Unless you've been out of the country or simply are not a sports fan, you've heard the news about Urban Meyer, head football coach of the Florida Gators. Winning two national championships in five years as well as coaching a Heisman winner put Meyer at the top of his career. Yet he announced Saturday night that he was quitting "for health reasons" and to "get his priorities in order". Then, with everyone still reeling, he announced on Sunday he'd changed his mind and now is going to take "an indefinite leave of absence". Obviously, Coach Meyer felt a great need for a break, to get his life in order, and to get away from the stress. He needed to get off the merry-go-round for a little while.
My husband, who has also served in vocational ministry, made the observation that coaching is alot like being a pastor. You have a staff, you feel the need to care for everything and everybody, and the more successful you are, the more pressure you feel to succeed again. And then there's the competition...... Right or wrong, we are all wanting our churches to be bigger and better. We want to be thought of as successful!
Having spent fifteen years in vocational ministry, I know a bit about the life a pastor leads - and at times suffers from. I also grew up as the daughter of a coach. And I've also taken a sabbatical after an incredibly stress period of ministry. I'm just a little bit familiar with the feeling of being so stressed you want to run away! I believe there is much that those who serve on pastoral staff can learn from the decision Urban Meyer made.
1) We, as pastors, must learn we are not indispensable. We may hate to hear it, but life will go on without us! If we live like we're the only one who can do our job, we will eventually burn out. And when we burn out, we may make bad decisions, lose our passion for God, or even lose our family and health. The price of burn out is HIGH and long lasting. And don't be deceived, the fallout is widespread. It doesn't just affect us, or our families.
2) We must learn to delegate and thus share the load - and develop the leaders God has provided for us. If we don't listen to the leaders in our church, or allow them to lead, then we are the ones wasting their gifts. I believe we will answer to God for that. Another dangerous outcome, however, is that we and our churches do not benefit from their wisdom and the accountability their insights offer us as pastoral leaders.
3) We must learn to take regular breaks. I know pastors have a huge load, but we must be humble enough to admit that we are limited. To remember that we are human. To acknowledge that we are not God. God is God, we most definitely are not. When we acknowledge our limits, and rest and care for ourselves, we are saying with our lives that we trust God to run the world - and our churches - without us for a while.
4) We need to be aware of the state of our own soul, and take time to do regular "soul care". Without it we cannot lead others spiritually. The best gift we can give our congregations - and the Kingdom of God - is a healthy us. Healthy physically yes, but also healthy emotionally and spiritually. Our first priority is to care for our own selves so that we may care for others. Being aware of what is happening inside us spiritually and emotionally is so important for pastors, yet most pastors I know are really not good at this. We are great at caring for others, but struggle to care for ourselves, or even to admit we need care.
5) We must learn to look to God to feel "successful", not to other pastors. If you base your pace of ministry, decisions about life, and feelings of success etc. on what the most famous pastors do (or what you think they do) you are obviously doomed to almost constant frustration. Ask me how I know! Don't try to keep up with other pastors and churches, but be content with being obedient to the leading of God for you, and your church.
6) Momentum hides a multitude of sins (or problems). Meyer's problems did not originate November 5, 2009 when he entered the hospital. They started long ago. Perhaps he's a workaholic - most coaches AND pastors are. Maybe he's ignored the stress, the long hours, the health issues, and the way his family may have felt for years. Yes, years. But when you're winning and rolling so gloriously along it's hard to slow down. It's hard to take a break from the momentum, from the adrenaline, from the constant high we get from winning. And so the problems "hide" and don't seem so big. Until we no longer have the gift of momentum. And then the problems seem almost insurmountable. And we are left with no other option but to face them and deal with them.
What do you think? What lessons could we, as ministers, learn from Urban Meyer?