Six Ways to Get and Keep a Healthy Perspective
The real value of a stock is not determined by its price per share at a given moment and neither is your value as a minister calculated solely on your circumstances today, regardless of whether you are riding a wave of success or struggling to keep things from falling apart. The true value of a stock – and the true value of your ministry – is based on a combination of factors including past performance, actual return, future potential, and current circumstances.
Stocks and ministry are both best viewed as long-term investments, a fact that can be demonstrated by countless cautionary tales about people who made terrible decisions because they couldn’t see beyond the pain, stress, fear, or pride that was consuming them in the moment. The good news is that there are ways to combat these destructive pressures. Click the link below to find six effective strategies to develop and maintain a healthy perspective.
1. Create a Life Map
The best way to give context to your current circumstances is to weigh them against the past and the future. Look backwards and plot your trajectory; consider where you have been and the unique path by which God brought you to your current ministry. Then look ahead and consider your potential; set goals and think strategically about how you can achieve them. All of a sudden your current circumstances will take on new meaning. Whether good or bad, they can be viewed as just another step of a long a journey that has yet to be completed. To anchor this new perspective, incorporate all of those insights into a Life Map.
Answer questions that give context and purpose to your life, relationships, and ministry. Why are you serving as a minister? In what ways has God called you and prepared you for Kingdom work? What are the non-negotiables that guide your strategies? What are the mechanisms and who are the people that will keep you grounded, focused, and energized? What priorities and core beliefs will you use to resolve value conflicts? What goals are you passionately pursuing? What is the immediate step that you need to take in order to get or stay on track?
Put pen to paper and get your Life Map started today. It will provide perspective, strength, confidence, and direction regardless of your immediate circumstances. It will help you make important decisions and decrease the chances that you find yourself wandering aimlessly through life and ministry. Your Life Map will instill motivation to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
2. Immerse Yourself in Nature
Most ministers spend the vast majority of time inside buildings, often in rooms with little or no natural light. You might occasionally get in a vehicle but only to be drowned in the fluorescent-filled recesses of another building. If you are lucky, you get to spend time each day in a place where there are cows… but only long enough to order an original Chick-fil-A sandwich meal with a Diet Dr. Pepper. Then you go back to the church building for a meeting or two and head home after dark to go to sleep. Wake up…repeat. It shouldn’t be a surprise that ministers struggle to find joy, creativity, meaning, the voice of God, and a healthy perspective.
The Psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1) and the Apostle Paul declared, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20). There is something awe inspiring about the created universe and, if we can find a way to break our urban trance, it is a pretty useful tool for building a healthy perspective.
Spend some time in nature – go to the nearest state or national park and find a quiet place to sit by a stream. Listen to the wind blow through the leaves. Follow water as it flows across the rapids. Consider the height of the trees. Watch the animals build, gather, and store. Read Matthew 6:19-30 and let your perspective be renewed and transformed.
3. Read Biographies (or Autobiographies)
My guess is that you have probably at some point in your ministry felt painfully alone. You have probably felt unjustly attacked. You have probably felt like no one else has ever faced your leadership challenges. You have probably felt like you were facing unreasonable expectations. You have probably felt like a failure. You have probably felt helpless. You have probably felt broken. You have probably felt ashamed. You have probably felt ineffective. And there have probably been days when several came crashing down all at the same time. These are the days when a healthy perspective is invaluable.
Perspective helps identify and dispel lies of the enemy. It cuts through the fog to illuminate three important truths. First, you are not alone; there are hundreds of other ministers who experience fear, doubt, and low self-esteem. Second, you are not the first or last person to struggle with the leadership challenges you are facing. Third, and most important, you will not be the first or last person to persevere, overcome the challenges, and as a result to consequently make a significant Kingdom impact.
Biographies are great for gaining perspective because their stories naturally convey the three grounding points mentioned above and also show how the person attacked challenges and came out on the other side stronger, more effective, and more committed. They also tend to offer readers a peek into the mind and heart to show what pressures, desires, values, and other motivations influenced decisions. Biographies can show us how we should respond in certain circumstances. And, even more importantly, they can teach what not to do, because there is no lesson more convenient or valuable than the one you learn through someone else’s mistake.
