Under Pressure: The Pressure of Leading A Growing Church

Leading comes with pressure.

Leading a church that is growing adds to that pressure exponentially.

There is pressure in every job and most people won’t show us pastors sympathy for the pressure we feel. The thing we have to wrestle with is how to handle this pressure.

There are two ways people typically respond to pressure.

We either retreat to comfort or run to burnout.

Retreating to comfort is often what gets pastors in trouble.

Burnout happens when you run towards pressure so long you simply run out of gas. For some, the pressure to succeed causes them to burn the midnight oil which can only last for so long. For these pastors they work on days off, don’t take vacations, and truly feel that every problem can be solved by simply putting your head down and plowing through it.

Neither of these responses are healthy.

God didn’t need to rest, but He did. Not resting is an attempt to outdo God. On the other hand resting in the comfort zone is an attempt to live without a need for God. If all of your comforts (food, admiration, sex etc.) are taken care of it is a guarantee that you will not passionately pray. Scarcity and need produce a hunger for God.

Think about the times where you have felt desperate for God. They almost always come out of need.

If you don’t have a a deep hunger for God it is because you are full of something else.

If you don't have a a deep hunger for God it is because you are full of something else Click To Tweet

Comfort leads to excess which leads to feeling full which leads to a lack of hunger for God.

The human body was designed by God to find comfort when it feels stress, anxiety, pressure, or pain. In order to handle the pressure we retreat to something the makes us feel comfort.

Brenè Brown is a professor and author and calls this the comfort zone. According to Brown the comfort zone is…

“Where our uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimized — where we believe we’ll have access to enough love, food, talent, time, admiration. Where we feel we have some control.” Brenè Brown

We have all gone through some difficulty in life. We all seek some comfort. The natural response is to seek comfort. But comfort is like putting a band aid on a bullet hole. It doesn’t remove the source.

Because of the difficulties in life 70% of people live in the comfort zone. Nothing worthwhile happens in the comfort zone.

Think about it, have you ever done anything worthwhile while you were on auto-pilot?

20% of people live in the learning zone. This is where growth happens. The learning zone takes charge of the feelings of anxiety, stress, and pressure. Normal pressure causes you to retreat or run towards burnout. The learning zone happens when you walk towards the pressure and learn from the experience to create systems to sustain what you’ve learned.

10% of people live in the danger zone and this is your adrenaline junkies. We want to stay away from living in the comfort zone and we want to avoid visiting the danger zone.

There are too many people who need to know about Jesus for us to live in the comfort zone. There are also too many people who will be impacted by another pastor’s burnout.

So how do you live with the pressure of a growing church?

A little note about me. A lot of what I’m about to write I learned while serving on staff at the fastest growing church in Virginia, a different church that doubled in size to 2,000 in one Sunday, and my current church that started with 50 people and is now a five year old church plant that is averaging right under 400 this summer. I only write that so you can know this is coming from experience and a lot of trial and error.

How To Thrive Under The Pressure of A Growing Church

1. Prayer Check.

Prayer is an amazing resource. If you don’t feel a need to pray check to see if you are living in the comfort zone. If you feel you don’t have time to pray check to see if you are living in the danger zone.

Jesus knew a lot about pressure. Think about how many times He retreated when the pressure was mounting. He walked towards a lot of scary things, but He also walked away to pray often.

If the church you are at is growing be careful. You will either be tempted to handle the pressure by seeking unhealthy comforts or you’ll be tempted to run so hard it will just be a matter of time before you burn out. Prayer is the key to keep you from an unhealthy extreme.

2. Prioritize Your Place.

It’s exciting to be a part of a growing church. It’s also humbling to realize that God doesn’t need you.

The whole world is not going to end because a mistake you make. Church will still go on when you take vacation. Not taking a day off isn’t a badge of honor. It’s a badge of disorganization. Everything can get done if it’s planned out, delegated, and put in it’s proper place.

If you are doing too much it comes from a belief that without you things won’t get done right. That may be true, but in order to have long lasting healthy you have to raise up other people to do what you do.

How many churches have exploded in growth because of the personality of a dynamic leader only to struggle once that dynamic leader fails?

As Christian leaders we are building churches for Jesus. The Church was hear long before you and will be here long after you. Prioritize your place by doing only what you can do for the organization and raising up leaders to do the rest.

What is the one thing that God has wired you to do for the church?

If you don’t know that’s a problem.

If you think it’s to do all the things that is a problem.

There will always be some extra things that you have to do. There are always some things that you do that aren’t on your job description. The issue is when you don’t know what you bring to the table you’ll end up allowing issues to dictate your schedule.

