This is a guest post from Dr. Jeannie Miller-Clarkson
Dr. Jeannie Miller-Clarkson is the researcher behind a groundbreaking study linking emotional intelligence and performance-based self-esteem with burnout among Christian pastors. She is founder of Christian Care Connection, a multi-staff professional counseling center in the greater Toledo, Ohio area. Jeannie is a Licensed Psychologist and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Her academic credentials include a Bachelor of Biblical Studies, a Master of Arts in Counseling, and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. Jeannie and her husband Bud are members of Hope United Methodist Church in Toledo, Ohio, where they team teach the Disciples Sunday School class.
EXHAUSTION AFFECTS LEADERSHIP
Bud: You’ve been feeling tired, Jeannie. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jeannie: It started about a week ago. I’ve just been feeling exhausted I was so stressed when the whole coronavirus stay-at-home orders started because of all the changes we had to make. Now we’ve settled into a new routine. My stress level is down but my energy has crashed!
Bud: Sounds like it kind of caught up with you?
Jeannie: It did!
Bud: I think many pastors probably are weary right now, feeling the same things you have been. What are the potential negative facts of exhaustion on them personally and on their leadership effectiveness?
Jeannie: I think you’re right. In fact, lots of people that I have been talking to lately are telling me they’re feeling really tired.
Bud: It does catch up with us. It can affect our leadership negatively.
Jeannie: Yes, it can affect our leadership negatively. When I am this exhausted I tend to be less patient and can even get a little snappy with people. So I am being careful about my interactions because I don’t want that to happen. Other people are stressed too. Plus I think when we’re exhausted we’re just not able to manage our relationships or to even think creatively as we would normally.
Exhaustion interferes with our ability to tune in to others and empathize with them.
Bud: It’s natural for all of us to get a little grumpy when we’re tired. As leaders, well, as my grandmother would have said, “You have to rise above it”. I wonder if there are biblical examples of stress, tired, and exhausted leaders.
#1. CORRECT YOUR SELF-TALK
Jeannie: Elijah was very stressed when he fled Queen Jezebel’s threats. I won’t repeat the story but read 1 Kings 19 carefully and you will see Elijah’s inner thoughts on full display:
- He prayed that he might die (verse 3)
- He could not take any more (verse 4)
- He was the only one left who cared (verse 10)
Yet in verses 15 – 18 the still small voice of God gave him new inspiration and direction but also corrected his perception that he was the only faithful person left!
“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18 NIV)
Part of Elijah’s exhaustion and discouragement originated in his own unhelpful beliefs and self-talk. Normally, he didn’t think like that. Perhaps he was exhausted from his epic run recorded just a chapter earlier! Weariness can skew thinking. That’s why we need to pay attention to our mindset when we’re exhausted.
Bud: So, it’s important to manage our mental state when we’re really tired. What are some other ways we do that?
#2. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR REST, DIET, AND TIME WITH GOD
Jeannie: That’s a good question. It’s incredibly important. If our thinking gets skewed that could potentially affect our relationships and leadership very negatively. We will wind up saying things we really regret.
Elijah had some help from God here that is important for us to know.
- Elijah had some time off by himself.
- God helped him have a lot of sleep.
- An angel provides some good food.
- Then God talked to him to help him get his mental state figured out.
You can read all about that in 1 Kings 19.
Bud: So, it sounds like getting some rest and eating healthy will help us. But you mentioned that God spoke to Elijah. I take from that that we especially have to keep our devotional life alive when we are exhausted. However, that may be hard to do because the reason we’re exhausted is we’re so busy.
Jeannie: Rest, healthy eating and snacking, and especially our devotional time are all very important ingredients to getting back on track. In fact, I’ve looked at my schedule for this next week and some of the coming weeks and have gone ahead and planned some extra down times for myself.
You’re only human. Give yourself permission to rest.
#3. RECOGNIZE THAT YOU MUST TAKE TIME AT SOME POINT TO RECOVER
Bud: Does exhaustion inevitably lead to burnout? What if you really can’t find time to rest yet? Does that mean you’re absolutely headed for burnout?
Jeannie: No. We all become exhausted at times with a new project or new activities; then when we can, we take time to rest and recover. The problem happens when we don’t take time to recover. I think pastors who were already under a lot of stress prior to the pandemic will likely have a harder time because it’s stress upon stress with no time to recover.
#4. DEVELOP A RESILIENT MINDSET
Bud: Jeannie, your statement raises a question for me. What makes some people more resilient than other people to stress?
Jeannie: Well, a lot of things: physical health, natural tendency to be positive and flexible help us to be resilient. Going with the changes will produce less stress and exhaustion than resisting the changes, for example.
Bud: Tell me what you mean by that.
Jeannie: We all like our life and schedules to go as we have planned them. However, some of us feel more stressed out than others when things don’t go as planned. Some of us are more able to adapt and go with it. Those people that have a harder time dealing with change and being flexible are likely feeling even more stress.
Developing the ability to simply let go of things and move on can make a remarkable difference in one’s energy level.
#5. MAKE ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGES
Bud: We discussed Elijah but another example of an exhausted leader is Moses. He wore himself out trying to adjudicate all the conflicts that the people of Israel brought to him. His father-in-law, Jethro, famously recommended to him that he set up an organization. So it strikes me that in times like these where things have changed a lot, some of our exhaustion may result from trying to do everything ourselves. We could find some relief by creating new structures, delegating in some new ways, or intentionally bringing alongside others to help.
#6. EMPOWER OTHERS
Jeannie: I’m so glad you brought that up. Excellent point! Trying to do the work all ourselves is a sure recipe for exhaustion. Plus it robs others of opportunities to be used by God. So yes we should look for those who can help us and not be afraid to ask.
I would also add that this could be an opportunity to empower people in our churches. We don’t have all the ideas. We do have a lot of very creative people sitting at home with time to think. So just ask people, “What ideas do you have? What things do you see we could do in addition to the way we’re ministering now? What needs do you see that the church could meet?” Then empower them to do that.
Bud: We may have some people that have skills that haven’t been in demand before. Such as a videographer or film editor for example. We may be able to employ some of their skills in new ways.
Jeannie: For example, the younger people in your church likely have lots of ideas about how to use social media and virtual meetings in a way that you and I just don’t know.
Bud: Great point. Excellent opportunity to get them more involved.
#7. DON’T EXPECT YOURSELF TO BE PERFECT
Bud: Finally Jeannie, what is your #1 tip for overcoming exhaustion and leading like a champion no matter how tired you feel?
Jeannie: Give yourself a little space. Plan some downtime if you can. Carve out some time for yourself. Don’t expect perfection – that’s what I mean by giving yourself a little space.
Bud: That reminds me that Jesus would always carve out time to pray. In fact, he seems to prioritize it oversleep and rest.
Jeannie: Yes. Weariness goes along with leadership but even more so in a crisis. We can overcome it though.
Correct our self-talk. Maintain our healthy eating routines. Grab a nap or day off if we can. Go with the flow. Know that eventually, we have to find time to recover. Set up new procedures in our organizations, if necessary. Find people to whom we can delegate these new tasks.
Above all, maintain our prayer life and remember, you’re only human. Give yourself a little grace.
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