by Bob D’Ambrosio
No one said ministry would be easy, but neither is it supposed to leave you feeling drained and exhausted. What you may think are signs of ministry burnout might actually be indicators that you’re working with a toxic team member.
These four signs can help you discern if it’s time to look deeper or just make adjustments to your team:
- They don’t recognize your boundaries. If a team member is constantly interrupting your day off, meal time, or sending you text messages—you have a problem. Even though ministry is a 24/7 job, there is a line you need to uphold. Even Jesus scheduled time to be alone and away from the crowds. When a team member doesn’t respect your space, it’s time to set up a covenant of expectations which clearly outlines times when it’s not appropriate to make contact, unless it’s an emergency.
- They try to control you using guilt. “I guess I can attend your meeting, if I cancel my son’s birthday party.” I’m not sure why some people think guilt is a good motivator. It’s not. When a team member makes you responsible for their outcomes, they’re using guilt to get their way. Ask them to respond to requests with objective information and eliminate the conditions that pull you into their decision making. We alone are responsible for the decisions we make, so coach team member to respond accordingly.
- They make constant demands for your attention. It’s normal for ministry leaders to feel pressed for time. But when you discover most of your time demands are coming from the same person, it may indicate a need for your attention to define his or her value. Psychologists tell us that behaviors are emotional responses. So if a certain team member is always making demands for your attention, there must be an emotional connection. Do they need you to make them feel more important? More validated? More appreciated? You may need to discover the need that’s driving the demands in order to release yourself from them.
- They make you responsible for their happiness. I once had a coworker who would tell me if it was going to be a “good” or “bad” day based on the mood of her supervisor. Toxic people look to others to determine their attitude, productivity, and contentment. Help team members own their feelings regardless of the actions of others.
In their book Groundwork, Dr. Scott Larson and Daniel L Tocchini state, “It is easy to point at a problem: but it only becomes transformative when we can notice and then alter how we are relating to it.” Recognizing toxic people is a good place to start, but freeing yourself from their grip is what’s needed.