Tuesday, April 5, 2011

When Stress is Overwhelming

Stress is a part of life. There is no escaping it. Several months ago I told someone that my life would soon be back to normal, and they laughed. The laughter was followed by the question: what is normal? I stumbled over myself and ultimately failed to provide a plausible answer.



Yesterday a close friend and colleague in ministry called. As a result of events going on in the church he serves that are totally beyond his control, he is facing stress of the major league variety. I listened. I tried to ask good questions. And I think I provided some objectivity that is hard to maintain when you are right in the middle of the crisis. Before the conversation ended I told him two things.


Be the non-anxious presence in the system. His congregation of over 300 people will be facing mega-anxiety over the next several months. The entire group needs someone in a position of leadership that remains calm. Being calm in such a case entails being a patient listener, not making rash decisions, and refusing to take sides if the group becomes conflicted. I would even add the importance of maintaining a sense of humor as the storm rages. Don’t get excited. Be the calming presence in a family system that is stressed.


Be careful who you confide in. When a church, work, or family group is being taxed by group stress, people start huddling up. There is a lot of talking. Individuals vent to each other. In the process, facts get lost in the heat of emotion. I am of a mind that the leader in the system should function as a listener and advisor only. That person needs a sound board for sure, but it needs to be a trusted confidant that is not a part of the anxious system. When a leader vents his frustration to others in the troubled group, he fuels the anxiety.  There is a strong possiblitity that he will be miquoted as well.


I also think there is another twist to these two principles that should be considered. Are you willing to be a confidant for a leader? I find that I can be an ideal resource for others serving in ministry from different churches and communities. How can you contribute to the emotional and even spiritual well being of a leader?

Stress is a part of life.  There are seasons of life characterized by overwhelming stress.  And that is when we can be of great service to each other.   There is nothing quite like the blend of friendship and confidential conmmunication.

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