Decision-Making

Stretched vs. Stressed: What’s the Difference and why does it Matter for Leaders?

by Sarah Holtan, Ph.D.

“How do you do it all?” I’m asked regularly by friends and colleagues. My answer: “I don’t.” I watch their eyes get round and their eyebrows shoot up. They know I’m the solo parent of two young children, a full-time employee, and hold numerous other roles. I explain that I used to try to do it all… yes, I tried to be a SuperMom. I even took multivitamins by that name! But the SuperMom Phenom was a dangerous trap for me. The pressure to maintain control over all the moving parts in my life– or the illusion of control – was utterly exhausting and stressful.

Leaders are prone to high levels of stress. The Bible refers to stress as anxiety, worry, and troubles (Matt. 6:25; Ps. 142:2-3). God wants us to come to Him in prayer with our troubles (2 Sam. 22:7). Prayer is the antidote to anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). He wants us to learn to love and trust in Him fully to provide for us (Prov. 3:5-6). Furthermore, our general well-being is at stake. We serve no one well when we are highly stressed because we make poor decisions and/or withdraw from situations and people.

I was in a position of leadership at work and in a low place in my personal life when I realized I couldn’t function well anymore. I was no longer challenged in a positive way; I was just overwhelmed. My adrenaline was pumping almost constantly. After prayerful consideration, and to the shock of many, I requested a demotion at work. It was the hardest and best decision of my professional life.

How did I know I was stressed out and not just stretched? At first, I didn’t. Like most of us, I just tried to “power through” the daily grind of managing work, family, and Everything Else. I told myself it would get better after I adjusted. It didn’t. Looking back, I can see I exhibited some of the signs that are commonly associated with stress:

  • Negative emotions being close to the surface, such as irritability and frustration
  • Resentful attitude
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed, especially at night and upon waking
  • Sleep disturbances (too much or too little)
  • Over-reliance on over-the-counter medications for headaches and other ailments
  • Lack of self-care, such as exercise
  • Increased escapism activities, such as television

But I’m an overachiever, classic Type A, so I had trouble discerning the difference between the challenges that stretch us – those that are positive, healthy, productive, and growth opportunities – and challenges that stress us, which are those that might debilitate us.

Here are some signs of being stretched:

  • Feeling energized by the new role, task, event, life change, etc., even if scared about it
  • Brain automatically begins visualizing possibilities
  • Able to manage negative emotions reasonably
  • Sense of accomplishment surrounding it

If you are exhibiting signs of stress, what can you do about it? I’d recommend the following:

A.     Pray. Read Scripture, such as Psalm 118:5-9, John 14:27, and Matthew 6:25-34. Trust in the Lord to provide the necessities of life.

B.     Identify the top 1-3 stressor(s) in your life (macro level) or regarding one particular aspect of life (micro level).

1.     Decide if the stressor(s) can be fixed with a technical solution.  For example, I don’t mind cleaning the house. But I do mind the time that it takes to vacuum snack crumbs out of the carpets, scrape silly putty off the fireplace hearth, and pick up two dozen toy trucks and half-finished art projects. My technical solution was to add a household budget line item for a housekeeper.

2.     If a technical solution is not readily apparent, you might need to consider if you have a deeper, philosophical issue.  Maybe it is fear of changing or delegating work to someone else, and thus, losing control.

C.     Ask yourself what could or will happen if you do nothing? What are the short- and long-term consequences? What will you regret?

D.     Consider what you could do for others to help ease their troubles and anxieties (Luke 11:46). Are you creating obstacles for your co-workers or family members? Could you help them overcome their obstacles? Could you serve them in a meaningful way, and thus, experience their tranquility and joy by proxy?

I’m proud to say I’ve shifted away from the SuperMom trappings. But since I’m Type A, I’ll rebrand myself as a TopMom.

Learn From the Experts: Leading a Bible Study: Part 1

A BIBLE STUDY can be enjoyable and exciting. But it can also be complicated and challenging. To help leaders, both new and experienced, we asked two seasoned experts on how they handle this leadership role.

Donna Streufert is the founder of Women’s Leadership Institute. She is the wife of Pastor Dan Streufert and a champion of women who seek to fulfill their God-given roles in the church. Doing the math, she discovered she has fifty years of experience in leading Bible Studies!

Deb Burma is also a pastor’s wife, serving with her husband Cory, in Columbus, Nebraska. Author of Stepping Out, A Chocolate Life, Treasured, and Beautiful Feet, she blogs at debburma.blogspot.com. Deb is also a ministry leader and frequent speaker to women’s groups.

WHAT CONCERNED YOU MOST AS YOU BEGAN TO LEAD BIBLE STUDIES? 

Donna Streufert: Thinking back to the very first group, mentally scanning all those that followed, I realized that what I wanted most of all was this: that participants would experience personally the excitement, joy, comfort and assurance that comes when connecting with God through His powerful Word.

