In my travels around the region, I sometimes hear members of congregations say something like, “Church shouldn’t be like work. It should be fun.” Several current research studies support this contention and might explain one of the reasons that congregational leaders get “burned out.”
In a New York Times (September 7, 2014) article, Paul O’Keefe, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, contends that people who see a task as interesting and enjoyable will work harder on that task and perform better. Further, knowing that your work will make a difference or has possibilities for changing things for the better will help people to feel energized rather than exhausted, motivated rather than morose. One of the psychologists cited in the study calls it “flow”, the experience we have when we are in the zone.
The implications for leaders in our congregations, then, is obvious. The more leaders see their tasks as interesting, enjoyable, and meaningful, the harder and longer they work on the task and the better they will perform at it.
So how do we help leaders to get in the “zone”? Additional research at the Universities of Virginia and Wisconsin suggest that for most of us, whether we find something interesting and motivating is a matter of whether we find it personally valuable. We need to help leaders see their work as meaningful not only to the congregation or to our faith, but meaningful and valuable to them as well. Research also shows that social engagement in activities can foster greater interest and motivation. Leaders need to know that they are not alone and church activities done in a group rather than in isolation will result in happier, more motivated and more productive leaders.
Perception truly is in the eye of the beholder. As staff, ministerial and lay leaders, let’s help each other to see things in a positive and meaningful way. Let’s work together so that no leader needs to feel alone. Let’s make church fun.