Early in my leadership, I asked a well-known leader at a question-and-answer session how he stayed emotionally healthy in ministry. He didn’t answer the question very well, and later in his life he was involved in a moral failure. I recognized early on that I would need to address this area of my life because no provision was really being made for it in leadership preparation. The soul and emotions are treated almost like the enemy or a potential fire bomb that could explode and ruin everything. They are looked at in a negative light more often than in a positive way. It is wiser to acknowledge their value if they are channeled properly and trained.
Leaders have many places to go for professional help to be better at their craft. Conferences abound that teach the mechanics of leadership, and how to be better in your field. What is lacking is personal help to build a strong inner life to be able to handle the pressures of leadership. We are often looking for ways to do better, when what is really needed is to find out how to be better.
In an exhaustive search of the Bible, Dr. J Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, identified approximately 1000 leaders. These included everything from Old Testament patriarchs, priests and military leaders to New Testament apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and pastors.
The result of this study showed that only 30% of leaders in the Bible finished well. This means that 70% fell short of God’s plan for their lives. This fact should jolt any present-day leader who desires to finish well.
What things made the difference between finishing well and falling short? Many leaders in the Bible fell because of pride, immorality, or just insecurity. This sounds just like modern day leaders or politicians. A state in America recently lost a very effective governor who was skilled in getting things done, but had been involved in an extra-marital affair that went public. His personal life had made a shipwreck of his professional life.
If you are in a leadership position, you know the difficulties leaders face. Everything from lack of training and preparation, to the high expectations of the people around you can be a problem. Often little attention is paid to the health of the leader resulting in some type of physical or emotional crash.
Some of the problems a leader faces are burnout, temptations, lack of support from those around them, and just lack of training and instruction. All the problems are solvable if they are recognized. Sometimes pride can keep a leader from admitting they need help. What if leaders addressed their humanity in a humble way in the beginning of their leadership, and intentionally worked on it? We would all be better off because of it.
The Apostle Paul recognized this problem when he spoke for the last time to the leaders of the churches at Ephesus. He said to be on guard for yourselves first.
“So guard yourselves and God’s people.” (Acts 20 NLT)
“Be on your toes—both for yourselves and your congregation of sheep.” (Acts 20 Message paraphrase)
It is common for leaders and those who care for others to set the priority of their calling above the priority of self-health. When flight attendants are going through the airplane’s safety features before a flight, they say to put your oxygen mask on first so that you don’t pass out while you are helping others. This seems selfish except that you must be alive and awake yourself to be able help someone else.
It used to be common to hear a leader say they would rather burn out than rust out. A better approach is to not do either, as well as live a long life of spiritual health from which to bless many others.
How do you care for yourself?
- Keep your spiritual life and soul stirred and white hot.
- Practice healthy habits of exercise and good diet.
- Sleep well and rest well. Take at least one full day off per week.
- Divert daily, rest weekly, and vacation yearly.
- Learn to cast your cares on the Lord. Don’t spend time doing what only God is able to do.
Your effectiveness as a leader is directly connected to your ability to care for your spiritual, physical, and soul health. While that may seem selfish at first, it is the difference between those who finish well and those who do not.
What factors determined who was part of the 30% who finished well and the 70% who did not? Some issues have to do with the responsibilities of leadership, however, the most obvious are personal issues. Emotional and soul issues are the most common things that derail a leader.
Usually, it is not one big thing that causes a leader to give up or burn out. Often it is just the last thing. Over time the inability to deal with little things allows them to pile up and turn into a big thing. In ministry and marriage, you often hear people say, “I just couldn’t take one more thing.” This straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak, is just the last of a culmination of unresolved issues. It may not be the biggest issue.
I recently conducted a survey in which I asked current church leaders if they were adequately prepared for the ministry. Every person asked said they absolutely were not ready for what they were asked to face as a leader. The leaders who survived were quick learners, and able to adapt quickly to new situations.
What would happen if the preparation of leaders was more intentional and purposeful? Is there something to learn from the 70% who fell, so that some ambushes can be avoided? I think there is much to learn.
What would be the impact if the 30% could be increased to 35%, 40%, or more? It would lead to healthier, longer lasting leaders who have a greater impact on those who are being led.