You will show up to work and whatever issues happen is what you will spend all of your time doing.

So if you are gifted to speak but you haven’t defined that then you’ll spend all of your time putting out fires and very little time sowing the gift that God has given you. If God has given you a gift you have to sow seeds to help it grow.

When you prioritize your place you will then tell your calendar what needs to get done.

When you prioritize your place you will then create positions either staff or volunteer to do the things that cannot make time for.

3. Prepare for the future.

One of the reasons we feel pressure during seasons of growth is because we aren’t ready for it.

In order to not crumble under the pressure bring your team together and start talking about what needs to happen in order to be ready for the next phase.

For example, if you are a growing church that has just hit 300 you have to lead your team to start thinking like, and behaving like a church of 500.

What are you currently doing now that you cannot do when you hit that next growth phase?

Chances are many that you are leading won’t know that answer. I know I didn’t when it was first asked to me.

Have the key leaders meet with staff at a church that you respect that is one size up from you.

It doesn’t mean that they are better or will have all the answers. The goal is to meet with them and see what their pressure points are. What are the things they wished they had thought about before they got to that number? What are the systems they put in place? What difficulties arrived?

Once your team has met with key people gather together to brainstorm what it will look like for your team.

It is so crucial to learn from others.

Leaders are learners.

One of my all time favorite quotes from Chris Sonksen is, “Professionals get coached, and amateurs learn by trial and error.”

Professionals get coached, and amateurs learn by trial and error. - Chris Sonksen Click To Tweet

There are some mistakes you can avoid by seeking out a coach. And if you wait to set up systems, staff positions, and job descriptions until after you have hit a growth spurt it will add pressure to you.

During the season of growth start to prepare for the next season. It will grow your leadership and help your team think through systems that can support future growth.

Without a system of support you will not be able to sustain or handle the pressure of growth.

4. Pluck Control Out Of Your Hand.

You can have control or growth, but you cannot have both.

So many of our issues comes from the need to control.

You can try to control everything, but it will be miserable for you and for those you lead.

This isn’t easy.

You want to know what gives me anxiety? Reading about Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts, and seeing how he planted churches brings me anxiety.

The church booms and experiences exponential growth and Paul’s strategy is to start a church and then leave.

Some of the churches had people in leadership that were not ready. Paul started churches, raised up a few leaders, and then left. That causes my anxiety to rise.

I think we need systems, we have to raise up leaders, and we need to train people. But in order to grow we have to let go of some of the control.

We have to cast a vision and then trust the leaders we have established to fulfill that vision. Even if they do it differently than you would.

In order to give up control you must agree upon the end result.

The path to get there may look different for people, but the end result will look the same.

So what is the goal of a small group? For the leader it should be to raise up more leaders. That will look differently for each leader. The results matter. If someone can get the same results but it looks different than you, you still have a win.

Nothing deflates leaders quite like the person in charge telling them how to do things right. The response is, “I’m not you.” Control makes people feel trapped under your personality. Vision sets people free to accomplish the goal.

People respond to vision, not control.

5. Plan Your Vacations.

I’m not a great planner. I tend to build the boat as we are already in the water. I am a quick thinker who loves taking on challenges. I’m not great at details or planning in advance.

It’s not easy to plan details like a vacation. But if I don’t prioritize it then it will not happen.

One of my friends sits down with his family in January and plans out his vacations for the entire year.

My goal for next year is to do better at planning out my vacations.

Without a plan vacations either don’t happen or become stressful because I have to cram a bunch of work out just so I can leave.

During busy seasons it is healthy to plan out some down time.

This past July I took four weeks off from preaching. One week I was on vacation. The other weeks I worked to get ahead so I won’t be as stressed. I’m now two weeks ahead on my sermon prep. Our attendance was up 93 people from the previous July. And I didn’t preach. See point number 2 and 4 for the why behind this.


One of the things that is so crucial during this season is to watch out for your identity. It’s easy for our identity to get wrapped up in success. The issue is that success is a faulty foundation. Our identity is in Jesus and not the numbers. Reaching people is healthy and good. Growing a church is exciting.

But if you are not careful you’ll take full responsibility for the seasons of growth and then will feel the full responsibility of seasons of decline.

Our identity is in Jesus first. He is a foundation that does not fail. Ultimately we are building His church so we should do the hard work to build it well. But many a men have fallen under the pressure of a growing church because it is so easy to lose ones identity.

What would you add to this blog post?

What specific pressure have you felt while being a part of a growing church?

Leave a comment. 


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