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A recent study quoted in the press stated that the chief reason British people gave for not making good decisions about their health, lifestyle or diet was…tiredness.

We all mean to go for a walk / hit the gym / cook from scratch / learn a new skill…but to do so feels exhausting. We are too tired. We will totally make a vegan lasagne after our Zumba class tomorrow maybe, but today it is just easier to throw some nuggets in the microwave and watch AmazonFlix+

The same is true I think for leaders.


Absolutely no excuses made here for abusive leaders, and no violin playing intended. But leading is hard. Leading anything is hard…even a conga at a wedding disco ain’t easy, there is responsibility for timing and direction and encouraging new people to join, not to mention gauging the mood about when to stop.

Anyway. Leading is hard. Leading a church is hard because it involves people, their faith, their pain, expectations, beliefs, hopes, fears, dietary needs and family timings. It also involves accounts and the charity commission and the new diocese reporting framework. It involves safeguarding. I know I need two adults for the youth social, but one just dropped out and nobody else is volunteering…now what? It also involves Instagram and diary management and bible teaching and having to pray in public even on days you just don’t feel like it. And that is just for when things are not going well! Imagine if things start going well, new people join…more people to juggle, a crèche is suddenly needed, a new venue requires finding, the insurance no longer covers the income, the bank account needs upgrading and there is more pressure to deliver a meaningful talk on Sunday…as well as a coaching session on Thursday, as well as….blah blah blah.

The point is that the over work happens fast. And towards their moments of burnout and failure, each leader we are aware of who has become abusive has been running WAY too fast for way too long. Many of them even talk about needing medication or drugs to keep going. They were all over-committed, and nobody makes good or healthy decisions when they are overworked and under rested.

There is over-work on a personal level, as people pile too much on their plate. There is over-work on an organisational level, where the “system” expects too much of the people that it treats as commodities. And there is over-work which comes with the machine of the church…keeping the show on the road week after week after week.

That is why, and I know not everyone likes this, we go for walks some Sundays or picnic. That is why we take August off - to give me and everyone else a break! That is why we don’t make a badge of honour for over-working and heroic-fatigue. That is why we have had to let some good projects finish…because to keep juggling everything would have been too much. That is why play and marsh-mallow toasting are at the centre of what we do. A £1 Prize is silly…but it also reinforces the point that joy and play are an important part of our spiritual life. Shutting church for the summer is cheeky, but it reinforces the point that rest is important and faith is bigger than church.

Burnout and dangerous decisions are harder to do when you are only doing the things the Lord has given you to do, when sabbath is observed, when rest is enjoyed and work is not worshiped.

About the author

Paul Oxley

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