You Can’t Be Helpful if You Can’t Be Present
Once upon a time, a friend invited me to tour his church building during a Sunday service. Our mutual goal was to spotlight cracks in the guest process and figure out how to connect people on a simpler scale.
Over the course of the morning, our tour was interrupted no fewer than twenty times. We never had a one-on-one conversation that lasted longer than three minutes. He was constantly being peppered with questions, asked to put out fires, quizzed on the location of a classroom or meeting, and assaulted by the incessant ding of phone calls and text messages.
On one level, I totally get it…because I’ve been there. We’ve all been there: if there is any time a leader will be distracted, it’s on Sunday morning.
But as I took the 1,000 foot view and reflected on the time with my friend (and did a little self-critique of my own leadership), I realized that his helpfulness to everyone meant that he was being helpful to no one.
Because he was the man with all of the answers, everyone came to him with their questions.
Because he was the point person on everything, everything rose to his attention.
Because there was one leader instead of multiple leaders, everyone looked to him to lead.
And because he was responsible for it all, he wasn’t very present at all.
Again, I get it. I’ve been there. You’ve been there, too. But it’s exhausting to lead that way. It’s demoralizing to get through another Sunday morning and feel like you just put out fires rather than investing in people’s lives.
So how do we get beyond the Sunday firefighter syndrome? A few thoughts from that harried morning:
Communicate prior to Sunday. With your staff, your volunteer team, or even your congregation, let people know what is happening where that weekend. Equip them with the knowledge they need to lead and self-feed.
Make someone else the recognized authority. Put other leaders in place who know what you know. This takes time and work – not to mention re-training people to go to someone else – but it’s worth it.
Don’t just answer questions; help others answer questions. Don’t just be the recipient of hand-offs. Stand with the one who is doing the hand-off and address the issue at hand. When they hear you answer a question or see you put out a fire, they’re being trained to do that on their own.
Don’t invent problems that aren’t actually problems. My most sobering realization from that morning was that my friend was making things a big deal that weren’t really a big deal. And the reason it was so sobering was that I often do the same thing. Let’s be honest: it’s nice to be needed and to be the resident answer person and to hold the solution to someone’s questions. But we can often get addicted to that need and dupe ourselves into believing that our perspective is indispensable.
Leaders and volunteers: we can be helpful. We should be helpful. But we can’t be helpful long-term if we can’t be fully present now.