Have you ever been hiking and come across a sign that read “Stay Back From The Edge”? At first glance, these kinds of signs seem ridiculous. After all, who would get so close to the edge that they’d go over?
Unfortunately, the answer is too many people. Interestingly, not one of those people woke up that day planning to slip over the edge. But they did, and the consequences usually ended up being pretty severe.
I believe there’s an “edge” for Christian leaders. I’ve seen some leaders slip over it. They didn’t intend to, but they did. Some went over the edge suffering burnout. Some flamed out by doing stupid and/or sinful things. Some have suffered physical sickness. But it’s not only the leader who suffers these consequences. There is usually a strong ripple effect that negatively impacts family, friends, leadership context and even the cause of Christ.
There aren’t big metal “Stay Back From the Edge” signs for Christian leaders, but there are some tangible and tell-tale warning signs. Here are a few:
- You consistently wake up tired after a regular night’s rest.
- You don’t care about what you used to care about.
- You have little compassion for others.
- You are regularly seeking to escape through __________. (insert what applies: food, drink, drugs, porn, fantasy, video games, social media, unhealthy relationships, etc.).
- You are getting sick more often.
- Your emotions are all over, or your fuse has gotten shorter.
- Little things feel like big things.
- You feel trapped.
- Nobody else knows how you are really doing.
- You keep hitting your internal “override” button to keep up appearances.
- Spiritual and personal disciplines are out the window.
- You feel God is far off, uninterested and even unable to help.
Every leader has likely experienced at least a few of these signs. They usually pass in short order. But, the longer they persist and the more signs present, the closer you are to an edge. If the signs are there and lingering, here are some practical steps you can take to Lead Different and step back from the edge:
1. Find A Trusted Ear – Reach out to someone who is safe and trusted. Being vulnerable takes courage, but it also breaks your isolation. It also begins to bring into the light what you have been carrying alone. Share that you need them to listen, seek to understand, stand with you and pray for you. Share how you are feeling and the signs that make you concerned. Receive some perspective. Invite contact with you each day over the next two weeks. Pray together.
2. Rest – Football legend Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” You are likely more fatigued than you realize, so make rest and restoration a top priority. Don’t hesitate to use some vacation days or sick days. Focus on sleep, life-giving activities and getting away from work/stressors.
3. Get To The Roots – Invite a mentor, coach, counselor and/or doctor to help you move beyond the symptoms to identify the root issues. You could be facing a combination of:
A. Personal Issues – A visit to your doctor can help you explore any medical issues that may be present. A mentor, coach or counselor can help you explore issues around fears, calling, identity and healthy boundaries, which may be factors.
B. Volume and Type of Work – If you have been overloaded with too high a volume of work, then you need to address a structural problem. Is more help needed? It could also be that the type of work you’ve been doing is outside your calling, gift-mix or skill set. Delegation, further training, reframing your work and changing work are all considerations here.
C. Stressors – We often underestimate the number of stressors, the amount of stress and amount of accumulated stress we are experiencing. Do a basic stress inventory. What significant changes have you experienced in the last year? Are you in heavy conflict situations? Is there relational stress? What other pressures are you facing? This kind of review can then help you create plans to address these stressors, discern if the stress is seasonal or on-going and help you to entrust these things to the Lord
4. Spiritual Attack – 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that there is a “…roaring lion prowling around looking for someone to devour.” Be careful not to be paranoid of the evil one, but also be careful not to discount that you are a high value target for him. You need to be on guard, prayerful, wearing the armor of God from Ephesians 6 and inviting others to regularly pray for your protection.
5. Keep Talking With God – God can take you being raw and real with Him. Since He knows your heart already, I think He’d prefer raw and real rather than you not talking or trying to fake it. A journal can be a good friend during difficult seasons.
6. Hold On – One truth to hold onto comes from Isaiah 41:13. It reads, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’”
Remember there is an edge. Many gifted, capable, competent and seasoned leaders have been shocked to find themselves sliding off it. You don’t need to follow. You can take some steps back from the edge. You can choose to Lead Different. Take some steps back to steward yourself well and to keep being dangerous for God’s purposes rather than being a danger to God’s purposes.
Cheering you on to Lead Different,
Dr. Steve Brown
President, Arrow Leadership