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Wouldn’t it be great if all a leader needed to know was 3 things?

Wouldn’t our lives be simpler?

Of course a leader needs to know more than 3 things—that’s one reason more books on leadership exist than we’ll ever be able to read in our lifetime. I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve consumed about how to be a better leader. Great reads, all of them. But none of them addressed what I’m about to share with you.

The following 3 things are absolutely critical to your health and longevity as a leader:

You can lose your church (or ministry) and still have a great life

Losing your ministry is not the worst thing that can happen to you. There, I said it.

I resigned from my lead pastor position in 1995 due to burnout and depression. And yet, Laura and I have built a great life together. You can lose your ministry, but still forge a strong, productive, and fulfilling life. But if you lose your marriage, it will be tougher to have a great life. And if you lose your marriage, you’ll likely lose your ministry . . . at least for a season.

This first idea speaks to priority.

1 Timothy 5:8 says: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, especially his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV) These words should give every leader pause. The immediate context in 1 Timothy 5 is taking care of material needs . . . but providing for our families means more than money. It means providing emotional resources; time resources. It means dating our spouse, and training up our children. If you’re winning at work but losing at home . . .  you’re losing. Never forget: the most important disciples in your life live under your own roof.

Your church (or ministry) can lose you and they can still have a great life

I was a youth pastor in Saginaw, MI for 6 years. When I left to become the lead pastor at another church, 200 students were in the youth group. One of my worries was: what happens to this group when I leave? Will it fall apart? Well, the next youth pastor grew it to 400. Your church can lose you, and they can still have a great life post-you.

This second idea speaks to identity.

If we get our identity from leading instead of leading from our identity in Christ, we set ourselves up for trouble. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 helps us here: “What after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each its task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (NIV)

Pace is the most common cause of personal failure

This third idea comes from Chris Hodges, and it speaks to longevity.

We do stupid things when we get tired. In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (NIV) The more growth in your ministry, the more pace becomes an issue. And the more tempted you’ll be to rationalize an out-of-control schedule. The more invincible you may feel. Your workday will sneakily get longer and longer, your friendships will begin to wither, your emotional tank will get depleted, and then wham! You  have a high probability of crashing into the wall of burnout and/or depression.

Some of us equate a fast pace with character, with effectiveness, or with value. A fast pace has nothing to do with these things. Some leaders believe their fast pace is the result of spiritual passion. That may be, but I wonder how often it’s simply the result of adrenaline? Carl Honore writes: “A high speed lifestyle is like a drug. It changes the chemistry of the body and the brain. It produces stress junkies.”

The good news is God has given us tools for regulating our pace. One tool is the Sabbath. And I hate to tell you this (not really): ministry leaders don’t get a pass when it comes to obeying Sabbath.

We teach our people, and rightly so, that when they tithe God will make 90% of their income go farther than 100%. The same is true about our schedule. An overseas missionary states: “When you regulate your pace by obeying Sabbath, you will discover a capacity you never thought possible!” Capacity to love your spouse and children. Capacity to love and lead His people. Why? Because God’s ways are higher than our ways. Many other behaviors help leaders regulate their pace, but consistently obeying Sabbath is a good place to start.

You can lose your church (or ministry) and still have a great life.

Your church (or ministry) can lose you and they can still have a great life.

Pace is the number one cause of personal failure.

Every leader who understands these three things, who lives and leads in the light of them will find it easier to keep a proper perspective on priority, and identity, and will most certainly experience greater longevity.

I’m rooting and praying for you!

P.S. – Converge Coaching is offering a one-day, low-cost introduction to becoming a life-coach. On May 17, we are hosting an 8-Hour Coaching Energizer. Subjects include: Coaching Styles & Myths; The ICF Credentialing Process; How to Build Your Coaching Clientele; etc. You can find more details here. Hope to see you on May 17!

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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