Twice a year I go on a week-long retreat by myself in a hotel or retreat center to pray and plan. Sabbath is a vital part of my life to hear the story of God again and how I fit into it.
I enjoy that time of rest for a week as well as the time of Sabbath I get weekly. Yet I realized several retreats back that I needed to figure out the source of what was making me tired. Although I have always retreated, always done a date night, always practiced Sabbath on Fridays, I noticed I was still close to burnout.
My eyes were opened when, while on my retreat, I read an article in Harvard Business Review about managing energy. My mind was blown. I had not realized that energy was just as important—if not more important—to steward as time.
The hard truth is that there were three areas that I had to manage better to have more energy:
1. Life givers vs. life takers. I can meet with two people in a day and the experiences can be radically different. One person is a good conversationalist, makes me laugh and wants to hear what I have to say. The other person interrupts and contemplates what they need to say while I'm talking. He or she always knows the answers. The latter will absolutely drain me of all energy, and my soul will feel like a thousand pounds afterward. Although I may have had the same amount of time with both, it makes a huge difference who I meet with.
Life-giving people tend to be open and honest and have a pretty healthy level of self-awareness. Life-taking people tend to be closed and proud and lack self-awareness. This is clearly not an exhaustive list. You could create your own list in your church of people who give you life and people who take life from you. But to be clear, it's not necessarily a spiritual thing. There are people who love God but just have some personality hiccups or they've had some bad encounters with you in the past, and as a result, they are absolutely draining to be around. Then there are people who could be as far from God as the devil but have personality traits that click with yours. No matter what, you should be aware of who drains you and who brings you life.
If someone drains you and takes life from you, budget them in. I realize that there are people who take more from me so I make sure that I set myself up to meet with them early in the day. I'm clear on how long we're going to meet and I rarely let them hijack my day.
For some this may sound unspiritual because Jesus was constantly around people and had crowds around Him and would steal away in the mornings so He could be available for people. This is true. What also is true is that we are talking about the Son of God who was without sin. Since you and I are not the Christ, we should be careful about how and who we spend time with. Far too often we are careful about time spent with someone is if it's a person of the opposite sex. That is wise, of course. To manage your energy well, add draining people to the list of people with whom you need to take care on how your time is spent.
2. Omni-competence vs. team ministry. No leader is omni-competent. Only Jesus had all the gifts and could function seamlessly in all of them. Yet He, being the omni-competent one, still had a team. His team helped him to maximize His impact. I need a team to maximize impact as well, but I also need a team because I'm an incredibly flawed leader.
If you ask me to sit with you to talk though a counseling issue, it just rolls off my tongue. I rarely have to pause to gather my thoughts because it's an area where I'm gifted. Now if you ask me to organize a conference, I can pull it off, but I will need to be prayerfully reflective and pay attention to every detail.
When I operate outside of my gifts, it's like I'm writing with my left hand even though I'm right-handed. When it comes to organizing, on my best day I'm a 6 on a scale of 1-10. Being self-aware of your weakness and secure in your strengths empowers you to recruit and train other leaders. It is the insecure leader who doesn't allow strong leaders to flourish around them because they think leading is being omni-competent and in front all the time. The omni-competent leader will be drained because they are pretending to be something they're not, while consistently operating in areas of weakness.
There are many gift and personality tests; you should take them to be very aware of who you are. Yet all those tests can't change your heart or how you see yourself. You can't build a great team and maximize your energy if you're not secure and comfortable with yourself. The leader has to realize that their identity is hidden in Christ who cried "it is finished" (John 19:30), meaning you no longer have to strive for an achievement to feel accomplished.
Christ completed the work of identity in His death on the Cross, so you don't have to build a large church or following to feel secure about yourself. You don't always have to be the speaker or administrator. The key to feeling secure is knowing someone did the work for you. In turn, the secure leader can bless, encourage, and empower others so they can create a fully functioning team rather than a one-man show.
3. Take a break to recreate. I have a video game on my phone called NBA 2K16. I play it often. Before I started to manage my energy, I use to play video games on my phone in shame. Now I play openly and do it as out in the open as possible. I came to the conclusion that throughout the day I had to recreate. My mind was working overtime and I didn't take enough breaks during my workday.
Some Monday staff meetings are so draining that I go for a walk to get lunch by myself, pull out my phone and play a couple of games. Sometimes I will call my wife, read or pray. But I'm not gonna lie: a lot of times I play NBA 2K16.
I have a devotional every morning and pray regularly throughout the day. My wife and I love each other and talk often, but sometimes what I need in that moment is just a nugget of entertainment.
I have been amazed at how much taking a small break has given me the extra push to accomplish more in my day. Now to be clear: I work out every morning, I'm careful with my diet, and I drink a lot of water to stay fresh. Recreation for me is a much more than a game. A video game may not be your thing (maybe it's hitting a few golf balls, shooting a few baskets, running three miles and so on), but whatever righteous activity settles your mind and refreshes your energy throughout the day should be done without the slightest bit of shame.
It's hard to find reliable stats on the rate that pastors actually "burn out" since burning out is not exactly quitting and quitting is not exactly burning out. What's clear is maximizing my life for ministry and burning out are two different things that are often assumed to be the same. When Paul said he was pouring out his life (Phil 2:17), he definitely wasn't wasting it. Rather, Paul was giving all of himself to the work of God. When I learned to manage my energy, I put myself in a better position to give my best to God, my family and my church.
What are some things you do or could do to give yourself a recharge during your workday to avoid a pastoral energy crisis?
James Roberson is the pastor of Bridge Church in downtown Brooklyn. He and his wife, Natarsha, started the church from scratch in 2013 along with their three girls Faith, Leah and Sophia. He has a Master of Arts from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
For the original article, visit lifeway.com/pastors.com.
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