Sustaining Leadership: You are more important than your ministry

Sustaining Leadership: You are more important than your ministry

Author : Paul Swann

Learning good practice to lead

Many books on leadership and ministry are written from the point of view of success and strength. In Sustaining Leadership Paul Swann writes out of the raw experience of failure, getting to the heart of who we are as leaders rather than what we do. From this, he offers both hope and practical resources for sustaining effective long-term ministry, looking at self-care, balance and healthy ministry, feasting on divine love, and more. As he says, this is the best gift we can offer those we serve.

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Title Sustaining Leadership: You are more important than your ministry
Author Paul Swann

Many books on leadership and ministry are written from the point of view of success and strength. In Sustaining Leadership Paul Swann writes out of the raw experience of failure, getting to the heart of who we are as leaders rather than what we do. From this, he offers both hope and practical resources for sustaining effective long-term ministry, looking at self-care, balance and healthy ministry, feasting on divine love, and more. As he says, this is the best gift we can offer those we serve.

  • Product code: 9780857466518
  • Published: 20 July 2018
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 160
  • Dimensions: 130mm wide and 198mm high

Many books on leadership and ministry are written from the point of view of success and strength. In Sustaining Leadership Paul Swann writes out of the raw experience of failure, getting to the heart of who we are as leaders rather than what we do. From this, he offers both hope and practical resources for sustaining effective long-term ministry, looking at self-care, balance and healthy ministry, feasting on divine love, and more. As he says, this is the best gift we can offer those we serve.

This is a story of a successfully growing ministry plunged suddenly into soul searching physical, mental and emotional depths. At times shockingly raw, these personal experiences, reflected on so honestly, drive home such hard learned spiritual insights, that I needed to re-read some sections to allow the message to sink in. And it's a profound message: learning simply to be still before God; clinging to personal worth even at the expense of ministry; loving self as well as neighbour; enjoying real Sabbath rest. This is not a book for the casual believer or religiously comfortable. Neither is it just for 'leaders'. Rather, it is essential reading for those courageous enough to accept a God given call to active and costly service. Spoiler alert! It does all work out well in the end. But that, after all, is rather down to God.
Clive Langmead, Author

This courageous, raw and inspiring book is a 'must read' for any who long to live in the fullness God intends for us, amidst the realities and challenges of everyday life. A 'how to' walk the Truth of God's strength in our weakness. I wish I had had this treasure twenty years ago!
Alina Clarke

This book is both wonderfully easy to read yet at the same time deeply challenging. Paul Swann's gutsy and honest story made me realise the true importance of self-care in ministry (which is ideal as I prepare for ordination). The 'Pause to Reflect' moments scattered throughout the book really help with not just reading it as someone else's story but as a guide through your own story too. This will be re-read many times in the years to come!
Sarah Bardell (Ordinand)

Authenticity is perhaps the most important value for any religion in the 21st Century Western world. Paul Swann demonstrates in this vital book how the Christian religion and its leaders can be authentic and life-giving even in the most desperate, dark and dismal of experiences that arise from becoming 'addicted' to ministry. Combining insights from the bible, contemporary film and popular culture with his own deeply vulnerable experience here is a plea for leadership which is rooted way down in the God who simply is and therefore is not trying to be anything it can't be, other than the sharing of our beautiful and flawed humanity. I hope it becomes widely used in our highly anxious and often success oriented church systems.
Revd Canon Dr Nigel Rooms, Leader, Partnership for Missional Church UK

Paul, I wish you had written your book 50 years ago! But at least it was published at the end of a long hot summer, when I'm wondering if I shall ever walk the hills again... but the last chapter (as you say) belongs to hope! Your humbling honesty, coupled with wonderful biblical expositions, have brought both inspiration and clarification. I now know what I want to be when I grow up!
Revd Michael Dunn (Spiritual Director and Retired Priest)

SO refreshing to have this deep wisdom - on being/doing, self-care/giving, nature of success etc - served up from the point of view of someone who has got there the hard way. This is not a happy, shiny, just-copy-me sort of read, it's more in the painful/raw/honest category, which adds to its value. And although this is a Christian book written out of his experience of being a vicar I'd say it's pretty clearly going to be profoundly helpful to a whole range of people. I've already bought four more to pass on!
Revd Owen Gallacher (Vicar)

Having known Paul for many years, we initially bought this book to support him. I'm not a great reader but it was such a delight that I soon finished it. Paul speaks openly of his struggles and sets out the challenges we all face in our lives and how to balance things before it gets too much. I would highly recommend this resource to people in any form of leadership.
Andy Davenport (Computer Programmer)

Paul Swann trained for ordination in the Anglican Church and served in two growing parishes in the Diocese of Worcester. In 2008, Paul was forced to retire early and spent four years in the wilderness of total fatigue. Since 2012, Paul has begun to offer a new ministry from this place of weakness. He has served as diocesan adviser on spirituality, offers spiritual direction and leads retreats. The insights of this book are drawn from these experiences.

