Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Depleted Leaders Over-rely on Outside Sources


Oak tree in my backyard
In the 1980s, when I was in the end stages of writing my doctoral dissertation at Northwestern University, I was at a point of burnout. Whatever creativity and energy I had were gone. I couldn't see the forest for the trees.

One day, as I was walking across campus, one of my professors saw me and asked, "How is the paper going?" 

"Not well," I responded. "I can't see clearly any more. I don't know what to do next."

"You need to take two weeks off and get away from it."

That was his counsel to me. I took it. During the two week hiatus the creative juices began to flow again.

I have never forgotten this. It applies to our spiritual lives as well.  

Years ago God called me to take several hours each week alone with him, praying and listening and discerning. When I do this I become less dependent on outside sources to inspire me because of what God is doing inside me. Other voices are at times helpful, but rarely do they assist me in the unique day-to-day challenges of ministry in my church family, times which demand creativity and discernment.

Burnout-busyness is the enemy of this. The busier a pastor gets the more they rely on outside sources to do the job of discerning for them because they lack the needed inner resources. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"When we are depleted, we become overly reliant on voices outside of ourselves to tell us what is going on. We react to symptoms rather than seeking to understand and respond to underlying causes. We rely on other people’s ministry models and outside consultants because we are too tired to listen in our setting and craft something that is uniquely suited to meet the needs that are there. When we are rested, however, we bring steady, alert attention that is characterized by true discernment about what is truly needed in our situation, and the energy and creativity to carry it out."
- - Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 121)