NCLS Research

Personal Foundations


Personal Foundations for Sustainable Leadership

NCLS Research has identified six personal foundations for sustainable leadership, based on our research and the findings of many other studies. Each personal foundation is associated with lower burnout levels in church leaders and, as such, is important for you to consider.

Spiritual Foundations: Your spiritual foundations remind you of your identity and dependence on God and your place in the world. Active ongoing spiritual formation and a deepening relationship with God is a necessary resource upon which Christian leaders draw.

Clarity of Purpose: Your personal sense of purpose, or calling in your ministry is an important foundation, which will act as a reference point, an internal compass to help you stay on course and persevere.

Sense of Self: A strong sense of self and of personal autonomy means that while you may care deeply about your ministry, you maintain a sense of identity separate from it. Not becoming dependent on the affirmation of others, or on the authority of your position, is a strength in times of stress.

Integration: Having a sense of integration will mean you feel your gifts and passions are a good fit for your ministry role. This may vary from one task to another but a good amount of overlap means you feel more able to live out your role and be a genuine model to those around you.

Supportive Relationships: Being able to make and keep friends can be a challenge for some in ministry roles. The support you receive from close friends and family can make a critical difference in how well you face demanding times in ministry.

Balance and Boundaries: Constant and unbroken engagement in ministry can stop your energy levels returning to a natural and healthy equilibrium. If you are able to  'unplug', relax and put time aside for separate activities and priorities, you are likely to improve your sustainability in ministry.

Personal foundations are key resources for coping

The six personal foundations represent aspects of who you are and how you live, that can make a profound difference to how you handle the highs and lows of ministry and leadership. As you encounter the moments in your ministry that are 'stressors', your foundations are key resources in coping, or points of vulnerability if you are not strong in them. Not only that, but your sense of engagement with ministry and people, your energy and encouragement levels can be heightened when your personal foundations are strong.

Australian church leaders and personal foundations

In the NCLS Leader Surveys each of the personal foundations are measured by a small scale of 4-6 questions. The results for Senior Leaders in the 2011 NCLS are shown below for one such question from each foundation.
As you read this section, reflect on the proportions of leaders in the different categories, and which answer you would give at the moment.

Spiritual Foundations

An alive faith is vital for effective and sustainable leadership. Spiritual foundations provide a sense of meaning, direction and self worth. NCLS research points to the importance of faith development and spiritual anchors for what is often a challenging journey.
The results for a question about private devotional activity are shown, for the senior church leaders in the 2011 NCLS Leader Survey.

Clarity of Purpose

A clear sense of purpose is linked to well-being, including higher self-esteem, optimism, life satisfaction and trusting others. NCLS research has found that most church leaders have a strong sense of call to what they are doing, as shown in the 2011 NCLS results for senior leaders opposite. Having a strong sense of call is associated with lower emotional exhaustion and higher satisfaction in their role.

Sense of Self

A strong sense of self which is built on clear and honest self-knowledge is important. Affirmation from others is pleasant, but over-dependence on this or positional authority is a vulnerability in times of stress. Leadership that operates out of a strong internal sense of self tends to avoid the traps of emotional exhaustion and low satisfaction. The results for senior church leaders in the 2011 NCLS is shown for one of the questions used for this personal foundation. (Note, this question has negative wording, so is 'reverse-coded' as part of this personal foundation.)


A sense of integration between gifts, passions and actual ministry role is important. When there is a good sense of person-ministry fit, a match between aspirations and actual activity, there is likely to be a higher sense of satisfaction and lower emotional exhaustion. It also means that modelling to others can be genuine and unforced. The 2011 NCLS results for Australian church leaders from one of the integration questions are shown opposite. (Note, this question has negative wording, so is 'reverse-coded' as part of this personal foundation.)

Supportive Relationships

Personal well-being is enhanced through relationships with people who care, can provide support, can be honest truth-tellers and reference points for both work and wider issues. NCLS research finds that leaders who are more positive about their relationships are less prone to emotional exhaustion and higher on ministry satisfaction. The 2011 NCLS results from one of the key questions in this foundation are shown opposite.

Balance and Boundaries

A balanced life with clear boundaries allows leaders to be realistic in knowing what they do and what they don't do. Being sometimes caught amidst competing demands and limited resources emphasises the need for a leader to establish what are clear and appropriate boundaries. NCLS research has found that those who say they have done this are less emotionally exhausted and more satisfied with ministry. The 2011 NCLS results from one such question in the leader survey are shown opposite.

How strong are your personal foundations?

Examining and working on these foundations could mean the difference between burnout and thriving for you. Research has shown that where these foundations are strong, a leader is more likely to be thriving and less likely to be burning out.

Spend time thinking about each foundation in your own life: is this an area of strength for you?
What would be your three stronger foundations and your three less strong ones?
What would help you grow stronger in each one and how would this improve your sustainability in ministry?


The Overview

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