Enabling Parish Leadership
Everybody has stress. Not just parish leaders. But parish leaders have extra tools to manage it: prayer, community and mission.
To manage stress, first learn what it feels like and where the stress is coming from. Where do you feel your stress? Around the shoulders? In the stomach? With a headache?
How do you act when you’re stressed? Do you walk more quickly? End conversations rapidly? Speak more abruptly? Do you use a harsher tone?
Where did the stress come from? Can you think back to a particular thing someone said to you? A letter you received? An email or phone call that rattled you?
Is the source of stress more chronic? Do you work every day with someone who annoys you? Do you have inadequate work conditions? Do you fight heavy traffic all the way to work?
If you can identify the specific source of stress, you can think of specific ways to deal with it. If other people are the sources of stress, strategize about how to work with them. You might visit with the difficult person directly or ask someone else for advice. How you speak to difficult people is as important as what you say.
In addition to handling the specific sources of stress, you will also benefit from daily habits that minimize stress. Some people exercise. Some go to ball games. But parish leaders have advantages over other workers.
· Prayer. A daily habit of prayer is a powerful way to resist the threat of stress. Prayer should not be just another appointment on the calendar, handled quickly in order to move onto the next item of business. It deserves its own time and place. It belongs on the A list of tasks for the day. Choose a time of day that works for you. Choose a regular place to go. Even fifteen minutes a day can help develop the spiritual center inside you. You can draw from that center throughout the day, whatever comes your way.
· Community. Other people may be the source of stress, but they are also its resolution. Jesus called us to be a community of disciples. He did not promise we would always get along. If we are committed to one another, we establish a framework for forgiveness and tolerance. In that community of love we find our peace.
· Mission. You will also have a great sense of peace from the overall mission of the work you do. You are not working for some company whose main purpose is to increase the revenue of the stockholders. You are working for the Church, anxious to put the gospel into practice. Whenever the details of the job cause stress, you can take comfort knowing that the big picture is glorious: You are serving the reign of God!
When you manage your own stress, you will be in a better position to help others manage theirs. And when you help manage theirs, your own stress goes down.
This article was written for ParishWorks: Idea Source for Parish Leaders and Decision Makers 8/6 (July 2005), but the journal ceased publication with Volume 8, number 5.