserves you are building up will likely be called on sometime soon.
Here are some of the best pieces of advice that have helped me to seek well-being and sustainability. Some seem ridiculously simple but make a world of difference. Take time out with your spouse or a friend and over coffee or dinner consider the following:
- Ensure that your basic disciplines of spiritual input are maintained.
- Consistently invest in your marriage. Lock in these times tightly.
- Make sure your children know that they have first rights to your time.
- Own a good bed! Your day is only as good as sleep allows for.
- Laugh! Sometimes after a hard day, I watch YouTube comedy before bed.
- Set a date for your next break within a week of coming back from holiday. Work to a rhythm.
- Set some short, medium and long- term goals for your physical health.
- Have a hobby that will last you into old age. Join a club.
- Get good counsel regarding your personal money management.
- Create a wide circle of friends. You’re a church leader, not a monk!
- Enjoy social time with fellow staff and leaders without agenda.
- Have people other than your spouse who will ask care-frontational questions about your health and well- being. These questions will be life, marriage and ministry-savers.
- Plan your sermon series in advance. There’s nothing more draining than a Saturday night special. Don’t fool yourself that adrenaline bursts of panic are the Holy Spirit: he can guide you well into the future.
Add more to this list: it’s not exhaustive. But you are! Too many church leaders have metaphorically fallen asleep at the wheel of church leadership allowing the church to drift. Your well-being is the best long-term investment that you can make for the welfare of your church and ministry life, and sustainability is your ticket to a fruitful ministry life. Seek what helps you grow and be the best you can in service for Jesus.
Story: Craig Vernall
Craig Vernall is the National Leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.
- What do you need to address for your well-being and sustainability?
- Do you feel guilty when life is sustainable? Pray about this. Ask a friend to keep you accountable in your attitude.
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