How to persevere when things are rough

10 April 2024

To celebrate the launch of the new A Methodist Way of Life discipleship toolkit, the Evangelism and Growth team is producing a new monthly blog series on leadership and culture change. Whether you’re mission planning, starting an NPNP, focusing on one of the commitments of MWOL, or re-orienting your church’s focus to discipleship, we hope these blogs will provide inspiration, encouragement and guidance for making your hopes and dreams a reality.

This month, we share some thoughts on how to persevere when things are rough, a situation every leader faces at some point.

  1. Embrace complexity

    Being a church leader in the UK today is tough, whether you’re a minister in charge of several churches or a church steward coordinating Sunday School. In the global north, the church doesn’t have the power, authority, credibility or numbers it once had. And experts disagree about what’s driving that and what we can do about it. No one knows the right answer – or even if there is a right answer. There probably isn’t. Or rather, there are lots of possible right answers. Dave Snowden, creator of the Cynefin Framework, describes this kind of situation as a ‘complex’ problem. We don’t know what to do, so we try things and see what works. We need experimentation and permission to fail. This is difficult work, because we’re managing a lot of uncertainty, both for ourselves and for those we lead. Yet when we understand the complexity of the problem we’re trying to tackle, we are freed from the pressure to simply work harder, and from the belief that, if only we were better, things would be different. When we reframe the problem, we can see new ways of approaching it.
  2. Choose a growth mindset

    A growth mindset holds that, with attention, effort and persistence, we can get better at anything we want to do. This way of thinking resists applying labels to people and groups because value isn’t fixed and everyone can grow and develop. A growth mindset also takes a positive view of failure, because we can’t learn, develop or try new things without failing. Coaching is deeply rooted in this mindset: it’s founded on the belief that people are whole and resourceful and able to grow and develop through receiving new insights. Apply to receive a year’s coaching funded by The Methodist Church here.
  3. Prioritise

    You can’t do it all, and neither can the church you serve. Every time you choose to spend an hour doing something, you’re choosing not to spend that hour on dozens of other things. That’s just the reality of being a finite human being in time. But you can do something, so let that be something you’ve actively chosen to focus on, rather than simply a response to the person or issue that’s screaming the loudest. As a church or circuit, discern and write a mission plan together: a simple plan of the one thing you will do in the next 12-18 months to reach your community with God’s love in Jesus. And every time you’re writing the agenda for a meeting, deliberately choose to put your mission plan at the top, leaving buildings and finance until later. Buildings and finances are important, but they’re secondary: they support the purpose of the church, which is to reach the world with God’s love in Christ. (To explore time and priorities more deeply, dip into Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman).
  4. Connect and collaborate

    Leadership can be lonely, so seek connection and collaboration with others. Spend time with your stewards, your lay workers, your ministers, your key volunteers. Find out the passions and gifts of others in your church or circuit, and encourage them to use those gifts and passions. As the African proverb goes, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ Choose to go a little slower; choose not to do alone what you could do with others. Network with others online, swap stories and challenges, and seek their wisdom. Human beings are God’s language: God gives us one another so that we don’t have to go it alone.
  5. Find what refreshes you

    Rest, eating well and taking exercise are important to all of us: they’re baseline requirements for good physical and mental health. Caring for ourselves is as important for our discipleship as challenging injustice, or evangelism. But there are other things that refresh us too, and they’re different for each person. Some of us like to talk things over, while others need time to themselves to process. Some of us play sport, make art, go for long walks or enjoy hot baths. Sometimes when things get very hard, these simple pleasures aren’t enough: this may be an indication that we’re burnt out. If that’s you, consider talking to your Supervisor, contacting the Churches Ministerial Counselling Service if you’re a minister, or seeking advice from the Connexional Wellbeing Advisors or from your GP.