5 Ways to Survive the Mental Game of Church Leadership

church leadership

One of the problems I struggled with for years in church leadership was taking every leadership triumph or setback so personally.

I let the dynamics of leadership go to my head and heart too often. My spirits soared when things were good in ministry. They sunk when they weren’t. I took too much of the weight home. Well, not just home. It followed me everywhere I went.

Over time, I’ve learned that there’s a world of difference between taking leadership seriously and taking it personally.

Leaders should always take church leadership seriously. It demands our best, and we should give it. Every day.

But to take it too personally creates a roller coaster that ripples out all over the place.

When you take church leadership seriously, everyone wins.

When you take it personally, almost everyone loses.

Here are five reasons you should stop taking church leadership so personally.

1. YOU’RE MESSING UP YOUR HEAD AND YOUR HEART

If you take things too personally, you create an emotional roller coaster no one wants to ride.

As Tim Keller has pointed out, if you let success go to your head, failure will go to your heart. And that’s exactly what happens when you over-personalize your leadership.

Your head is never quite right when things are going well because you take credit for things that perhaps rightly belong to God or to the contribution of others. Or you begin to believe it’s all you.

Conversely, when you fail, you become completely deflated, convinced God can do nothing with you or through you. You fall into despair.

The reality is that you’re not nearly as good as your best day or nearly as bad as your worst.

Healthy leaders know how to separate what they do from who they are, which leads us to the second reason you should stop taking your leadership so personally.

2. YOU’RE CONFUSING WHO YOU ARE WITH WHAT YOU DO

Far too many leaders confuse who they are with what they do.

Big mistake.

We all know we’re not supposed to confuse our identity with our work, but almost all of us do it.

You are not what you do.

Hear this:

You’re loved.

You’re forgiven.

You’re cherished.

None of this has anything to do with what you’ve done and everything to do with what Christ has done for you. That’s the Gospel.

The error in confusing who you are with what you do arises from the fact that you think you’re loved, forgiven and celebrated because you did your best.

Those who understand Christianity know that the opposite is actually true:

You do your best BECAUSE you’re lovedforgiven and cherished.

Do you see the flip?

You don’t do your best to earn God’s favor. You do your best because you have God’s favor.

Spend a day thinking and praying about that. Seriously, do a personal retreat on that one thought.

It will profoundly change how you lead.

3. YOU’RE OVEREMPHASIZING HOW IMPORTANT YOU ARE

At the heart of over-personalizing church leadership is this problem: You’ve unwittingly made it all about you.

Of all the scripture verses that stop me in my tracks, this verse from Galatians 6 is one of the best:

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:3 NLT

You’re just not that important.

As C.S. Lewis said, humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s simply thinking of yourself less often.

When you and I are gone, the world will keep spinning. The Kingdom of God will keep advancing.

Somehow it’s not about me. It never was. It never will be.

I just get to play a part.

4. YOU’RE LETTING YOUR PERSONAL FEELINGS DICTATE THE FUTURE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION

As goes the leader, so goes the team.

If your personal fortune goes up and down with your church or organization, eventually it doesn’t only impact you; it impacts your organization.

How?

Because when you go down, so, eventually, does your church.

When you suffer, your organization then experiences the impact of your dysfunctions.

A bad moment can become a bad season, because your reaction to what happens triggers the next happening.

Let’s say last month was a bad month in your organization for a variety of reasons. If you personalize those failures, last month’s results will make this month a bad month for you. And if you have a bad month this month, it’s somewhat likely that next month will be a bad month for your organization because you simply haven’t effectively led your team out of the slump (because you’re still in it).

What could have been a blip on the radar (one bad month) can easily become a slide down into a bad quarter or even a bad year.

And who needs that?

5. YOU’RE RUINING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

I know that leadership brings a weight that only leaders understand. And to be candid, I still have a hard time not thinking about what I do. I love what I get to do. And I think about it a lot.

But it was far worse when I took my ups and downs in leadership personally.

Why? Because bad days would come home with me. Always.

When your success goes to your head and your failure goes to your heart, you always carry your struggles home.

The people who love you will pay a price for this.

You will be arrogant or sullen…confused as to why you’re not the hero at home you are at work, or, on your bad days, resentful that your family and friends don’t want to join your miserable pity party.

The people in your life who truly love you don’t love you because of what you did at work. They just love you.

So stop ruining their lives. And yours.

GET ON TOP OF THE BIGGEST CHURCH LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE—LEADING YOURSELF

Of all the things we struggle with as a leader, leading yourself is the most significant challenge.

My new book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges Everyone Experiences But No One Expects, which is available for pre-order now, is a master-guide to self-leadership and all the ups and downs of the personal battle leaders face.

In Didn’t See It Coming, I show you how you can spot the issues that sink most leaders (cynicism, irrelevance, compromise, emptiness and more) before they hit you, and develop a strategy to not only stave them off but to thrive.

Get your copy here.

GOT ANOTHER REASON?

What have you learned about taking things too personally in leadership?

This article originally appeared here.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.

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