“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 1:2
As a leader, you rarely get a hiatus. At times you are hounded, pounded, and dumbfounded, so you must make a daily choice to be astounded by God’s goodness and grace. You must care for your own soul, sit before God, and peer into the depths of His greatness and love until all else is eclipsed. You can delegate other things, but not this.
As I walked through the center square of Krakow, Poland lit up at night, its ancient beauty was not lost on me. Like modern people do, I enjoyed the moment and captured it with my cell phone camera. Focusing on truth and beauty have become daily, restorative practices for me, especially when I wake up to recent headlines that reveal quantum shifts in culture. That day, the bombing in Paris had just occurred. Later, as I sat with my cup of tea and went over my notes to teach a group of leaders on emotional health in leadership, I thought about the burnout I’ve seen among leaders over the years my husband and I have served in ministry. If we’ve ever needed resilience as leaders, it’s now.
We may think that overwork leads to burnout; after all, our mission is about nothing less than world redemption. But the drift from intimate relationship with God often leads to burnout evidenced by a jaded perspective, lack of joy and peace, and apathy. Rest can restore us after a busy season of ministry, but weariness of the soul requires more.
When we lead people on mission with God, we must follow Jesus and focus on what He deems important. The ministry of making disciples cannot be done apart from intimate union with Him. “If you remain (abide, make your home) in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John15: 5)
It helps to draw from ancient practices and spiritual disciplines in our frenetic, fragmented, modern world.
One of the ways God speaks to us is through our deepest feelings and desires, what Ignatius of Loyola called “consolations” and “desolations”. Consolations are those experiences that fill us with joy, life, energy, and peace. Consolations connect us more deeply with God, others, and ourselves. On the other hand, desolations drain us and feel like death. They make us feel disconnected. If we don’t allow our loving Father into those areas, we suffer even more. He wants to come in, love us in those places, and interpret them according to the truths in His Word.
“When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)
I loved living in Ukraine. I love the culture and the people and miss it to this day, but during our years of ministry there, we encountered heavy opposition. Drawn by need, I would sit at the kitchen table in the morning while I studied the Bible and prayed. Babushkas hung their laundry in the courtyard balcony outside my window. Day after day, week after week, through the crisp, cool days of autumn and the biting cold of winter, God met me there at the kitchen table. I may have been pounded externally, but I did not cave in because of the grace and strength gained through daily communion. At times, I felt like my soul was experiencing an ice age. But when I was weak, He was strong.
From a broader perspective, lasting change in churches and Christian organizations requires men and women who are committed to leading out of a deep walk with God and transformed inner life. If we fail to recognize that who we are on the inside affects every aspect of our leadership, we will hurt ourselves and the people we lead. We can benefit from Peter Scazzero’s wisdom in his book The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World. His checklist helps leaders identify when they are not leading out of loving union with God.
You know you’re not experiencing loving union when you:
- Can’t shake the pressure you feel from having too much to do in too little time.
- Are always rushing.
- Routinely fire off quick opinions and judgments.
- Are often fearful about the future.
- Are overly concerned with what others think.
- Are defensive and easily offended.
- Are routinely preoccupied and distracted.
- Consistently ignore the stress, anxiety, and tightness of your body.
- Feel unenthusiastic or threatened by the success of others.
- Routinely spend more time talking than listening.
Leaders, let’s examine ourselves and make the necessary changes to stay spiritually vibrant and lead out of a healthy soul. The benefits extend beyond ourselves to our families and ministries – even to the welfare of our communities, cities, and the world.
Upcoming post: How to lead out of a healthy soul.