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Finding Contentment in Leadership

The right focus can bring a new perspective

Fresh out of college and full of hope, enthusiasm, and confidence, I was ready to change the world, one pimply teenager at a time. As the school year crawled by, the demands of teaching 125 high school students wore on my optimism. Those kids seemed impervious to my influence, and there were so many things I needed to change to get my classroom running more smoothly.

By Christmas break, I was a disgruntled teacher battling a serious case of discontentment (and considering a new line of work!).

Leadership, both in ministry and at home, can leave us with a bad case of discontentment as well. Seeing what could be done better is the hallmark of an effective leader, but the constant focus on what's wrong can also lead to unhappiness. Instead of seeing what God can do, we see what's not possible. Rather than noticing the resources God's given us, we see only what we lack. We're blind to our team's strengths.

It's easy to excuse discontentment in the name of responsibility. After all, you don't want to become complacent. You're just trying to make things better!

But Scripture's challenge to find contentment in all circumstances doesn't exclude leaders. Here are a few practical things you can do to take hold of contentment, even as it tries to escape your grasp.

Start networking. I was in the throes of starting a new women's ministry. The day-to-day, week-to-week responsibilities overwhelmed me. Tending to the urgent narrowed my focus, and after a few months of bleary-eyed leadership, I suffered from leadership myopia. All I could see was what was wrong with our church, our women, and my team. Leading wasn't fun, to say the least.

I decided to reach out to a friend who had been doing women's ministry for several years. As we talked over hot coffee, I realized my struggles were normal, common, and certainly not something worth losing the joy of leading over. My friend gave me a few ministry suggestions, and a sense of peace returned.

Networking with leaders in similar positions broadens your view of leadership. Are you in women's ministry? Talk to a leader from a different church. Are your kids your primary sphere of influence? Find other moms to connect with. Do you make an impact in the workplace? Look for people who are in the same field to share ideas. Building relationships and exchanging ideas with others staves off the loneliness that can creep into a leader's heart and provides solutions for the challenges you face.

Make a list. I struggled with challenge after challenge while planning a leadership event. The website was down—again! The volunteers I was supposed to be organizing refused to be wrangled. The host church almost backed out two days before the event.

Frustration mounted as I began feeling overworked and underappreciated, ignored and forgotten. In an attempt to "verbally process" my feelings, I unloaded my discontentment on my husband, my mother, my friend, my neighbor. Instead of making me feel better, venting only fueled my unhappiness.

I eventually got tired of listening to my own voice and begrudgingly took my mother's advice to "be thankful." With an impatient heart, I started a list of thing that had gone right in ministry the last few months:

I had a strong team of faithful leaders.

A woman discovered a relationship with Jesus.

Children heard the gospel.

A difficult marriage turned a corner.

A mom who was scared to lead stepped up to try something new.

So often we become unhappy in leadership because we wonder if God is doing anything. The lack of growth and progress seems like evidence that we're working harder than God.

The simple act of enumerating successes in ministry and leadership, no matter how small, gives evidence that God is still faithfully working. Catching a glimpse of God's hand in your work and ministry can help you find peace in the midst of the onslaught of needs. Besides, don't you think God deserves a little praise for what he's doing?

Stop doing it all. If you're a leader, you're probably pretty capable. "I can do it" can quickly become "I need to do it—no one else will!" Doing it all leads to dissatisfaction. When we take someone else's calling, their blessing becomes our burden. Not only do we rob them of the joy of serving, we've given ourselves yet another reason to be dissatisfied, whether it's feeling overworked, ill-equipped, or overscheduled.

Ironically, sometimes the job I steal is God's. In my zeal to foster spiritual growth, I try to cajole, manipulate, or control someone into growing closer to God. As the apostle Paul reminds us, only Christ can grow a person's heart. My job is merely to cultivate the soil, plant the seed, or water a seedling.

As leaders, we look for the big picture. But seeing all the pieces can be heavy and sometimes feel like a curse. Ask the Lord for clarity and courage for what he'd like you to do each day, so you can focus on the part God has for you.

I'm happy to report that Christmas vacation, over a decade ago, did not mark the end of my teaching career. The week off gave me an opportunity to see teaching with fresh eyes and savor all the wonderful conversations I had shared with my students. Dinner with a close friend buoyed my spirits as we traded first-year teacher stories. Though the demands of being a science teacher had not changed, I found contentment.

In the same way, the challenges of leadership will never go away. There are more people to tell about Jesus, more hearts need to be healed, and things can always be done more efficiently. Rediscovering the contentment God has for us will help us carry the easy yoke he promises.

Esther Feng is a freelance writer who lives in Central New York with her husband and two daughters. A former high school science teacher, she currently serves as Development Communications Coordinator for MOPS International.

May17, 2012 at 10:58 AM

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