Review of Sustaining Leadership - Evangelicals Now, April 2019. Review by Richard Underwood

Paul Swann served in two Anglican parishes in the Diocese of Worcester. In 2008, he retired early and spent two years existing on what he describes as 'Planet Fragile'. Sustaining Leadership is his story, but much more.

In Part I, Swann describes the process of his own disintegration as he slipped into that slough of physical, mental and emotional despond we call ME.

In Part II, he offers us first his personal and theological reflection on reintegration and then, in Part III, a host of practical and life-enhancing measures towards beginning and nurturing that process.

Writing for a broader constituency than mine and drawing on an impressive range of sources and resources, the basic thesis of this short book is that 'broken is best' ... that our human capabilities are often expressions of weakness rather than strength ... that Father-God is more concerned about we are in him than what we do for him. As Paul Swann rightly observes, we are 'human beings' rather than 'human doings'. What we do should flow from who we are, rather than the other way round.

The remedy for our pervasive passion for proving ourselves is to take a long hard look at the three dials on the dashboard of our humanity - our God-given physical, spiritual and emotional needs. It's time for those of us who are pastors to take control of our self care and our soul care. If we can't care for ourselves, how can we hope to care for those the Lord Jesus has entrusted to us?

We don't have to do this on our own; we need both personal friends and the body of the local church to help and encourage us. Taking Sustaining Leadership to heart will fill us not with optimism, but with hope. As Paul Swann rightly observes: 'What we hope for is secondary to who we hope in'.

Who should read this book? Every pastor on sabbatical who has time to think and pray. Every member of a leadership team that has responsibility for caring for its pastoral staff. And every church member who is concerned to encourage their pastors and help them thrive in serving the Lord Jesus for the long haul. Humanly, the health of our churches and the spread of the Lord Jesus' mission depends on the well-being of our pastors.

Review by Richard Underwood, Elder, Christchurch, Market Harborough


The Reader, Spring 2019. Review by John Knowles

'Jesus' disciples learnt what it meant to follow him through failed fishing trips, under-catered picnics and abortive exorcisms' sets the context for a very frank description of what happened after Paul Swann woke one morning with chronic ME. In his own words: 'I had been smashed to pieces through overwork, stress, damage to health and lack of self-care.' Out of his own experience come very practical and specific self-care strategies that recognise the specific stresses, positive and negative, that often accompany church leadership. Central to the book's thrust is its subtitle - 'You are more important that your ministry' - with the need to keep life and ministry in balance, where being is more important than doing and the rediscovery of Sabbath can be the antidote to 'hurry sickness'. Ministry can be very challenging and my experience as a diocesan Warden of Readers would suggest that it is not just stipendiary clergy who need to take care of themselves, making the advice enormously valuable to all in church leadership long before any warning lights begin to flash. Buy a copy for yourself and one for your incumbent!

Review by John Knowles


Review by Revd Kate Wharton. 12.01.19

This is a wildly and hopelessly overdue blog! I read this wonderful book ages ago, and promised to review it here, but never got round to it. And be assured that the irony of not being able to find time to review a book about developing and maintaining healthy patterns of life and work is in no way lost on me...

The book is written by Paul Swann, and its subtitle is 'You are more important than your ministry'. A reasonable enough statement, you'd think, except that so many of us seem to forget this at one time or another, as we fall into the trap of believing ourselves to be indispensable, and allow our diaries, our ministries and our pressures define us.

Paul Swann speaks from very personal, and very difficult, experience. In 2005 he experienced a period of illness and fatigue which resulted in 4 years of trying to manage his health and ministry, before he decided completely to step back from his full time role. Out of that experience, and the ways in which he has since sought to rebuild and rebalance his life, he shares much insight and wisdom which every one of us in any sort of 'ministry' role would do well to heed.

This book is really superb, and an absolute must read. It's easy to read in the sense of being clear and well written, with short chapters, but certainly not in the sense of being without substance. I sense that it's a book I will return to time and time again throughout the course of my ministry, when I need to be reminded of the nuggets it contains.

On the first page of the Introduction comes a quote that I know I need to keep front and centre of my mind (from Parker Palmer): 'Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.'

I know I have found a book enormously helpful when I highlight something on almost every page - and my copy of Sustaining Leadership is already well thumbed and with many yellow highlights!

In Part 1, entitled 'Disintegration' Paul outlines his own story in 'Arriving on Planet Fragile'. I read it knowing it could easily have been me or any one of us. He is honest about his own personal and painful experiences, and the devastating impact they had upon him.

