8 Easy Ways to Blow It In This Next Season of Leadership

The good news is it feels like we’re entering a new season of leadership and ministry.

Although the coronavirus is still with us, churches and businesses are reopening almost everywhere.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the new season is perhaps even more complicated than the season of crisis we just left.

I also realize you’re likely tempted to stop reading right here.

After all, you really can’t handle one more person saying more change is ahead.

I get it. Some days, neither can I.

We’re all more than a little fatigued, frazzled and irritated. And everybody (including me) is long for some semblance of normal.

Everything in you wants to go back to as much normal as you can possibly find. And that would be great, if it wasn’t also deadly.

The good news is we're entering a new season. The bad news is that it's likely more complicated than the season of crisis we just left. Click To Tweet

When change is as profound and disruptive as what we’ve gone through, this next season isn’t a finish line, it’s a start line.

Right now, every organization is a startup and if you see it that way, you can advance your mission.

And as hard as it is to hear, the next season will probably require more leadership from you, not less.

But, because of deep fatigue, a longing for normal and a hope that all the problems go away, too many leaders will default into managing what was rather than leading into what will be— trying to bring the past back, to normalize their work, and to recreate what was lost rather than moving ahead into a new future.

But your work is too important to do that. You know it. I know it.

For all of those reasons and more, it’s just far too easy to blow it in this next season of leadership.

Here are 8 easy ways to do it.

When change is as profound and disruptive as what we're going through right now, this next season isn't a finish line, it's a start line. Click To Tweet

1. Don’t Take Time off To Restore Yourself

I was going to put this last, but let’s lead with it instead and call an audible.

The reason you don’t want to read this post, let alone act on it, is because you’re tired. I get it. This has been a very tiring season.

And one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not take time off to restore yourself.

While this isn’t a clinical definition, having burned out years ago, I’m sensing three levels of weariness in myself and amongst other leaders right now:

Tired

Fatigued

Exhausted

Tired responds quickly to cause and effect. You put in a long, hard day, you eat well, get some exercise and get some sleep, and soon you bounce back. If not the next day, then shortly thereafter.

Fatigued is a level of weariness beyond just tired. Fatigue will respond to stimulus (sleep, rest, diet, exercise, prayer) but it just takes longer. You’re not burning out, but there’s a slow drain going on that you really can’t ignore.

Exhausted is a place you find yourself in where you’re more than just tired or fatigued. The recovery is longer, harder and you need more time for restoration. It can easily lead to burnout if you let it (here are 11 signs you may be burning out).

Again, those aren’t clinical definitions, but I hope they’re helpful definitions.

The point is regardless of which stage you’re at, you need time to truly restore yourself this summer. The more tired you are, the more intentional your plan for recovery should be.

Leaders, the more tired you are, the more intentional your plan for recovery should be. Click To Tweet

So what’s your plan? If in fact you’re going into a prolonged season of uncertainty and dislocation, you need stamina for the long haul.

Maybe the best thing you can do as a response to this post and the challenges ahead is to book some downtime and then figure out a sustainable pace that will take you through the next few years.

I share the strategies I use to find a sustainable pace here.

If self-care is important in normal times, it’s 10x more important now.

And please hear me…the work you’re doing is so important, and you want to be well and stay well for the road ahead.

Because, as you know, the work is both important and challenging.

Which leads us to the second way to blow it in the next season of leadership.

If self-care is important in normal times, it's 10x more important now. Click To Tweet

2. Let Your Fatigue Drive Your Decisions

Your level of fatigue as a leader impacts more than you and your family. It also impacts your organization.

Why? Well, it can be so easy to let your fatigue drive your decision-making. You avoid the hard decisions, take the complicated things off the agenda and go into robot mode or stick with what you know because it’s just, well, easier.

Don't let your fatigue drive your decision making. Click To Tweet

So how do you counter that?

The best way to gain energy for the decisions you know you need to make is to simplify your model.

If you only do a few things and do them well, you’ll be able to put most of your energy into the things that need it most, rather than diffusing it across a dozen things.

Think about it this way: Doing the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing, ultimately energizes you.

Taking the path of least resistance ultimately drains you when you discover you’ve lost ground and grown irrelevant and ineffective.

Hint: in leadership, the right thing is almost always the hard thing.

So get some good rest, and then rally the team and do the things you know you need to do.

In leadership, the right thing is almost always the hard thing. Click To Tweet

3. Play The Short Game

Another easy way to blow it in leadership is to play the short game.

