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8th March 2018

Seasons of Life

Last Friday marked the end of a season for me and Deb: our youngest son Sam had his final GCSE and so wore his school uniform for the last time ever! It felt like a milestone moment. For this family, Friday meant that after 20 years there will be no more uniform to wash or school shirts to iron – our three boys really are growing up and a significant season of our lives is drawing to a close.

Life never remains the same, especially if you have children. As the years pass, you move through different seasons, and each will bring its own opportunities and challenges. A number of years ago, I came across the writing of Gordon MacDonald, and I have found his observations on this subject extremely helpful. In his book A Resilient Life, he suggests that each decade of our lives raises different underlying questions and that ‘...knowing them helps us to deal with people sensitively, and gives us a better understanding of how to build a larger view of our own lives.’ The questions we ask ourselves in our 20s will vary greatly to those we ask in our 40s or 50s. Here is a sample of some of the key questions MacDonald suggests are raised as we move through the decades:

20s – What kind of a man or woman am I becoming? What will I do with my life?
30s – How do I prioritise the demands being made on my life?
40s – What can I do to make a greater contribution to my generation?
50s – Why is time moving so fast? How do I deal with my failures and successes?
60s – When do I stop doing the things that have always defined me? Do I have enough time to do all the things I’ve dreamed about in the past?
70s and 80s – Is there anything I can still contribute? Am I ready to face death?

Do any of these resonate with you? His book is well worth a read if you haven’t come across it before. It has helped me understand myself and others better. Knowing what season I am in, what lies ahead and the questions I am likely to be asking, enables me to anticipate and prepare for the opportunities and challenges that are coming, and to embrace each season I live through.

So what season are you in at the moment? It is worth some reflection.

This blog was first posted on June 23rd 2016. 

Steve Tibbert

Posted by Steve Tibbert

22nd February 2018

Feeling the Pressure

Do you ever feel under pressure?

As 2018 began, I wrote a paper for the elders and senior leadership team of King’s called 100 Days and Vision 2030. It was an attempt to manage expectations and agree priorities as I plan for my sabbatical which starts at the end of May this year. The second part of the paper was about showing that we have years ahead of us to get to all we want to achieve together.

My experience of sabbaticals (my last one was eight years ago) has been extremely positive – at an emotional level they have been life changing. I have seen pastors go through burnout far too often, putting pressure on their families and leaving churches uncertain as to what the future holds. I am extremely grateful to the elders and trustees of King’s for the opportunity to stand back and recharge – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

However, one of the downsides of an approaching sabbatical is that people suddenly realise you are not going to be around for a while! They start bringing forward requests and suggestions, aware that if they don’t catch me soon, they will have to wait until my return in September. And I am having to identify those essential tasks, things which would normally wait until June or July, which require my attention before my sabbatical begins. One seemingly small item builds upon another, and before you know it, you can begin to feel overwhelmed.

So what can you do when you feel under pressure? Here are a few things which I find helpful when the demands are great but time is short:

1. Keep praying. It is tempting to cut prayer times short when we are very busy, but this can quickly lead to too much reliance on ourselves and not enough on God. It is hard to keep going if we are not being fuelled spiritually.

2. Do not compromise on boundaries. We may think that by working on days off, or cramming in just one more evening meeting, the pressure will ease. This is seldom the case and can increase the chances of burnout before we even arrive at the start of a break.

3. Prioritise your work. I have two lists at the moment, one of things I must get to before my sabbatical begins, and another of things that can wait until after I get back.

4. Manage expectations. It is important to communicate with team members what needs to take priority and what can be left for now.

5. Continually re-evaluate your priorities. These may need adjusting as circumstances change and new information comes in. I make adjustments all the time.

We all go through busy periods and times of pressure. If we are to keep going and not experience burnout, we need to find ways of managing these seasons, even if it means making some tough decisions.

Steve Tibbert

Posted by Steve Tibbert

1st February 2018

A B C Priorities

Whatever happened to January? It seems to have flown by! This year, with a summer sabbatical fast approaching, my diary is being squeezed as I try to fit in all that needs to be completed in the next four months. A few days ago, a young pastor contacted me about meeting up to talk through some leadership challenges he’s facing. Whilst I was keen to make time for him, I was only able to offer him a date once I return from sabbatical in the autumn.