I had been blessed this way. I wanted this blessing for others.

Deb Burma: Many Bible study leaders say their greatest concern is that they won’t be able to adequately answer difficult questions from the participants. Thankfully, I was blessed with the guidance of mentors who told me that it’s okay when a leader doesn’t have all the answers. It’s more important to listen to the questions with genuine interest and care, acknowledge when you don’t know an answer, and provide reassurance that you will try to find the answer. Then seek answers through research—asking the pastor or another trusted source for assistance in finding them. But on a related note, I DID find myself fearful that my attempts to explain a difficult text or answer questions of a complex or personal nature would be misunderstood and may even cause a woman to leave the session distraught or confused.

I’ve worked through these fears with prayer and preparation, and by beginning each Bible study series addressing the possibility that issues like this may arise, and opening the door for open and honest discussion that may include clarification during the study or one-on-one conversation afterward.

HOW HAS YOUR STYLE OR APPROACH AS A BIBLE STUDY LEADER CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

Donna: Every group has a personality. It’s important to know your group, understand the individuals and see how they function as one. Love them. Flexibility required.

So, my style or approach flexes to meet the personality of the group. For example, some groups are no nonsense and detail oriented, some are full of questions and challenges, some are at ease with one another and laugh easily. (Yes, laughing in Bible class is allowed.)

Time and place and group size also affect my style and approach. A group of several hundred or more requires a more deductive style (teaching or lecturing.) Small groups, under ten members or so, do well with an inductive approach (participants read, think, search and arrive at their own conclusions.)

Deb: Over the years, I think I’ve become more relaxed in my teaching style in both large- and small-group settings, seeking to find a balance between completing a lesson in one session and allowing more time for discussion. (It all depends on size of group and time constraints.)

I’m learning that it’s okay to challenge women, especially as they’ve become invested in the group over time, and encourage them to complete between-sessions assignments, while also being careful to communicate that it’s okay to arrive without preparation. (I wouldn’t want a woman to stop attending because she struggles to keep up with the reading or homework.)

I’ve also learned more about the variety of people’s learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing). To engage different kinds of learners, I use video clips, handouts, object lessons, visual aids like maps or props, take-home projects, discussion starters, and so on, depending on the study topic and the group’s dynamics.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU EXPERIENCED AS A BIBLE STUDY LEADER?

Donna: Two challenges come to mind – numbers and materials. Sometimes these challenges arise. Other times these are not challenges at all.

For example, with numbers: Sometimes it is difficult to attract people to spend time together in God’s Word. Apathy and indifference and lifestyle choices appear to keep numbers low. The times when attendance in Bible classes soar are more encouraging and exciting. But either way, I try to remind myself that I’m not in control. Prayer, personal invitation, careful preparation are my responsibility and my privilege. The rest is God’s Word, God’s people, God’s work.

The second challenge is finding just the right material for the group I’m leading. If I know my group well, I will look for materials

  • with sound biblical content
  • that truly engage learners
  • that meet their needs
  • that are appropriate for the age group and life experiences of the group
  • and have a workable format.

Sometimes I find a perfect match for a group. Sometimes it’s more of a challenge. I may need to shorten or adjust or even replace one study with another. But, that’s OK. I’ve learned something helpful for the future.

Deb: My biggest challenges in leading Bible studies have been situations when a participant has boldly declared a statement that is clearly off-base or not Biblically accurate. How do I respond in such a situation? While I never want to embarrass a woman with a confrontational correction in front of everyone, I also need to very gently bring the group back to Scripture and make sure others are not confused or misled by her declaration. I prayerfully consider how to respond to this woman one-on-one. Similarly, when a participant attempts to dominate the discussion or take the group on an unrelated bunny trail, it’s essential (though a challenge, for sure!) to gently manage the discussion, giving others equal opportunity for input and quickly bringing the group back on track.

An equally big, but very different, challenge is the already-crowded schedules of all potential participants. While seeking to grow women’s ministry by inviting and involving a vast variety of ages of women in every stage of life, it’s increasingly difficult to find times for Bible studies that work. I’ve found that providing two time options for the same large-group study on the same day is very helpful! That way, a woman can choose a noon time study or an evening study, or to alternate. Also, offering varying lengths of series enables women to commit to a timeframe that they’re comfortable with. As an example, instead of agreeing to attend a Bible study every week for a year, a woman may sign up for an 8-week series and then decide if she can commit to the next one. I’ve seen so many women give Bible study a try for the first time when given this opportunity!

Click here to read Part 2 of this article!

For more great articles like the one you just read, explore the EQUIP page of our website. Get inspired to lead by reading through the ENCOURAGE page, then visit one of our campus EVENTS near you. Stay connected by following us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

Saying “Yes” To Leadership

By Mary Washko Denham

“Will you be on the Parent-Teacher League Board?” “Will you help on the Capital Campaign committee?” “Could you teach a class for Vacation Bible School or Sunday School?” “Would you run for President and/or Secretary-Treasurer of our Lutheran Women’s Missionary League Zone?” “Can you give a tour about Frank Lloyd Wright at the Dana-Thomas House?”

