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4 Kinds of Stress in a Leader’s Life


How much stress can you handle?

That depends, right? It depends on how much stress and for how long.

You could easily hold 25 pounds over your head for one minute, because that’s low stress on your body and for a short time. But holding 50 pounds over your head for one hour, that’s a lot of stress for a long time, in fact, too much.

The stress you deal with as a leader is similar. Stress and pressure are part of the package in leadership, but how much and sustained for how long makes a difference.

Among the top church leadership stressors are things like:

  • Getting fired
  • A major building project
  • Financial pressure
  • Conflict on staff
  • Unhealthy culture
  • The church is stuck (not growing)
  • Division within the church
  • Visitors not returning
  • Difficulty hiring staff
  • Key leaders leaving

We could easily add to this list.

Stress is real and part of leadership. That’s not going to change. The kind of stress matters and how we handle it makes all the difference.

High levels of sustained stress always makes itself known. It reveals itself most commonly in one of three ways, physically, cognitively or emotionally. And we are wise to know which one and be aware of the warning signs.


It’s not uncommon for our immune system to be weakened under high and sustained stress, which makes us more susceptible to illness. It can be anything from a simple headache, common cold or fatigue to more serious forms of illness. Every human body is different, but no matter how strong, everyone has a limit.


Another common outcome of prolonged stress is that clarity of thought becomes challenged. We become distracted by the subject of the stress and find it difficult to concentrate or focus. Complex brain functions like problem solving become temporarily compromised.


One of the most common outcomes of higher levels of sustained stress is a negative effect on our emotions. We often begin to behave in a manner that is not like us. We behave in a manner inconsistent with our known character. Emotions like anger, discouragement or overwhelm are common.

My warning sign is nearly always physical. Which is yours?