The short game right now probably looks like this: get back to normal as quickly as possible with in-person services and pick up where you left off or recreate what you lost.

What’s even more challenging is that for a meaningful percentage of organizations and churches, online engagement is up and so is giving, or at least it’s steady.

That kind of success or stability will keep your focus on the short game while you ignore the tectonic shifts happening in culture.

The long game is about preparing your church or organization to reach new people in the future. (For more on that, see this and this.)

And that’s as complex and challenging as it sounds.

So many of the methods broke long before COVID. Trying to resurrect them isn’t going to resurrect your organization for the long term.

So many of the methods broke long before COVID. Trying to resurrect them isn't going to resurrect your organization for the long term. Click To Tweet

4. Ignore Volunteers

Disclaimer: Points 4-8 take a heavy focus on churches, so if you lead a business or non-profit, these points might not directly apply to you, but the timeless principles behind them still will.

Because most churches were staffed and programmed for in-person ministry, one of the things that went dormant almost instantly was the volunteer corp at most churches.

When church went online, what used to take dozens or hundreds of people to run suddenly only took a handful.

As a result, many churches have dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of volunteers who haven’t served in months.

Many indications are that many volunteers, worried about the virus and having swapped a 5 hour Sunday commitment for a 1 hour Sunday commitment, like many others, might not return.

Connecting with your volunteers, encouraging them to serve in their community and remobilizing them even before you need them will prepare you for a strong future.

5. Assume Families are Automatically Healthier

I realize it’s been a year of crisis, so it’s understandable that many leaders haven’t had the bandwidth to think about volunteers. But there’s another group that probably needs your attention: families.

Families have had a difficult year. With zoom school, social isolation, and no sense of normal to cling to for ages, it’s easy to assume that families will be healthy now that things are more open and normal.

Not so fast.

The long term effects of isolation, trauma and everything else we’ve been through are just starting to surface.

So what can you do? Be ready. Be open. Plan on helping.

And know this: ignoring families tends to produce less effective ministry than serving them does.

Ignoring families tends to produce less effective ministry than serving them does. Click To Tweet

6. Let Your Staff Go Back To Their Old Roles

You’ve probably already caught onto this, but the staffing structure you had heading into the crisis is likely not the staffing structure you need heading into the future.

Why? Well, when things change, you need to change too.

Most churches we’re staffed for in-person ministry, and that’s about it. As complex as in-person ministry is right now, online church is probably a big part of the future.

And if that’s the case, how are you positioned for it?

As things reopen, it’s easy to snap back to where you were. And that will be a mistake.

Tagging online church onto your creative team’s job description or handing it to a 19-year-old volunteer is probably not a great long-term strategy.

Further, it’s probably going to require a skillset you may not have on your current team. So continuing to recruit volunteers and staff around that is wise.

So is allocating some of your budget. Most churches spend 99% of their budget on in-person ministry.

If everyone you want to reach is online, you may want to rethink that.

Most churches spend 99% of their budget on in-person ministry. If everyone you want to reach is online, you may want to rethink that. Click To Tweet

7. Put Online on Autopilot

Most churches have made significant progress with their online ministry: either they’ve started one or seen the existing online outreach and ministry grow.

That’s incredible.

And right now, the big temptation is to leave all that on auto-pilot as assume it will grow automatically.  Which of course, as soon as you say it out loud, you realize won’t happen.

When you invest in digital ministry, you’re investing in the future and in reaching the world.

When you invest in digital ministry, you're investing in the future and in reaching the world. Click To Tweet

8. Put All Your Focus On Sunday

In the early days of the crisis, churches were trying all kinds of things online.

Maybe you’ve noticed too. Almost everyone has pivoted back to focusing only on Sunday.

For all the reasons already listed in this post (especially fatigue), that’s understandable. It’s also a mistake.

For the first time in history, online ministry allows church leaders to come alongside people 7 days a week in an easy, accessible way.

I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere, but church-in-a-box was already past its expiry date.

Returning your focus to one day—Sunday—and taking your eye off of all the other opportunities positions your church for the past, not for the future.

Here are some ideas on the future church.

In the future, churches will shift their focus from Sunday to every day, because people need to find faith and live out their faith every day.

In the future, churches will shift their focus from Sunday to every day, because people need to find faith and live out their faith every day. Click To Tweet

What Do You See?

I realize how tiring all the change ahead can be. So please, get some meaningful rest and find a sustainable pace.

