By Dan Reiland
There was a time when only leaders in their 40’s and 50’s told me they were exhausted from leading; now, leaders in their late 20’s and 30’s are saying the same thing. We could make a list of the changes in culture that may contribute to this issue, but for this post, I’d like to focus on what we can do about it.
Let me make a helpful comparison between leadership vitality and physical vitality. My wife Patti and I have a personal trainer, and we work out together twice a week. For the other five days, the focus is aerobic. It’s a healthy routine.
We’ve learned that strength and sustainability are good companions. It takes the right combination of weight and reps to gain strength but also to be able to sustain the program. Too much weight can cause burnout or injury; too little weight does not create the needed strength to live an energetic and vibrant lifestyle.
We can take some cues from this to our leadership.
If you don’t carry the weight of leadership responsibility, you’ll not be able to experience a productive ministry. But too much weight is not sustainable and can backfire, leaving you in an unhealthy or wounded place.
Every leader is different. Just like the amount of weight you might lift in the gym, the amount of leadership responsibility you can handle varies according to the “shape” you are in. Your shape as a leader depends on things such as your level of experience, leadership development, talent and skill, drive, spiritual maturity, and the environment you lead-in.
There is no fast-track to your strength and sustainability as a leader. It’s a lifestyle that requires intentional effort over your lifetime. There are, however, very specific things you can do that will increase your leadership strength and help you sustain that strength over the long haul.
5 Elements That Bring Strength And Sustainability To Your Leadership
1) An honest relationship with Jesus.
You are not going to get everything just right, but if your relationship with Jesus is honest and you follow him wholeheartedly, you are headed in the right direction. Isn’t that the point? Every day we take a few more steps in the direction Jesus leads us, and some days we do better than others, but we keep growing while we keep going.
It’s when honesty breaks down that you stop moving forward. You can’t carry the weight of sin, failure, and discouragement. It’s too heavy. But when we come to Jesus with honesty about our failures and gratitude for successes, that’s how we sustain the long road of faith and leadership.
You can’t fool God, and there is no point in fooling yourself. Honesty with Jesus is a wise choice.
2) Family “plus” where you can be yourself.
You need the love of family, close friends, and trusted colleagues to gain the strength to keep going. You cannot lead healthy or for very long if you are isolated, disconnected, and without community. Your community doesn’t have to be large, but it has to be deep and true. There is no greater gift than to be loved unconditionally. Who are those people in your life?
A great test of true community is knowing you are completely safe and can be wholly yourself. This doesn’t mean you are not the real you when you lead; it means you have a place that you don’t have to be “on” all the time.
It’s good to give yourself away as you love and lead, but make sure you have a place to fill your tank along the way.
3) Realistic Margin
There are a few leaders that have too much margin (unscheduled time), but the vast majority have little to none. Realistic margin is a good goal. With the demands of ministry and the pressures of leadership, you may never feel you have enough margin in your calendar, but don’t give up. Fight for margin.
Margin is where you find time to think, exercise, follow up on phone calls, catch your breath, and make space for the unexpected. So, where is that margin in your calendar?
Margin isn’t about time to do nothing; it’s time to do some of your most meaningful work. Don’t let busyness crowd out your deep work.
Realistic margin recognizes the tension between the unlimited demands of leadership and the limitations of your time. Don’t get frustrated that you don’t have enough margin; just make sure you have some and use it wisely. Margin gives you both strength and the ability to sustain.
4) Confidence that you are where God wants you.
I don’t want to place any doubts in your mind about where you are in ministry. Instead, I want to elevate the importance of being in the right place.
Sustainability comes from knowing your role as a leader is a calling, not just a career. It’s not a hobby nor a side-hustle. When you approach your leadership that way, you can carry much more weight.
With that settled, now it’s about being in the right environment, one that has a healthy and productive team that pursues a Godly mission. One where you fit the culture, enjoy great relationships, and you make a measurable contribution. That’s how you gain confidence that you are exactly where God wants you.
It doesn’t mean you won’t experience difficult days or seasons. We all do. But you can still have joy and peace when you know you’re in the right place.
5) Noticeable skill level improvement
So which comes first, lifting more weight or getting stronger? Yeah, I know—a bit of a chicken or egg question. When you lift more weight (carry greater responsibility), you get stronger, yet you must get stronger (develop as a leader) to carry more weight. Do you know the answer to this riddle?
There is no black or white answer to that riddle, but if you engage both sides, I can tell you it works.
And a great question to ask yourself is, “Am I a better leader this year than last year?” If you and I were having coffee and I asked you that question, what would be your answer be? Could you be specific in describing how you are a better leader? Who is helping you improve as a leader? Do you have a coach or mentor?
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© 2021 Dan Reiland | The Pastor’s Coach – Developing Church Leaders