In the winter of 2003, I wanted to give up.
Having been thrust into somewhat public leadership at an early age, signs of fatigue and emotional brokenness were bubbling to the surface. I learned only later that these were symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety.
What was once my first love – using music to lead people toward the throne of worship – had become a daunting chore. No longer was I ready to stand in front of large groups and receive both the praise and criticism that accompanied.
I was ready to hang up my guitar, and leadership hat – forever.
Those who are called to lead must, at some point, realize that leadership will invite greater judgment and possibly isolation, if we allow it.
“Not many of you should become teachers [masters, leaders], my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1, NIV).
Author Dan Allender posits that the greater your leadership influence, the greater difficulty you will find in maintaining deep, meaningful community (Leading With A Limp). “Few friendships can endure one person having more power than the other,” he cautions (p. 33).
Are leaders, then, simply doomed to scrutiny and loneliness?
I certainly hope not, but one must acknowledge some telltale signs of burnout. Several include irritability, hopelessness, erratic emotions, lack of focus, chronic insomnia, lack of energy and body aches/pains.
Lest we despair, several practical steps to address burnout and isolation have proven useful (each could merit a separate discussion!). Leaders must own their past areas of brokenness and address them. They must find healthy ways to express emotions, and safe places to do so. They should pursue rhythms of reflection and Sabbath.
I close, realizing this might tear off a big scab for some. Before you get overwhelmed, identify one small step you can take today to pursue healthy community. Is there something “sticking” to you that you need to offload? How might you pursue Sabbath in the next week/month?
Here are a few additional book resources for consideration: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Scazzero), Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (McIntosh & Rima), Leading on Empty (Cordero).
Daniel Gluck serves as Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Jessup, and Lead Faculty for the B.A. in Christian Leadership program.