Navigating change is about making it to the end. That’s easier said than done, though. Ask anyone who’s attempted to bring about difficult change, whether in their own lives or in the life of an organization, and you’ll learn something: we are often most tempted to quit or give up moments before a critical breakthrough.
leading change when you feel like giving up
There will be occasions in which we’ve put in the work, done everything we can to execute the plan faithfully, and still, we’ll reach the point where our efforts just aren’t enough; we’ll have to give God permission to write a story we can’t write ourselves.
However, there are practical, everyday things we can do that can help us get to the other side of a critical breakthrough. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are five practices that have helped me persevere in leadership over the years. I hope they can help you.
five ways to avoid quitting
1. Find friends. Many leaders are lonely. It happens for a variety of reasons, but in part it’s a systems problem. We tend to develop “dual relationships” with people in our ministry setting. Sure, we have friends, but our friends also go to church with us, or volunteer with us, or set our salaries, or we are their leaders. Which means often we hold back in what we tell them about the struggles we are facing because, well, we don’t want them to see “their” church through that filter. Alternatively, if we’re completely open with them about our struggles, they may lose heart for the mission. They might even leave.
The best practice I’ve seen, and also personally experienced, is to be intentional about developing a small network of trusted colleagues outside your community. I have developed friendships with leaders who live hundreds—even thousands—of miles away who know me and with whom I can be 100% honest. It’s been life-changing. And I am that friend to some of them too. Finding someone outside your faith community (even if it’s a pastor or staff member across town) can become a mutually beneficial relationship.
That said, don’t neglect local friendships. They are necessary and make life so much more rewarding. I am fortunate to have a great relationship with our elders. They know me inside and out, all my strengths and weaknesses, and we work hard at cultivating those relationships. I also have a transparent relationship with our staff, especially with our leadership team. And naturally, we have some great friends in the church and outside the church locally too. It’s the combination of great relationships inside and outside the church that can provide for great support through good and bad seasons for everyone.
2. Get some help. A decade ago I sat down with a counselor for the first time. Jim helped me get through some key issues, and he helped my wife, Toni, and me navigate some of the pitfalls common to couples when one is called into ministry. I’ve seen a few counselors over the years during different seasons and am quite sure I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it weren’t for their influence in my life. When I’ve been tempted to quit moments before a key breakthrough, my wife, prayer, wise words from others, and the help of a counselor made all the difference.
I really believe God uses other people to speak to us. Interestingly enough, I don’t know of a single influential ministry leader who’s made it over the long haul who hasn’t been through some form of formal or informal counseling. My only question is why I didn’t go sooner.
3. Create an encouragement file. A number of years ago, I began filing away emails, letters, notes, and correspondence that encouraged me. It started with an actual file folder, but these days it’s a virtual folder in my email client.
My criteria for putting a note in the file: Did the note make me feel like I’m making a difference? It might be from someone who wrote to say thanks, or a colleague who Tweeted or Facebooked some encouragement, or an email from someone at our church who liked something that happened. Basically, if something encourages me, even in a small way, and helps me see God is using my efforts (because often it’s easy to feel like He’s not), I file it. I do it because, like you, one negative email can erase the memory of a hundred positive ones.
I also keep it because on the days that I get discouraged, I know I can open that file and find hundreds of reasons to keep going. Ironically, when I feel discouraged, I usually don’t even need to read a single note. Simply knowing they are there reminds me to keep going.
Don’t have an encouragement file? Start one today.
4. Find something energizing to occupy your time off. The problem with leadership in ministry is that it’s hard to turn it off. Even when I’m not “working” I’m always thinking: about how to solve the next problem, how to develop a team member, what to teach in our next series, or how to navigate the next change. I don’t have a good “off switch.” Most leaders I know don’t have one.
One of the best ways to combat this is to develop something—a hobby, a pastime, or a pursuit—that energizes you. I didn’t have one for years and finally decided to take up cycling. I thrive on it. My wife and I also hike, and we love to travel. I have other friends who have picked up photography, marathon running, and even video-gaming as pursuits that give them energy when they are away from the office.
If your off time is always just down time, you will feel down. Your mind won’t turn off. You need something to get your mind off the pressure of leadership. If you can find some energizing pursuits (even making time for dinner with friends who are life-giving), you will bring more energy to your work, a new perspective to your challenges when you get back to the office, and have more staying power over the long haul.
5. Develop a devotional life that has little to do with work. Last year, I asked our staff a tough question: If none of us could do ministry tomorrow, what would be left of our spiritual lives? That’s such an important question for leaders to ask, and when I’ve asked it of other leaders on the road, the answers haven’t always been encouraging.
I push myself and our leaders hard on developing a spiritual walk that has little to do with our work. Over a decade ago, I started reading The One Year Bible every year, not because there’s magic to reading the entire Bible annually, but because I wanted to make sure my devotional life wasn’t just more prep for Sunday. While I pray for others and our ministry, I want to make sure that my prayer life is rich enough to be meaningful if I stopped doing ministry tomorrow.
Interestingly, acting as though you weren’t in ministry when it comes to your spiritual walk might make it easier for you to stay fresh in ministry over the long run.
just do it
You may develop your own practices that keep you healthy over the long haul. By all means—whatever you need to do to stay healthy in the long run, do it! Prioritize it. You can only bring to others what you have experienced yourself.
To see a video clip on this topic, go to LeadingChangeWithoutLosingIt.com and click on “Quick Tip: Not Quitting.” To find out more about the book Leading Change Without Losing It, as well as related resources, go to OrangeBooks.com. You can pick up a copy of Leading Change Without Losing It at Orange, Apple, or Amazon.
This is an excerpt from the book Leading Change Without Losing It, by Carey Nieuwhof. Carey is the lead pastor of Connexus Community Church, north of Toronto. Prior to starting Connexus in 2007, he served for 12 years in a mainline church, transitioning three small congregations into a single, rapidly growing congregation. Carey and his wife, Toni, live near Barrie, Ontario and have two sons, Jordan and Sam. He blogs at www.careynieuwhof.com.