In Part 2, 'Reintegration', Paul describes how he began to recover, and gives a wealth of invaluable advice about self care, what healthy and unhealthy patterns of ministry might look like, and how we can find the right balance of all the competing demands and priorities within our lives.

I often say that the thing I find most frustrating about my job as a vicar (which I love almost all of the time), is that it is simply never finished. There is always something more which could or should be done. Paul speaks to this when he writes, 'From where will you get your permission to stop? It will not come from completing a job that has no ending, from receiving affirmation that seldom comes or from a hierarchical permission that rarely exists. Instead, it will have to come from the self-love and self-care of which we have spoken, augmented by obedience to the fourth commandment, which is our permission to rest.' I'm seriously considering getting that tattooed on my person, or at the very least stuck on the door of my study!

Part 3 is called 'Holding on to Hope'. This reminds us of why we ultimately do what we do, and in whose strength we do it.

I really enjoyed the way this book is written. It is very practical, and actively encourages the reader to engage with the content rather than just to read the words. Throughout the book there are grey boxes where questions are asked which invite us to pause and reflect.

This book is immensely real and honest, with just the right level of challenge - having gone through such a difficult period in his own life, Paul very much wants to make sure that others don't have to go through the same thing.

This book is wonderful and important - a definite must read for anyone involved in any kind of leadership or ministry. The future you will be glad you read this book now!

As Paul says in the Introduction: 'Sustaining Leadership is not a book about what to do as a leader. It is a book about how to be as a leader.'

Review by Kate Wharton

Lead On - CPAS e-newsletter, January 2019 Review by James Lawrence

At the start of the year it is good to take stock, to think and pray about the pressure and pace of life and leadership and any adjustments that it might be good to make for the year ahead. If you are planning to do that in any way, may I encourage you to get hold of Sustaining Leadership.

Paul Swann writes from personal experience of having 'four years in the wilderness of total fatigue'. This is an honest book. It recounts his descent into a place of fragility, and the stripping away of many of the things he relied on to bolster his own sense of identity. He reflects that there are 'no words to describe the density of the darkness and the intensity of the isolation.'

Then follow chapters that helpfully explore the relationship between self-care and self-sacrifice, ways of identifying 'hurry sickness', symptoms of burn out and stress, the place of boundary keeping and Sabbath disciplines. The insights are well illustrated from a wide variety of sources, and contain short perceptive comments that make you think: for example 'margin is the vital space between your load and your limits.' The final chapters on soul food and holding onto hope introduce practical ways to self-compassion.

Sustaining Leadership will make a good companion for a Quiet Day or a month of reflecting on yourself through January. Heed its wise insights, and we may find ourselves in a more sustainable place as leaders.

Review by James Lawrence, Director CPAS

Church Times, 12 October 2018. Review by Peter Selby, former Bishop of Worcester

See beyond the small size of this book to an offering of generosity and wide-ranging wisdom.

Its generosity lies in Paul Swann's writing about his experience of illness without holding much back: he invites us into his experience of chronic fatigue. We are given a graphic, though not over-dramatised, account of the terrible toll that ME took on the author.

Even more significant is the particular distress that burnout brings to a person of great talent and deep commitment, when he reaches the point when he has to say, 'I can't do this any more.' Fragility - to put it mildly - was what he encountered as he 'hit the buffers'; then fragility was what had gradually to be emerged from, and then, as its meaning became clear, to be embraced.

So, the first third of the book is about that experience, although even as we read it we have the sense that faith, though tested, never totally lost its ability to provide perspective and meaning in his suffering. That perspective is the foundation for the wisdom in the next hundred pages: the practical necessity as well as the spiritual importance of self-care, particularly for the most energetic, creative, and committed, who find self-care hardest.

In many sermons, the Pauline image of the clay pot - to which Swann refers a great deal - can remain a general comment about ministerial humility rather than pointing to specific vulnerabilities that need specific remedies and responses. It is because this author gets specific that this book is lifted above well-meaning exhortation to be both challenging and of practical use to those who find it hard in practice to accept the subtitle's message that 'You are more important than your ministry.' The many examples of vulnerability and practical self-care are supported by a wide selection of biblical citation and the wider reading that was, no doubt, part of the author's self-care.

Alongside all that is worth while in the book, there remain some questions. Surely, a more artistic and nourishing front-cover design would have portrayed the book more accurately. And isn't the subtitle rather than the title the real message of this book? It is for everyone, not just, or even mainly, 'leaders'? The book is at least partly a critique of what the designation 'leader' engenders.

