Our culture loves heroes. We celebrate them with fanfare, press and rewards. We put heroes on a pedestal, striving one day to accomplish what they have. The guy who pulls someone out of a burning house, the woman who gives CPR to someone who was drowning in a pool and the student who stands up for someone being bullied become instant heroes to many of us.
These are people who were in the right place at the right time and rose to the occasion, forsaking themselves and putting it all on the line in order to do something heroic for their fellow man. I think that as church staff and volunteers, we often have the opportunity to be heroes in a variety of ways, whether to our fellow staff or to congregants, and it's incredible validation for what we do in our ministry.
Let's look at an example closer to home. Pastor has just come up with an incredible sermon illustration idea that will have a huge impact on your congregation. I mean this idea will really connect with your audience and has the potential to bring massive life change. The challenge is this idea gets pitched on Friday and the message is planned for Sunday.
You rally the troops, find actors, camera and lighting folks, and schedule a special late night shoot within a few hours time. The shoot goes late into the night, but the footage is awesome. You sleep a few hours and then head back into the office on Saturday to start working 3 hours of footage into a 4 minute video. You spend hours editing, rendering, getting feedback, doing more editing, and rendering and getting feedback; all repeating until the end result is an amazing video that deeply moves people on Sunday.
"Our video team did an amazing job!" Pastor celebrates on Sunday morning and again at staff meeting. Dozens of people stop you in the lobby to tell you how much the video moved them. By all accounts, you are the hero of the weekend. In fact, it may be that people are still talking about this video weeks later. You don't care that you had to give up a night of sleep and most of your weekend in order to pull this off, it feels great to have put your needs aside for the good of the whole and be the hero.
The challenge with this instant heroism is that you are a hero for a little bit, then life goes back to normal. It's a unique challenge being the hero one day and an average person the next. You miss the excitement and celebration. You miss the praise and validation. You miss people thinking of you as something more than just an average person. You go from being very visible to the world to becoming invisible to everyone but your family and friends. It's a major pendulum swing that leaves many temporary heroes hungry to recapture that feeling. Many make it their mission to become a hero again, forsaking their own needs in order to find a way to get that rush again.
As I travel visiting churches, I see this heroism mentality driving too many of our ministry leaders into burnout and at times, even away from their own faith. I have to admit that in my decade plus in full time ministry, I often fell (and at times still do) fall into the same trap. The first time we see an opportunity to be a hero, it's new, exciting and all you can think about is the impact your heroic efforts will have. You're not even thinking about the celebration and praise you'll get, just how awesome the results will be. After a few occurrences of your Herculean efforts and all of the praise and excitement it brings, a number of things often start happening and a pattern emerges. These three patterns are taking down great ministry leaders left and right and I'm genuinely concerned that if they continue our churches will continue dwindling because of them. These patterns, the dangers of continually seeking to be the hero, are very real and relevant to anyone passionate about what they do. They are:
1. We Burn Out Trying to Renew Our Heroism
We continually run ourselves into the ground trying to be the hero. While it feels great for a while, eventually all we do is burn out and stop trying altogether. Or, we continue trying but with a terrible attitude, often causing more harm than good.
2. We Become Such a Consistent Hero That It's Become Expected
If we pull off heroic feats every week, eventually it becomes the new normal and you are now sacrificing yourself just to maintain the new normal. Not only does burnout become an issue, but the expectations of you and your team become totally unrealistic and unsustainable leading to leaders thinking you're holding out when you can no longer sustain the pace.
3. We Begin To Hurt Those We Love
Heroism requires sacrifice. Unfortunately, rarely are we just sacrificing ourselves to become a hero. We sacrifice the needs of our family and friends, the time of our volunteers and at times the very limited resources most of us have in ministry. You can only sacrifice people so much before they stop letting you.
Your church and the people you serve need you to pull off great things, but more importantly they need you and your leadership for the long haul. Your ministry simply cannot be at its best if you're burned out, have unrealistic ongoing expectations and/or are sacrificing the people you love and serve with in order to maintain a heroic status in the eyes of people. My challenge to you, my challenge to me, is to set reasonable boundaries, pace yourself for the long haul and build a ministry where people are more important than what you accomplish. After all, Jesus called us to go into the world and proclaim His name, creating disciples of Jesus while being one ourselves. We can't do this if we're burned or worn out. We can't do this if we're short-changing the people around us. We can't do this if we're trying to be a hero.
Church Relations Director
Duke has over 14 years of experience as a technical artist, trainer and collaborator for ministries. Duke travels around the country for CCI Solutions and is available to help your ministry. Join Duke on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ccisolutions