I hear you. I’m with you.

But you know this, as leaders, truth is our friend.

And just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

The future is unkind to the unprepared, so I’m grateful we get to think through this together.

What else are you seeing?

What other things can catch us off guard in this season?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

The good news is we're entering a new season. The bad news is that it's likely more complicated than the crisis season we just left.

18 Comments

  1. Lisa Gaston on June 19, 2021 at 10:11 pm

    Amen. I haave vacation in two weeks- I asked for the Sunday on both ends (instead of the one that comes w my vacation week) and was granted that. Whew. Before I got to the comment section here, I sent an email to my staff along with the link to the article, asking each one to read, print it out and add their thoughts and ideas. And I added several extra questions. Looking forward to our staff meeting! We embraced the online, have been reaching new people, and miraculous money showed up to pay for real equipment. Lots and lots of talking about looking forward, thanks to all your training, Carey. Amazing things have been showing up for our congregation and our local community. And I am exhausted. We have all decided to scale back the summer programming and focus on worship and working through the online needs. Which also has helped me. I don’t know how you do it – bring us all this help, information, guidance and support, but I am thanking God for you. We are a small church, worship under 100, more with the online.

  2. sean.getty on June 14, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    I am not a leader of anything YET. I am a newly married father of three boys from two different previous marriages. that has been through so many things in life. I have lost a sibling, abused drugs, abused alcohol, dealt with a suicidal son, lived through demonic spiritual warfare, been through two separations, was in a car crash that I walked away from without a scratch that was a miracle. There was no part of the car left were I was sitting. Had to change provinces in Canada due to loss of work in Alberta ect…. I grew up in a Christian home with two grandpas that were pastors. Through out all my life Jesus has been my strength. Recently I was in deep prayer and felt the presence of Jesus closer than I have ever felt. He is calling me to share my story with everyone that I can. That day I saw a link on my Facebook to this training. I currently attend village church in Surrey and have for 5 years now. I have little knowledge when it comes to the bible I read a lot yet have a hard time remembering verses. I do have 42 years of walking life on this earth and proof that I know Jesus is alive and he loves me. He has rescued me countless times.

    I want to thank everyone for there comments I don’t know where Jesus is leading me but I trust in him and believe that this is all his plan for my life and all the information I am soaking up here will help me serve him.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 16, 2021 at 12:05 pm

      Cheering for you Sean!

  3. Charles Simmons Jr. on June 14, 2021 at 11:11 am

    WOW! This was so enlightening! I have volunteers who volunteered prior to Covid and although they are returning to our in-person service, they are not volunteering. Any insight on that?

  4. Suzanne on June 14, 2021 at 10:42 am

    I really would like a post that speaks to those of us that have no volunteers to worry about and the only staff is my admin and myself. I would love a post for churches that don’t have the budget for big screens and that aren’t set up for online worship and can’t really afford the 10K that it will take to put in all the bells and whistles. my people don’t podcast. reading a daily devotional has been my spiritual practice but, by all means, its not legal due to t copyright an so we do it in a members only group that does not reach others. there is only so much “active and engaging online presence” a team of one can do. I would lvoe to do so much more, but I can’t even figure out how to livestream to youtube without 1000 subscribers and how to fix the sound issues.

    • Seth on June 14, 2021 at 11:29 am

      Hey Suzanne,

      Good on you for at least being a part of this conversation and looking for ways to get better! That’s the first step for all of us to begin on a successful journey of reaching others. Of course, I don’t know the group you’re currently engaging (I’m guessing 65+). If I’m correct about that demographic (even partially), I know that in my Church, the older folks are exactly who are ready to help. They are invested, dependable, have experience, and usually have more time to join up and assist with things. Some train better than others, and some take time to understand why we do certain things. But in my experience, even as we speak, they are the ones rebooting our church post-pandemic, even in areas that are new or unfamiliar to them (tech, online, reaching younger folks, etc.)

      This group understands service, and is often ready to help when asked or presented with a mission. Bestowing authority and responsibility (to the people with the right heart/ mind) really takes the pressure off you and empowers your people to do ministry. Depending on your group/ mission of your church, you may not need to expand in a huge way. However, I do believe that adaptation is necessary if we are to continue to reach new generations.

      Sounds like you could use some volunteers, and that starts by asking. Present challenges and goals, and see who answers the call, just like Isaiah. If you want to break into livestream, use a smart phone and a Facebook page for your church. Easy, and free (if you have the phone, someone in your church does). If you gain ground with the online, start putting more resources into. Start small.

