The frontline of relief for orphaned and vulnerable children, within communities that experience extreme poverty, is often a place where you must actively look for hope. Although there are innumerable stories of transformation that occur, and immeasurable hope can been experienced within those transformations, working in communities where structures of poverty exist can at times be disheartening.
As CEO and president of an organization of 450-plus employees in eight countries, I have recognized the need to create a workplace culture that combats the burnout that often occurs in ministry and nonprofit work. It is our goal to have systems in place so that employees can flourish in their relationship with God, their relationship with each other, and on a larger scale, build relationship between communities. These structures provide a sense of refreshment, encouragement and support in the midst of difficult work.
Relationship with God
Even Jesus needed time away from his ministry to be in solitude with God (Mark 1:35). Using Christ as our model, we have implemented days for employees to take off from work to spend time caring for their souls and being refreshed by time with the Lord. These “HopeCare” days do not count against their paid-time off and they can schedule one every six months.
A program available for our in-country staff is grief counseling. Many of our in-country staff have suffered trauma and grief, just like the children they serve. For this reason, many have been through our Grief and Trauma Counseling courses as participants. This has brought great healing to the staff members, who in turn help children through their healing process. In these courses they learn to find meaning and strength in the pain they have been through, and to find their value and identity in Christ.
Relationship with Each Other
Fellowship with each other in the workplace is incredibly important as we work toward a common goal. 1 Timothy 2:1 has been our model to share, “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” so that we may be recharged and strengthened by time spent together.
At our headquarters we have optional corporate prayer every other Tuesday, as well as optional, small prayer groups that meet on a weekly basis. These small prayer groups were designed to provide a more intimate setting for sharing more personal hardships and struggles if an individual desires to do so.
Fellowship with each other in the workplace is incredibly important as we work toward a common goal.
Our in-country staff also has rhythms of prayer in place. For example, our Uganda staff has daily devotions, prayers, worship and group breakfast. Each day of the week has a set focus of prayer. One day for our CarePoints and the children we serve, another day for Uganda’s country office, and another for all of our other international staff, etc.
We also implemented a “Praise Board” that captures the ways we see God working to remind us of the many ways that God has blessed us and our efforts. This is a constant reminder that we are participating along with the Lord who is already “in it.”
In addition to gathering in prayer, we also celebrate milestone events in each other’s lives, including engagements, baby showers, and birthdays, and often find excuses (like last year’s solar eclipse) to grill and spend time together. These celebrations bring us closer and provide much needed lightheartedness and fun throughout the year.
Relationship between Communities
As encouraged in Hebrews 10:24-25, we aim to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together.” We attempt to carve out of our very limited budget (because most funds go to the direct work in the field) funding to get U.S. staff into the field to be relational and to experience and participate on the ground and to be re-energized in our mission. When budgets allow, we also carve out time and resources for staff retreats that have intentional time dedicated for recreation, relationship building, prayer and reflection time.
Another way to help prevent burnout is ensuring your vision and mission are clearly reflected in all aspects of your strategic plan which is then translated into action plans adopted by each department and each staff member. This helps keep the hard, difficult and often emotionally challenging work in perspective and part of a team culture of highly committed individuals.
As leaders, whether of a department or an entire organization, creating capacity, both formal and informal for employees to recharge is vital to their health and the organization’s health.
Ken Sparks is president and CEO of Children’s HopeChest (www.hopechest.org), a nonprofit whose mission is to glorify God by releasing the potential of orphaned and impoverished children and their communities. HopeChest’s model of sustainable transformation hinges on relationships between communities that cultivate sustainable two-way transformation.