SCARED TO SAY YES?

At some point over the years, I’ve said yes to all of the above. Was I scared to say yes? Better believe it! Because:

  • Whatever I was being asked to do, it was going to take me out of my comfort zone.
  • People might not like the way I do things. I’d be opening myself up to criticism because “we’ve never done it that way before”.
  • People might not like ME.
  • I didn’t think I had the talent to do the job and people would definitely find out I didn’t have the ability. Social scientists term this phenomena “the impostor syndrome”—feeling like a fraud even though others have seen your talents and believe in your skills.
  • I’m not a leader, I’m a follower. I can’t be President or whatever other lofty title you want me to assume because… (come up with any excuse).

SAY YES ANYWAY

But, I said yes anyway! Why?

  • I wanted to get out of my rut, shake things up, and try something new.
  • I wanted to overcome a fear like public speaking.
  • I had FOMO—Fear of Missing Out as social scientists have now termed this social media phenomena.
  • I knew the commitment would end at a certain time whether it was a few months or a couple of years.
  • Sometimes I agreed simply because no one else wanted the job.
  • Ultimately, I said yes because after prayerful consideration, I knew God was asking me to do that task.

HOW COULD I SAY “YES” EVEN IF I WAS SCARED?

First, I realized that although I perceive a leader to be someone who is highly-educated, socially prominent in the community, a risk-taker, wealthy and someone with a fancy-sounding title—no one is born this way! These are all acquired skills achieved through hard work, perseverance, and timing.

I remembered the “ordinary” women in the Bible who took on leadership roles. Lois & Eunice, Elizabeth, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, who raised families. , Priscilla, Lydia and that pesky, perfect Proverbs 31 woman were leaders in the business world. Poker-playing Judge Deborah called Barak’s bluff and went into battle with him. Jael, a nomadic wife, killed Sisera and handed his slain body over to Barak (Judges 4). Beauty pageant contestant Esther, who through her beauty and humble demeanor, became Queen and saved the nation of Israel from extinction (Book of Esther). Different women, different talents, different ways of leading.

I went to the Bible for understanding and strength. Going to God’s Word helped me see His plan. The following verses have been a tremendous source of wisdom and comfort to me when deciding whether to say “Yes”.

  • Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
  • Psalm 37:3: Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.
  • Proverbs 3:5: Trust in the Lord with all your heart.
  • Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

WHEN NOT TO SAY YES

We don’t have to be afraid to say yes, but we also don’t have to say yes to every leadership position. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 talks about the body of Christ. This one body has many parts and each part has a specific and necessary function. Some are called to be apostles, some teachers, some healers, some administrators (v. 28). Remembering these verses helps me say NO to all artsy-craftsy, mechanical, and high-tech jobs or anything else where I know someone else has the better ability. Being a part of the body also helps me to remember that sometimes I simply need to give someone else the chance to serve who isn’t already serving.

YES it is okay to say NO! But here’s the kicker—when I say NO, I can’t feel guilty about it. Why? Because it’s not about me. Ultimately, it’s about how best to serve God to spread the Gospel message. If I take on a job I don’t have the talent for, my heart and soul isn’t in it and God’s not getting my best work. Imagine a foot doing a mouth’s work (although my foot ends up in my mouth more often than I like) or an elbow solving a math problem.

I need to let those who have the talent for a particular job LEAD. And while I’m at it, if I’m not leading, I better be following—maybe not blindly, but certainly respectfully (this is where my “foot-in-mouth” comes in sometimes). I can offer constructive criticism, but also remember that sometimes there isn’t a right or wrong—just a different style of leadership. When we work together we can all accomplish great things individually and collectively.

So, the next time you’re asked to “lead” with or without that fancy title, remember to pray, pray, and pray some more (Phil. 4:6). Recall how God put the biblical women listed above exactly where and when He needed them. Remember that God puts us where He needs us for the “good works which He has prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:9). When God’s time is right for us to step up, how can any of us say to God anything but YES?

About the author: Mary Washko Denham is a lifelong resident of Springfield, Illinois and attends Trinity Ev. Lutheran Church. Prior to becoming a “stay-at-home mom” in 1991, Mary worked in special events management and as a college development / fundraising director. Mary has served LWML in various capacities with Trinity’s Women With Mission society, the Springfield Zone and the Central Illinois District. She and husband William (III) have one son, William (IV). She and Bill met when they were both volunteer interpreters at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, where they both continue to give tours once a month. Mary is also active with Trinity Lutheran Church and School, where she is a volunteer librarian and whatever else God needs her to do.

For more great articles like the one you just read, explore the EQUIP page of our website. Get inspired to lead by reading through the ENCOURAGE page, then visit one of our campus EVENTS near you. Stay connected by following us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.