The Modern Day Warrior (Pressure is Pressure)
by Dan Reiland
Let's face facts, we are all going to face some type of pressure in our ministry. How are you reacting to pressure and how do you overcome it?
My nearly-sixteen-year-old daughter's favorite movie is Braveheart. Naturally, if William Wallace can capture Mackenzie's heart I want to be all that Wallace is and more. In my more delusional moments I envision myself with a huge sword, blue paint on my face and looking to "pick a fight." When I return to my senses and look in the mirror, I hardly resemble the Scottish hero.
I wonder if that's who is needed today. As a matter of fact, if I arrived at church on Sunday morning clad in a kilt, swinging a sword, and yelling FREEDOM, it is highly likely that I will be given a very long vacation.
While most leaders long to be as brave as William Wallace, most will not be called upon to face an English sword. (Then again, William never faced an angry church secretary.) Seriously, what does a modern day warrior look like? Underneath all the trappings of a thirteenth-century Scot (1270-1305) or a twenty-first-century church leader …pressure is pressure.
When I say words like courage, risk, abandon, sweat, passion, and sacrifice I can see myself, and hundreds if not thousands of other church leaders.
We all face pressure. What separates good and great leaders from average and failed leaders is how we handle that pressure.
How about you? What kind of pressure are you under? How are you coping with the debt load of your church? You've outgrown your building, so how do you keep growing when you are out of space and short on parking? How are you holding up under the pressure of being way behind in budget and losing some key givers? Then there is the matter of staff. Now there's a piece of cake without any pressure whatsoever. Remember your youth pastor? What do you mean you aren't getting along? Then there's that small group that wants to break away and start their own church. Let's not go there. One of your trustees is having an affair …OK, enough!
But wait, we haven't even started on your personal life yet. How are you dealing with the pressure of your family acting more like animals than angels? Your spouse and kids are struggling and demanding more of your time. You want to give them time, but …Then of course you have your health to reckon with. Are you exercising regularly? Are you still eating double-cheese bacon-burgers, fries and topping it all off with ice cream? Your kids are getting close to college age and how are you going to pay for that? And last but not least, being the spiritual leader you are, how well are you doing in your passionate pursuit of God and hearing His clear voice of direction for you and your Church? I have one word for all that. PRESSURE! Like it or not, leaders are called to higher standards than non-leaders. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 gives a good picture of those standards. We are not called to be perfect, but we are called to live lives above reproach and be productive at the same time. Isn't that the real pressure?
It would be much easier if you only had to manage self-leadership to conquer your spiritual disciplines, character issues, and family life (minus performance on the job). And conversely, it would be relatively easy to manage high performance on the job if you could sacrifice your family, walk with God and personal character. God help us, this is not how any of us think, or live, but have we not been tempted to lean one way or the other? This is pressure. God calls us as leaders not to avoid pressure but to lead through it. If you are taking your church forward, you can't lead around the pressures of life—you must go straight through them.
The following is a simple set of ideas to give you fodder to think through how you handle pressure as a leader. Even better, you may simply want to ask a few people under your leadership what they really think. If you are "brave-hearted" enough for that, you may learn more than you bargained for.
Leaders who react to pressure:
Some leaders have a practice of reacting to pressure. We all do on occasion—even Aaron cracked under the pressure of the Israelite's complaints while Moses was away so long. Even so, I want to raise a yellow flag of caution if you find yourself relating to several of these "reactions" on a regular basis.
- Do you take pressure personally?
Leadership is personal. But if you take it too personally, you won't survive emotionally. Leaders must be tough—able to "shake it off" and move on. This does not mean they are unfeeling or uncaring; on the contrary, good leaders have a deep love for people. They are, however, able to separate facts from feelings to make good decisions. Remember, the pressure is not about you, it's about the cause you are leading.
- Does pressure cause you to be image-conscious?
If you are overly concerned about what others think, you will diminish your leadership over the long haul. It is good to be liked, but it's better to be respected. Leave politics for the politicians. Focus on who God wants you to become and what He is telling you to do.
- Do you tend to lose perspective under pressure?
This one gets me on occasion. When I am not managing pressure wisely I lose perspective and things become "bigger, badder, and uglier" than they really are! Take a breather, step outside, smile, laugh and remember God is in charge. I often recite one of my favorite quotes. "When you've done all you can do, go to bed. God is still up."
- Does pressure cause you to get irritable or angry?
Let's face it, no one likes a cranky leader. No one wants to follow someone who is like a ticking time bomb about to go off. No one wants to serve alongside a heavy-handed leader. This reaction is closer to a red flag than a yellow one. If this reaction is true for you on a regular basis, let me encourage you to seek out wise counsel. Remember this, if your reaction is larger than the issue at hand, it's about something else.
