“Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing”.
Out of the window, I watched the lights of the city grow closer as the plane descended. In a few short minutes we would be on the ground and taxiing towards the airport building.
And at that moment I felt physically sick.
I did not feel sick because of the turbulence we had encountered a short while before. Nor because of the rather unappetizing meal I had been served on the flight.
I felt sick because, once we landed, I would turn on my phone, check my messages and email, and…well, who knows what I might find lurking there?
The last few months of ministry had been challenging and I was exhausted, exasperated, fearful. I just couldn’t face the possibility of another problem that needed urgent action.
It was at that point I realized I was close to burning out.
This is not an uncommon problem in today’s world. In fact, burnout rates for leaders in churches and nonprofits is well-known to be a significant problem. In one survey, seven out of ten pastors in the USA said that they were burning out and that they battled with depression beyond fatigue on a weekly, and even a daily, basis.
That is really not a healthy place to be. Believe me, I’ve been there.
Lance Witt’s excellent book “Replenish” gives many valuable reflections and practical advice for “leading from a healthy soul”. Reading it while recovering from an ongoing period of exhaustion, I found it packed full of helpful insights and thoughtful questions. I cannot cover all the wisdom that Lance offers in one short article; however, here are five of my own personal “takeaways” from reading his book:
1. My ministry is not my identity. Instead, what is important is my relationship with Jesus. It is this relationship that should be my first love – not “my” ministry. If I fail to lead out of a healthy soul, disconnected from Jesus, then ministry soon becomes idolatry – and increasingly joyless and stressful too.
2. Ministry needs will always exceed my capacity to deliver. There is always – I repeat, always – more that can or needs to be done. Yet obsessive busyness will damage my soul. Psalm 46:10 is clear on what we must do instead: “Be still and know that I am God”. There are times when I need to be more like Mary, content with sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him, rather than like Martha, rushing around and ticked that there is not enough time to accomplish all that I think is needed.
3. What if God is calling me to obscurity? As with many leaders, I can face the temptation to chase the spotlight, or become driven by, and addicted to, people’s applause. So many leaders – Christian leaders included – seek power in a way that negatively impacts their decisions, motives, and integrity. Instead, God calls each of us to a relationship with Him. His plans for me may mean anonymity or obscurity. Yet that doesn’t matter. Even though I might be hidden from the world, I am never hidden from Him. I must embrace His plans for my life.
4. I need to cancel the noise around me and find solitude. Finding time away from the crowd – as Jesus did – is essential. Too much noise and too much activity can be toxic to the soul. Therefore, I must find time alone, to be still in His presence, finding the space that I need to reflect, pray, think, listen, and simply “be”. This doesn’t just happen naturally, so I must be intentional, building a healthy rhythm in my life that includes times of solitude.
5. I must continually grow in humility. Like most people, I can face a battle against pride. Yet, it is humility that marks the life and teachings of Jesus – and I must follow His example. I must be focused on Him, remind myself that it is His ministry and not mine, praise others rather than myself, and constantly stay in touch with His amazing grace.
Leadership is not easy. It can feel like a hard and lonely trek at times. As leaders, we must all make the time to “replenish”, seek the Lord and His wisdom, and do all that is needed to cultivate a healthy soul.
“Replenish” is written by Lance Witt and published by Baker Books.