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A strong work ethic is always admired and respected. We all appreciate anyone on the team who works hard. We value people who truly help lift the load, but “How hard do they work?” isn’t a good question. The better question is “How much pressure can they handle?”

How about you? What kind of pressure are you facing? Financial? Not making budget? Are you in conflict with a key staff member? Is your board divided? Is someone on your board opposing your leadership? Are there political issues?

Perhaps it’s something more personal at home – struggles with your family. There is no end to the list of possibilities and these things are no stranger to those of us who lead.

Leaders tap out when the pressure gets too high. This is personal and subjective, but nonetheless true for everyone.

Every leader has a point where the pressure is too much. How you handle those moments can make or break you as a leader.

5 Ineffective Ways to Handle Pressure
1. Send it
I’ve observed leaders that treat pressure like it’s a hot potato. They try to toss it to someone else as fast as they can. Most typically they attempt to send it up to their boss to handle, or send it down to a subordinate to deal with it. It’s fine to ask your boss for help and delegation is usually a good practice, but that’s not what happens here. This is an attempt to get rid of it, which is not a good leadership practice.

2. Postpone It
Procrastination never makes the pressure go away. In fact, any attempt to delay the pressure often makes it worse. Pressure can be like credit card debt, the longer you put off paying down the principle the worse the debt gets.

3. Ignore It
It is surprising how often church leaders pretend like there is no problem, there is no pressure, and there is nothing to resolve. They can deliver a Sunday morning message seemingly oblivious to what is happening around them. Few things erode leadership faster than this does.

4. Worry About It
No matter how much I’ve worried about something, it never helped to lessen the pressure or improve the situation, and it just further depleted me of productive energy to lead. Worry never helps. This is one of the greatest temptations of a leader, and must be avoided as much as humanly possible.

5. Cave In To It

Sometimes the pressure gets so high, and is sustained so long, that you may be tempted to alter your behavior to find relief. It happens. Leaders lower standards, ignore values, crash relationships and more, all because of pressure. Remember what happened with Aaron when Moses was gone so long? (Exodus 32) Under all the pressure Aaron cracked, he caved in, took the gold, and actually participated in sin by making the golden calf. I’m certain that he justified it to the point where his decisions made sense.

Which of these five are you most tempted to do? A great first step to conquering it is identifying it. Then you can begin to intentionally resist it.

5 Practical Guidelines to Help You Handle Pressure Better:
1. Get Your Perspective Right
Pressure is real and it can be daunting, but it can also play tricks on your mind. A friend of mine used to say: “Is it arsenic?” Meaning, is this situation really life or death? Well, that saying might not work for you, but it reminds me that sometimes the pressure we feel, though real, is about something not as critical as our emotions make it appear. So, ask the question, “What is at stake?” Many times the answer will help you get a clearer perspective.

2. Get Some Quiet Time
There are two kinds of quiet time you will find helpful. First, quiet time with God to think and pray. It’s amazing what taking our pressures to God can do! As leaders we know it’s true, yet we often try to handle things ourselves! The second one is not a literal quiet, but shut down the internal noise of the pressure by ceasing to work. Take some time to play. Do something fun for you. This is a great way to get a break from pressure which will enable you to handle it better tomorrow!

3. Right-size the Problem
Sometimes when pressure is high and sustained, the problem appears to be greater than it is. I find that if I write it out in a succinct format, perhaps even in bullet points it helps. For example, one pastor was panicked and said: “We need to recruit a ton of ushers!” I asked how many is a ton and he said he didn’t know the exact number. So I asked him to get the exact number of ushers he needed and come back to tell me. The next day he reported “13” and smiled, acknowledging it was very doable now that he right-sized the problem.

4. Determine What You Can Do
This may seem obvious but church leaders carry so much pressure that can be released simply by differentiating what you can do from what you can’t do. When you are clear about the things you can’t control, and the things you can’t do, let them go. You are wasting energy carrying this burden. Get clear on the things you can do, the things with which you can make a difference, and take action there. There is freedom in that process and often the beginnings of momentum!

5. Ask for Help
Don’t let pride stop you from getting help. This is not the same as pushing your pressure up or down. You are asking for help in this context - that you take responsibility for the pressure that comes with your leadership, (you own the problem), but you acknowledge when you need some help. We all do. That’s part of how we grow as leaders. Do what you can do, get some coaching where you need help, then keep going!

There is nothing in this article that will make your pressure disappear. But these practical points will help you take a different approach that ultimately helps you handle your leadership pressure better.

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter
The Pastor's Coach available at

Author Biography

Dan Reiland
Web site: 12 Stone Church
Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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