- Does pressure cause you to withdraw and pull away from people?
If this reaction is your regular response then you have fallen into a reclusive pattern of leadership. This reaction often includes the attempt to avoid pressure in hopes that it will go away. That never happens, it only gets worse. Pulling aside to pray about it is wise, but you must get back in the ring and lead.
- Do you blame others when under pressure?
I mentioned Aaron earlier. He blamed the people in the incident of the golden calf. Remember his words? "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil." Basically Aaron said: "It's their fault!" Keep in mind that Aaron was a priestly leader chosen of God. He was no flunky. Pressure does wild things to good leaders. God is looking for leaders like Moses. Moses not only accepted responsibility, but offered himself for the sake of the people.
- Do you attempt to take things into your own hands and "fix it" under pressure?
This is perhaps the most subtle and dangerous reaction of all. Rejoice in your strengths and talents, but remember where all your abilities came from. Don't race to do something. Instead, pray first. Ask God for help. Ask for His wisdom and power. Humble yourself to your shortcomings as a leader, ask God to come alongside you and then lead on!
If several of these ring true, perhaps you are overloaded, or you need to get away for a few days. You may even need to consider wise counsel to help navigate your leadership to a consistent set of responses that look like the following.
Leaders who respond to pressure:
Leaders who have learned the art of responding to pressure in a positive and productive way will consistently demonstrate many of the following responses. Read the questions and see how you are doing.
- Do you know how to leverage pressure in the direction of the mission?
Leaders understand that there is no such thing as life without pressure. Experienced leaders get nervous when there are no difficult challenges. When everyone is happy, you'd better duck because it's about to hit the fan. Pressure is almost always caused by or related to people. The pressure comes as a result of what people (including yourself) do and don't do. By discovering the source of the pressure, you have the opportunity to either change its course to move with you, or block it and thereby effectively neutralize it.
- Are you able to quickly assess the "risk factor" involved in the pressure?
Leaders cannot avoid risk—it comes with the territory. But some risks weigh far heavier than others. A good leader knows how to devote the majority of his or her time to those weightier risk-oriented decisions rather than allowing minor issues to distract and waste valuable time.
- Are you able to make tough decisions in the face of pressure?
Many years ago, John Maxwell had to do some leadership coaching for me on this topic. I tended to want to wait too long to make important decisions. Especially when it came to people, I always believed the best and sometimes avoided a tough decision by changing the topic from the issue of decision to an issue of more development. I still have a huge heart for people, but I now make tough decisions because I know the organization depends on me to do just that. Good leaders are able to make tough decisions
- Do you consistently keep a light heart and cheerful spirit under pressure?
This is what will keep you sane as a leader, especially if you are in a growing church. I've been in full-time ministry for nearly 24 years and all but six of those years (while I was with INJOY) the churches I've served have been in a building program. One capital stewardship campaign after another! I've been blessed to serve alongside wonderful people and we are devoted to keeping each other laughing in the midst of pressure. This is a must. You can't do this alone. As much as you are responsible to be a cheerful leader, you need to surround yourself by other cheerful leaders as well.
- Do you face pressure head-on and grow from it?
This is the best way to handle pressure. Honest, straightforward, and clear-cut. No games. No deals. No passing the buck. A great way to discover your strength as a leader is to pay attention to what you don't want to do. Who are you not willing to confront? What are you procrastinating that you know you should do? Just do it. Experience says you will learn and grow if you press forward with wisdom and counsel.
- Have you learned which pressures to ignore?
This is related to an earlier response that asks if you know how to assess the "risk factor" under pressure. There are some situations that are a big deal to others (their emergency) that you must have the courage to ignore. It may feel urgent but it's not important. Let it go. If this is difficult for you to discern (often, it's difficult for pastors because of our love for people), then gather a small group of about three leaders around you with whom you have quick access, and seek their counsel. In time you will develop enough intuition on your own to make these "which to ignore" decisions.
- Are you able to experience a personal process of rejuvenation following a time of heavy pressure?
This is a great response to end on. Even the best leaders can become exhausted by a season of major pressure, or normal leadership pressure over a long period of time. I urge you to find your path to rejuvenation and renewal. Find the rhythm you need to balance the demands on your leadership with the needs of you own soul to find rest.
This article won't make your pressure go away, but my prayer is that it will help you think and pray to the place of handling pressure in the most Godly and productive manner possible
This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter "The Pastor's Coach" available at www.INJOY.com. INJOY's The Pastor's Coach Volume 6, Issue 4 (2005)
Prepared for the Pneuma Foundation website by Todd H.