By Sam S. Rainer III
I have a tendency towards restlessness.
Part of the cause is my childhood. My family moved several times. As an adult, I’ve moved several times. At 36, I’ve yet to live in the same place longer than four years. I’m thankful for this background. I pastor in Southwest Florida, where everyone is from everywhere. I can relate well to a place that is anything but homogenous. The ever-changing cultural dynamic of Florida makes me feel at home. I’m at ease in the restlessness of Florida.
If you have a background like mine, then you can likely relate to this feeling of restlessness. However, restlessness is deeper than lacking a sense of place. Restlessness can be generational. Millennials ask, “What’s next?” Boomers ask, “What’s left?” Restlessness can apply to a professional career: Should I switch to a completely different industry? People can feel restless in a marriage, family, or church. Depending on the situation, restlessness can be either healthy or unhealthy.
Leadership restlessness is something most leaders feel — usually more often than not. It’s the nagging question that keeps you thinking … what’s next? In the case of the church, this question can be corporate, meaning you’re thinking what’s next? for the entire congregation. This question can also be personal, meaning what’s next? for me individually.
I believe many pastors are restless. Pastors with growing and prominent churches can end up thinking where will this take me? Pastors laboring in obscurity with limited fruit can think where can I go to be more effective? There is a biblical call to contentment in ministry, regardless of “success” or not. One way Satan derails churches is to create a negative sense of restlessness in church leaders. Of course, not all restlessness is damaging, so how can church leaders use it in a positive way?
Use restlessness to create opportunities to serve others. Make restlessness about the people you serve. Many established church pastors feel like planting a church every Monday morning. The anonymous notes in the offering plates can get to you. Many church planters feel like transitioning to an established church every Monday morning. The fact that the offering plates lack much of anything in them can get to you. If you have a pattern of restlessness, then fill your calendar at those times with ways to serve others.
Don’t use others to satisfy your restlessness. When I’m selfish in my restlessness, I tend to drag others through endless twists and turns of ideas. It’s one thing to brainstorm. It’s something else to satisfy restlessness by pulling people into the tornado of ideas blowing around in your head.
Start writing. Rather than using others to satisfy my restlessness, I channel the energy into a keyboard. Most of the time, this restless writing ends up as word flotsam—wrecked and floating ideas devoid of purpose. Even if you don’t like to write, restless writing may be of value to you. Sometimes it’s good to get it out of your system.
Don’t fear restlessness, but don’t embrace it either. Followers can think restless leaders are upset or unhappy. Those who work under you can be anxious. Restlessness is both a curse and a blessing. Here is how I lean towards the latter: I make every decision as if I’m leaving the church tomorrow. I also make every decision as if I’m never leaving the church. Thinking about those two extremes keeps me balanced in my restlessness. I don’t fear it, but I don’t fully embrace it either.
Push forward; don’t retreat. Any time restlessness causes you to retreat, from a decision or from others, then it’s not a positive influence on your leadership. Sometimes restlessness may cause you to pause, but it should never pull you backwards. When restless leaders retreat, they often start looking for a way out of their current situation. And you can’t lead others while you’re looking for a way out for yourself.
Remember, your restlessness isn’t about you. It should be about the people you serve. Leaders will experience restlessness. Channel these feelings positively so they don’t take you backwards.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog, samrainer.wordpress.com.