Before going into pastoral ministry, I was involved in selling computer systems in the printing industry. This was back in the days of page makeup, when the early Apple Macs were just coming onto the market – it was that long ago! My company paid well, gave me a nice car and generous commission on any sales made, but the role also came with an annual sales target of £750k – a lot of money back in the eighties! It was up to me to make it happen. I had to decide whether to visit existing clients or concentrate on looking for new business. I had to work out whether a long journey in the car to visit a potential client was worth making. There was no daily structure provided, no weekly or monthly rhythms – I had to learn to be self-motivated, planning and organising how I spent my days to achieve the goals I had been set.

I have observed over the years that many pastors struggle with the number and variety of tasks that come with the role. Sometimes, it is a real challenge to assess what should be a priority and what could wait – it can feel as if everything is screaming for our attention. When this is the case, I find it helpful to list each task and then categorise each one as A, B or C, according to its degree of importance. I find this prevents me from feeling overwhelmed and spending time on the wrong things – it helps me identify the priorities among the many demands. This is also an exercise I go through from time-to-time with any members of staff who report to me – it helps them to know which of the many items on their to-do list I view as being most important.

With my sabbatical now less than four months away, I am trusting that the lessons I learned in my sales days will help me prioritise wisely, focus on the right things and make optimum use of the time remaining. Hopefully, I will then reach the end of May finish line knowing that everything is in place for me to be away for the summer.

Steve Tibbert

Posted by Steve Tibbert

11th January 2018

Ten Thousand Steps

One of the most helpful articles I have ever read was written several decades ago by Bill Hybels. In it he explains how he had always paid attention to his spiritual and physical well-being, putting disciplines in place to ensure he remained healthy in both these areas. But a time came when the demands of leading the rapidly growing Willow Creek Church meant that he came close to a breakdown, despite feeling well both physically and spiritually. He realised that even though he had kept an eye on his spiritual and physical ‘gauges’, he had been unaware of another crucial area – his emotional health. He had failed to appreciate how emotionally draining ministry could be and introduced the idea of an emotional gauge to look at alongside your physical and spiritual gauges.

Over the years I have found the concept of these three gauges – an assessment of your physical, spiritual and emotional health – to be a very helpful way of considering how well I am or am not doing. It is also worth discussing as teams. Recently, I had a breakfast meeting with a businessman who attends King’s. He leads a large advertising agency and travels extensively, and I was interested to know how he manages his life in that busy schedule. He said that for him, regular visits to the gym kept him sane – as well as looking after his physical heath, it helped him recharge emotionally.

Of the three gauges Bill Hybels introduced me to, I normally had little reason to be concerned about my physical gauge until I reached my mid-fifties. I have always enjoyed sport and had been able to stay reasonably fit until a persistent lower back problem meant that all the sports I enjoyed – golf, running, football – were best avoided. By the age of 54 I was as unfit as I had ever been. Then one day last May, I read an article about the positive impact of walking 10,000 steps a day. It stated that walking this far every day had 66% of the impact of running the equivalent distance. In other words, walking gives you a good return for your effort! I like a good statistic, and realised that whilst my days of jogging were behind me, I could definitely walk more. So I decided to give it a go.

I started on May 6th 2017 and 251 days later, I am still doing 10,000 steps every day. My back is better and I know that I am much fitter than I was six months ago. But interestingly, and much to my delight, my spiritual and emotional gauges have also improved. I like to walk and pray (I am not good at sitting still!) and the daily times of walking mean that my spiritual life is in a far better place than it was. But taking time out to walk each day also gives me valuable thinking and processing time, and as a result I feel emotionally healthier too. One small change to my daily routine has improved my life balance and, I believe, my effectiveness as a leader. Time will tell if I can keep going, but so far it has been very good for me and I am highly motivated to continue.

Steve Tibbert

Posted by Steve Tibbert

Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham and Lee. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve is also involved in Newfrontiers and regularly coaches other lead elders. His book, Good to Grow, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.

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