10 tips to help church leaders move from surviving to thriving

Our guest practitioner shares insights into thriving and sustainable leadership

Tim Dyer was our guest practitioner at our leadership webinar. As a mentor of clergy, coach and ministry supervisor, he has a passion for leadership wellbeing. Here he outlines 10 tips that can help leaders move from just surviving in ministry to thriving in challenging ministry situations.

Post COVID stress, high-profile leadership power and abuse issues, and increasing administrative and compliance load, can take their toll. While Tim pitched these suggestions to church leaders, many of the principles apply to anyone who wants to grow their resilience in challenging work or life situations.


Watch Tim's full video

10 tips to help church leaders move from surviving to thriving


1.   Audit your ministry tasks and clarify your leadership role 

Pastors and leaders can take on too much. It’s important that leaders take time to clarify the core elements of their role, like shepherding the congregation and caring for their church community, and let go of all the unessential add-ons.


2.    Reflect on power and spiritual authority in leadership 

Given the concern in churches lately about the abuse of spiritual power,leaders should reflect on what makes good, healthy, strong Christian leadership. Leaders can develop awareness by reflecting on their own leadership within supervision or mentoring/ coaching relationships and finding regular ways to receive constructive feedback. It can also help to read or listen to current careful reflection on bullying, misuse of power, and the right use of spiritual authority.


3.    Learn and develop practical leadership skills 

Many Christian leaders indicate they’ve never received training in critical leadership and group skills. Leadership training in interpersonal and organisational conflict management, principles of organisational governance, teamwork, personality and communication, and transition and change management can increase a pastor’s capacity to resolve conflicts and build teams.


4.    Implement a whole-person 'self-care' plan

Self-care is stewardship of the personhood, life and relationships God has entrusted each of us with. 

Whole-person self-care covers physical well-being, mental and emotional health, relationships and personal spirituality. Leaders need individually crafted self-care plans built around their unique needs. A good self-care plan needs to address inputs like nutrition, outputs such as exercise, the right amount of rest, including sleep, and the right boundaries such as hygiene. Toxic influences on the body, mind and spirit should be avoided.


5.    Embrace a form of ‘Sabbath’ practice

Sabbath is a regular day set aside for us to practise ceasing the normal rhythms of ministry, work and life. Sabbath practice enables resting and recharging and allows us to realign our values and perspectives to those of God. It also helps us celebrate the goodness and grace of God. 

While many Christians have Sunday as their sabbath, pastors and leaders may need to find another day to apply sabbath principles of rest and renewal.


6.    Schedule occasional retreats alone and away ‘retreats’

The stress levels of pastors have been shown to reduce in direct proportion to their distance from their own parish or church. Retreats allow leaders to mentally disconnect and detach from the leadership role, connect to nature, and find space for spiritual formation. 


7.    Pursue ongoing spiritual formation 

Christian leaders consistently report a benefit from engaging in classical spiritual disciplines, particularly within the contemplative tradition. These practices might include exploring contemplative forms of prayer, going on a pilgrimage, or exploring other spiritual disciplines through spiritual direction. 


8.    Build capacity for resilience 

COVID helped us realise that resilience is only partially a generic phenomenon. Resilience can be ‘adversity specific’. A person might be resilient in one situation, but not in another.

Building resilience requires generic skills and resources, such as emotional and cognitive self-awareness, a positive challenge mentality, focused approaches to planning, and grit and flexibility. But it also requires learning adversity specific skills. These include realistic situational assessment, accessing reliable ‘adversity’ information, and networking.


9.    Foster supportive relationships in leadership 

Supportive relationships don’t just include our family and community. People in leadership should find peers who understand the challenges of ministry but also have friends outside of work and ministry and don't treat you as a ‘pastor’. Professional support networks, such as pastoral supervision, mentoring, coaching and spiritual direction, are also important.


10.    Create space for fun

The post-COVID era has been taxing on Christian leadership. We all need to create a space for joy, laughter and genuine fun.


Download some reflection questions from Tim's presentation here


Related information

Watch Sam Sterland's webinar presentation outlining national research findings on what contributes to thriving and resilient leadership in Australian local church leaders here


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