Yet, if this is a book for everyone, it especially challenges those who have oversight of others' ministry. I happen to have been the bishop involved in the author's call to undertake the special challenge of growing and enlivening a church in the centre of Worcester. It is hardly a decision that I can regret, given all the good that has flowed from it. But, since the disintegration and the reintegration that this book describes are also what (in part) flowed from that decision, I found the book a particular challenge.

Looking at my former ministry, I ask myself, in gladly appointing some of our strongest people to the hardest tasks, are we as aware as we need to be of the particular support and resourcing needs that such colleagues have? Or do we just hope that the talented and the committed will find their own way of avoiding burnout? That goes along with a more searching question: how well are we ourselves modelling self-care?

But this gentle author also knows how to use examples that challenge lightly; so if you ever catch yourself not completing the two minutes that your electric toothbrush allows, remember it's not just your teeth that you're not caring for.

Review by the Rt Revd Dr Peter Selby, a former Bishop of Worcester

Review by Revd Canon Steve Coneys, Mission and Growth Advisor, Canterbury Diocese

What happens when you realise that the work you love is making you sick?
This gem of a book traces the story of how a capable Christian leader experiences such physical and emotional disintegration that he hears himself saying to his bishop, 'I can't do this any more'.

Lucid and concise, Paul Swann's book is an essay in practical spirituality, one that is based on grace rather than our own attempts at self-justifying significance. The central argument is that, with a proper understanding of our belovedness as God's children, and a clear view of God's loving character, we can be freed to care for ourselves and live healthy, grateful lives. How many of us, not just Christian leaders, need to learn this lesson?

It is the way the writer communicates the reality of grace in the midst his own sense of failure and weakness which distinguishes this book: 'One day, as I was struggling with low self-esteem and the battle to recover... I complained to God, 'This is too hard for me to do!' Swiftly and firmly, but with extreme gentleness, came the response: 'Is it too hard to be my son?'

Insights from films like Wonder Woman, spiritual writers like Margery Kempe, storytellers such as Lewis Carroll and theologians like Walter Breuggemann, combine with Paul Swann's own experience of reintegration to make the book a compelling read. The lesson that every Christian minister - every human being - needs to hear is brought home with elegance and power: you are more important than what you do. Get hold of this book and read it slowly. If I could, I would buy a copy for every church leader I know.

Revd Canon Steve Coneys, Mission and Growth Advisor, Canterbury Diocese

Review by John Pellowe

This book is a real challenge to church leaders to take better care of themselves and to more intentionally build up the local church they serve. Paul Swann's story of his descent into illness, burnout, and depression is mercifully short (one chapter) but it is sufficient to help people who have not had a similar experience to understand what it is really like, and how much they are suffering something real. He gave me a real empathy for those who suffered as he did.

I really thought it helpful how he framed his situation - 'fragility' is such a good word! We are all fragile people and need to accept that fragility is part of our human condition. No one is impervious to what this writer experienced. The two chapters on emerging from fragility and embracing fragility are very practical and inspirational. Paul has redeemed his story of recovery in sharing it with others, and much good will come of it, I'm sure.

The rest of the book is full of great ideas to build strength into the people of the Church so that we can better serve those in the world around us who are suffering, as well as protecting ourselves from suffering as Paul did.

When I finished the book, my thought was, 'How much more effective the Church would be if we all caught on to the principles and practices outlined in the book!'

Review by John Pellowe, CEO Canadian Council of Christian Charities

Review by Timothy Marlow, Business Consultant and IT Director

In the world in which we live, everyone wants to be seen as perfect. We gloss over the failures, claim insight after the event which wasn't there at the time, even post our best selfies on social media. We long to be seen as successful, and to be liked by all.

But what happens when it all goes wrong? When you're made redundant? Or you're broken by the expectations placed on you? Especially if you're supposed to be in Christian ministry?

Paul Swann has helpfully broken this book into small digestible chunks, with loads of practical advice. If you're in pain, or struggling in any way. Even if you're just feeling a little weary or burdened, then you can flick through it and find something which resonates before working out from there.

Paul observes that burnout doesn't suddenly happen. Rather it creeps up on us over time. We all need the advice he gives for maintaining ourselves. Buy this book, read it carefully, then keep it handy so that you can dip into it regularly.

Timothy Marlow, Business Consultant and IT Director

Review by Steve Chase

Sustaining Leadership is written from the reality of Paul Swann's own personal journey through the difficult challenges of leadership and life. He writes with honesty, great vulnerability and deep self-awareness. Sharing lessons hard learnt in the weakness of his humanity, Paul takes the reader gently into some of the places we so often avoid. He offers proven examples from his own faith journey, along with insights from the lives of those who gone before, that our most authentic identity is found in being loved by God. Paul encourages the discovery of that authentic place of 'being', from which all can learn to love well, live well and lead well! I have already brought 3 copies and passed them on!

Steve Chase