4. Create some space
Space is a particularly useful tool. If you want to produce a change in your thoughts, emotions, and even your physical condition, one of the most effective strategies is to simply change your location. This is not a new concept, of course; it has been drilled into us from childhood. When you get into a heated argument and are tempted to say or do something you might regret, go to another room for a while to cool off. The source of the conflict doesn’t disappear when you walk from the living room to the kitchen yet you are somehow much more likely to successfully resolve that conflict when you return, one important reason being that you have given yourself an opportunity to gain perspective.
The good news is that the strategy is equally effective when applied to your ministry. If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, attacked, vulnerable, or angry, one of the best things you can do is go to the geographic equivalent of another room. The things that are causing you anxiety won’t just disappear while you are gone but the temporary change in location will prepare you to deal with them much more effectively when you return.
You can certainly gain some valuable perspective by travelling to a third-world country and it is always refreshing to get away for an extended vacation, but those are rarely an option and the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t require you to go far or spend a lot of money. Find a Panera or public library in a neighboring town and use it as a remote office for the week. Spend a day in silence and solitude at a park. Volunteer at another church or ministry for a few days. Attend a conference or seminar. Where you go and what you do is not the critical part of the strategy. The key is simply to break from your daily routine and give yourself margin.
5. Participate in a mentoring group
The Center for Church Leadership’s 2016 State of the Ministry study indicates that the majority of ministers struggle with isolation/loneliness at least occasionally, with almost a third of the respondents reporting that it is “often” or “regularly” a challenge. Choosing to live in isolation is professionally, spiritually, and emotionally dangerous, in part because it limits perspective.
The human brain has an amazing capacity to justify, embellish, rationalize, and generally skew reality. In some cases it is a natural survival response and in other cases it is insanity. Here-in-lies the problem with isolation. It is very difficult for any person to accurately assess circumstances from within the immediate context. The reason why Generals sat on their horses on the ridge above the battle field is that the most useful perspective is global, diverse, and objective. This is precisely the perspective you need for your ministry but you cannot achieve it alone.
The Center for Church Leadership has responded by creating a monthly peer mentoring group called the Center’s Roundtable that is specially designed as a place for ministers to experience support, encouragement, and care. It is a safe place where you can be transparent about stress, fear, exhaustion, frustration, and anger. The Roundtable also provides a relaxed environment to share ideas, tackle challenges, and build each other up. If you do not already participate in a mentoring group, email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive information about joining or launching a Center’s Roundtable group in your area.
6. Connect with a Professional Christian Counselor
It is possible to find yourself so deeply rooted in dysfunction, conflict, self-doubt, exhaustion, and/or depression that the path to restoration is not easily identified or navigated, even if you conceptually understand how you need to proceed. This may seem counterintuitive since you probably spend quite a lot of your time helping other people address life challenges. You may be tempted to conclude that your expertise in life coaching and pastoral counseling means that you should never get lost and, even if you do find yourself wandering, that you should be able to serve as your own expert guide out of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual wilderness. But that is unfortunately not the way things generally work out.
Trying to navigate challenging circumstances is difficult and trying to do so with an unhealthy or skewed perspective is downright treacherous. As noted above, there is something about stress and pressure that erodes our perception, creativity, patience, judgment, and commitment. That means that you can sometimes be your worst guide because you lose the ability to interpret and respond to each fork in the path, each obstacle, each landmark, each mile marker, and each person you encounter along the way. All of these represent a potential misstep that could keep you moving in the totally wrong direction. Insert pride check here.
Ministers are a tough and often stubborn bunch. They don’t admit weaknesses and certainly don’t share them with other people. This is not a good thing. It is not a productive life strategy and it puts many ministers in situations where they are between a rock and a hard place that ultimately crushes them – often along with their family and their ministry. If you are finding it difficult to re-center, reconnect with God, recover emotionally and physically, and restore broken relationships, it is time to turn to a professional guide. The Center for Church Leadership launched its Counseling Initiative to help you conveniently and confidentially reach out for personal, marriage, or family counseling. There is even financial assistance available in some cases. Visit http://www.centerforchurchleadership.org for details and contact information.
Break the cycle of feeling deceived, distracted, and discouraged. Build these six strategies into your routine to get and keep a healthy perspective, one that will empower you to truly survive and thrive in your ministry!
Jeffrey Derico, PhD
Center for Church Leadership