by Cath Tallack
[7 minute read – worth slowing to read this!]
So much of my life is committed to seeing Christian leaders flourish. I am passionate about it and believe God has placed that passion on my heart and called me to be a part of raising up, equipping and empowering leaders in Australia who will be led more by Jesus, lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus.
As part of this ongoing work, I have met with, coached and counselled many leaders who have experienced burnout. I have a scripted conversation that I pull out when I see a leader overextending themself, whose knuckles are white from that tight grip of control they have on every aspect of their life and where motivation has faded. They are drained by what usually energizes them, are angry, cynical and unproductive. I know just what to say when I see leaders who are rushing toward burnout.
I’ve seen it over and over again.
And so, I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when I sat on the couch with my psychologist, who acts as a ministry supervisor for me, and talked to her about how I was feeling in life and ministry and for her to tell me that I was experiencing burnout. Her exact words were,
“Cath, I have a PHD in burnout and I diagnose people in 3 degrees of burn. You are currently in second degree heading toward third degree burnout. You don’t need to slow down; you need to stop.”
My first response was to flee.
As I left the office, I had to get a few things from Woolworths so it was in the aisles of Woolies that I started to process the idea of running away from burnout. I needed to forget this conversation ever happened, harden up and get on with it. As I was planning my retreat from the truth, there was a small, soft voice that spoke to my heart and my head.
“No Cath, you need to listen, you need to slow down, you need to stop.”
My response to this voice (that I believe was the Holy Spirit) was to add a layer of accountability to what had just been spoken over me. I called a colleague and told her what was happening and asked her to keep me accountable to this and support me through the process of stopping.
– I want to stop blogging for a moment here and talk to you if you are resonating with any of the above and feeling like you are in burnout or approaching burnout and you need that piece of accountability. Stop reading and call someone – call me if you like- but get help in staying on the right path and don’t run away –
I took some time off completely and then, as an organisation, Arrow stepped into a season of Organisational Selah. (If you didn’t catch Liam’s blog on what and why we did this have a read now.) We spent six weeks in Low Power Mode and what I found there was not only rest and rejuvenation but also a lesson about myself that I believe will keep me buoyant and flourishing in leadership for the rest of my life. I learnt about the Sanctity of Slowness.
One of the most powerful scenes in Scripture is the dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 7.
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“He is good; his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3
The imagery of fire coming down from heaven, displaying the Glory of God is so powerful, it gets my heart pounding every time. I imagine a crowd of believers all worshipping together in the middle of this remarkable scene, the Temple, where heaven intersected with earth. A glimpse of His glory was made visible to human eyes. When I read this Old Testament passage, I’m an outsider, watching it unfold but Paul, in the New Testament brings me into the story…
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
I am literally a part of the temple itself. By the blood of Jesus, I became worthy of joining with others to form a dwelling place for God! Peter describes us as “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5). You are a stone in the same structure in which the apostles and prophets are the foundation and Jesus Himself is the cornerstone (Eph 2:20).
I am, you are, we are Sacred. Just as the temple was sacred, we, the Church, the dwelling place of God Almighty, are sacred. When you think about something sacred do you rush toward it or do you approach it slowly?
As I’ve reflected on how I got to burnout I realised I was in a constant rush.
In stopping I was alert to a level of overstimulation and exhaustion that I had come to associate with normal Christian living. I could feel the weight of Christian expectations that I had been carrying around unawares. There were the expectations around being a godly spouse. There was the weight of expectations of being a good parent and trying to balance that with the demands of my ministry and professional life. There was the seriousness with which my husband and I took our responsibilities as church members and as a churchgoing family and all the busyness that went along with that. There was COVID and every challenge I had faced in leading through such a difficult season.
There were all my attempts to be a good neighbour, to be a good Christian, to be a good everything! And, in trying to achieve all of this, I could only do it in a hurry.
However, in stopping I’ve realized that I cannot reconcile being sacred – living in the sanctity of my surroundings – and approaching life and ministry in a hurry.
What is sacred must be approached s l o w l y.
What I experienced and what I learnt in moving from completely stopping (when on leave) to slowing down (in low power mode) is that when you approach slowly life, relationships, work, ministry and being, you reveal the sacredness of your life.
You bring more glory to God in how you live your life. You become far more aware of what God is doing in and through you as a sacred piece of His temple here on earth.
So how did I slow down? This a personal journey for each of us to figure out where we are masking the glory of God by our rushing to be everything we think we need to be.
I share with you four ways that I think are common to us all that could jumpstart your journey to slowing down.
- Slow down your devotional space
If your devotional space feels rushed or needs something different try a Lectio Divina. If you’re unsure what this is or how to do it. One of my favorite Christian writers Ruth Hayley Barton lays it all out here.
- Drink more tea
Before my burnout I was drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day as a way of staying on top of it all. As I started to listen to my body, I realised the amount of caffeine I was drinking was adding to my anxiety, and so I swapped it out for tea. But don’t give up coffee if you don’t need to (no one needs that kind of negativity in their life!). I now use those internal feelings of overwhelm as a prompt to stop and make a cuppa. This helps me to slow down, walk away, toward the kettle and from whatever is causing me to rush, whether that be a work project, a conversation or an unruly toddler.
- Turn off your devices
Screen fatigue is real. Constant inputs like e-mail, social media and messaging adds to the rush of life and competing priorities. Take time every day to turn off all your devices and write in a notebook, go for a walk, journal some dreams and ideas, sit in the sun or read your hard copy bible.
- Lower your expectation
There are so many expectations on leaders. More than likely, most of the unhealthy expectations that are contributing to your overwhelm are made by you. I did an exercise where I went through the expectations that I felt I needed to meet and most of them were of my own making or a simple conversation away from changing. A big part of learning to lead yourself is knowing how your own expectations are crushing you or lifting you. Do some internal work.
You are sacred.
Don’t approach your sacredness in a rush.
Come toward all you are, all you have been given and all you are called to with reverence, consideration and embrace the Sanctity of Slowness.
Where do you need to slow down so that the Glory of God is highlighted more through who you are?
Emerging Leaders and Rise Program Director
Cath joined Arrow Leadership in 2017 as the Emerging Leaders Program Director. She began pastoral ministry at Gateway Baptist Church as the Children’s Pastor in 2009 and as Generations Pastor. Cath is passionate about seeing leaders developed and be given the opportunities to achieve the potential that God has placed within them. Cath is married to Michael, who is a doctor and together they are parents to Henry and Oliver.