      Praying for you and wishing the best.

      -Seth

  5. Bruce on June 14, 2021 at 10:03 am

    👍👍👍

  6. Cameron on June 15, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    Hi Carey,

    As a 30-something leader this post hits home. This season has been hard on pastors with the constant need to pivot and adapt. I am taking a week off this week and plan to have another few weeks off later in the year.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 16, 2020 at 5:34 pm

      Glad you’re taking care of yourself!

  7. Harry Court on June 15, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    “short game while you ignore the tectonic shifts happening in culture.”

    Yes, it is a new horizon and yes, new habits have been formed but what an amazing challenge to change and connect it will present

  8. Janet on June 15, 2020 at 11:08 am

    “Maybe you’ve noticed too. Almost everyone has pivoted back to focusing only on Sunday”

    My husband and I loved our online gatherings. Now that our local body is now meeting at the facility we continue to be a part through Facebook Live online. We noticed that during our online worship the text of the selected songs were shown through Facebook Live. Perfect to sing along. The stage screen was so small it was impossible to see even on our large flatscreen so the lyrics were added. Nice! Yesterday, the lyrics were not available on Facebook Live and only minuscule words were showing up on the stage screen. We tried to participate even with a newly presented song. Gave up! I thought, “oh, online service is again secondary. “. We are seniors and the virus continues to rise in our area. We will not be attending live services.

    • Mark Holman on June 15, 2020 at 11:51 am

      Janet, my wife and I are returning back to church when that happens, I’m in study for Ministers Credentials as well hold a Degree in information Technology one huge problems is Windows Operating Systems REQUIRES at Minimum a Dual Core Processor and 32 Gigabytes of RAM Memry and the crazy thing is that a lot of people expect a underpowered computer to perform at a measly 2.3 Gigabytes of memory and a outdated legacy mono core pc which gets sold even when it was Windows 7 . Expect to watch a video on a tiny screen or if it was a pre historic CRT Like an old TV monitor like a TV set when you have the old white beam in the center of the screen,

      Also don’t expect much on buggy out of date software and internet service outages, etc… and the Number One issues is weather the congregation is tithing 10% of their money or spent their Stimulus Chech towards whatever excuses they have. Believe me I’ve heard them all. And that is watered down as you can believe it. In other words the Devil 👿 just lied to you about leaving, well maybe you should go to a Pentecostal Church or a Good Full Gospel Church that teach the All of the Gospel. I’ve been a member of a Pentecostal Church as well Full Gospel Churches for 40 years plus. Yep I’m still ticking and Senior Discounts something to think 💭 about this.

  9. Cathi on June 15, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Before the shutdown I could never have imagined the reach and effectiveness of online ministry. However now I can’t imagine church without it. It’s disheartening to see so many moving away from an active and engaging online presence and going back to the same old same old thing. As a pastor by vocation and a corporate trainer by profession I can see the beauty of combining the two. Not to replace face to face but to enhance it and to go places and reach people that ‘in person’ can’t.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 15, 2020 at 8:57 am

      That’s such a great summary Cathi. Thank you! Well said.

  10. Mark on June 15, 2020 at 7:20 am

    I agree with you that online should be taken seriously and content produced for days other than Sunday. I know that some ministers will not be happy about this as it will theoretically be more work but 5-10 minute podcasts are great.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 15, 2020 at 8:58 am

      True. Anything every day is better than only one day.

    • Mark Holman on June 15, 2020 at 10:04 am

      What also really needed to be done is to discuss about the F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real) the Question is are you going to to teach it or not? I’ve had a listening to this subject awhile ago as well read an article on it. When I walk by someone mentions something about FEAR of any sort I respond by addressing this head on, some people will not address the issue it’s generally the teachings of run when the Devil is roaring like a lion and he knows the lies will keep someone in DEFEAT am I right about this? People will leave a church that displays defeat and FEAR. Did you get that? People will leave a Church where doubt and unbelief defeat and the people will leave the Apostle Thomas the Doubters and Unbelievable and defeated Church. They will go to the Have FAITH in GOD Church, also it was spoken in a Super Mega Church teaching.

    • Mark Holman on June 15, 2020 at 11:59 am

      I’m looking at this time as a Vacation during lay-off which I was burning out working a lot of hours I had a car vs deer smack down and did all of my work myself and other repairs as well helping my wife (witch I’m heading outside after this post) long needed vacation back to work next week.

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