You Can't Lead on Empty

A while back, I woke up to the surprising news that Pete Wilson, the pastor of Crosspoint in Nashville, resigned after 14 years of leadership. I watched him address the church that he loves and as I watched I couldn’t help to see the anguish in his eyes. It’s hard to leave a church that you love, trust me I know. As I was broken and tired several years ago, I stepped away from my church that I started and loved dearly. I knew my family and marriage needed my utmost attention and I knew that was my first ministry and priority. 

As Pete announced his resignation he said, “We’ve said that this is a church where it’s okay to not be okay, and I’m not okay. I’m tired. And I’m broken and I just need some rest.” It takes a huge dose of humility to admit that you are broken and to admit that your priorities have been off kilter. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave a place that you helped create and a place that is such a big part of who you are. My hope for Pete Wilson, is that the love of God’s people will overwhelm him and his family during this time. I pray that the big C church is the big C church and wraps their arms around them and doesn’t abandon them. I know Crosspoint will always do that, it’s an amazing place, but I am calling out for the rest of us who call ourselves Christians to love on these pastors and leaders with the same embrace.

We always jump to conclusions when we hear news like this. I want to warn you to not bother with trying to figure out what went wrong in this situation or every other situation for that matter. Our only response should be love, leave the judging and convicting to others. As one wise man once said, It’s God’s responsibility to judge, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and it’s our job to love. Pondering about what happened or how could it have been prevented doesn’t help the pastor or his family who is broken. Just give them the space, grace and love that they desperately need during this time. Simply pray for healing, restoration and renewal in their lives. 

With that said, my array of emotions were on a roller coaster ride since that day when I heard the news, especially when it hit so close to my own situation. I ran the emotions of anger, frustration and sadness. But most importantly, I have a burden for leaders who are burned out, broken and have lost the passion to even serve. I remember being at my lowest point and I received a message from none other than Pete Wilson. He just wanted to tell me he was praying for me and he encouraged me to continue to fight on. It breaks my heart that Pete himself needs that type of message today. I’m sure he has been surrounded with so many people who love him, which is an amazing thing. But what happens to the guy who doesn’t have support like that? What if he leaves a church that doesn’t have as much grace as his did? Who loves on those leaders? Unfortunately I have seen hundreds of leaders leave the ministry. Good folks, yet imperfect people who have had a tremendous impact on the Kingdom. This has to stop!!! Churches and people have to change, so these people don’t fall through the cracks. 

So what do we do about this epidemic of pastors burning out or just flat out leaving the ministry? We have heard the statistics and they are gloomy. How do we prevent people from getting to this point? Here are a few things I have learned since I took a break from ministry. I have gained some perspective that I didn’t have when I was inside the church bubble. Now that I am back in ministry, I have learned to do things differently. Even when you do these things, it’s still very difficult, because the enemy is out to steal, kill and destroy. 

  • Unplug and Rest- Yes I know this sounds easy, make no mistake, it is not. 4 hours of sleep isn’t good for you, no matter who you ask. They are lying to you. No one can keep up with that pace. Turn your phone off and go to bed. There is nothing that you do at 2 am that can change anything in your church. If you have to do it at that hour, you need to re-evaluate your time management skills during the day. 
  • Take Vacations- Yes that’s right. If your church doesn’t give you a decent amount of vacation, you may be at the wrong church. That needs to be a priority from day 1 before you sign on. I heard Bill Hybels say once that if you don’t schedule your vacations, they won’t happen. The same is true with off days and segments of time that you should dedicate to relaxation or family time. 
  • The Church isn’t your first ministry, Your family Is- If you don’t get this one right, life will become very rocky. I can assure you of that. What would happen if we poured as much into our family as we do our church or ministry. We work all hours of the day and night to make sure we get the church just right. Do we put the same energy to make sure our family is just right? We could rescue our whole community and lose our family without noticing. Then it’s not worth it. The word of God says that He will build His church. Be faithful and committed to your family first and God will bless the rest. 
  • You Can’t Lead on E- Pete mentioned this when he addressed his church. It is so true. There is not a vehicle in the world that will run on empty. You will eventually run out of fuel, if you don’t continuously recharge and renew your soul. Your creativity will begin to wane and people will begin to notice. Take a sabbatical and remove yourself from the situation before it’s too late. If you are a leader that doesn’t want to take one because of your pride, then your church needs to have it built in and they should mandate it to protect you from yourself. 
  • Transparent Leaders and Churches filled with Grace- We as the Big C church need to create a safe environment and build a culture for it to be okay for leaders not to be okay. That works both ways, the leader should feel comfortable being real and transparent but this can only happen when churches lovingly accept the leader for who they are. The church is the greatest conduit for grace, yet when our capacity for grace is put to the test, we revert back to judgment. I see a church that understands the need to protect and love the pastor and a pastor who feels he has total amnesty and honesty. What tends to happen is that we let the pastoral pride sink in and we feel that we can’t be real with our people, because they won’t understand and we will appear weak. We have this misconception that others will view us with a dent in our armor. We are not better than you or smarter than you, but we are one of you. Yes we are set apart for service, but gone are the days when pastors should be on a pedestal. We are human and flawed and it’s time that we lead from our scars rather than from our perceived perfection. 
  • Accountability- We can’t do this alone or should we want to do this alone. When we get alone on an island is when it becomes dangerous. We can’t be effective when we are leading from isolation or insulation. Similarly when we are leading from empty, it doesn’t last. When I came to my breaking point and lost everything, I put people around me that I called my personal board of directors who guided my steps to renewal. These men encouraged me, prayed for me and asked me the tough questions. If you don’t have different points of view speaking into your life, you need to stop what you are doing now and rethink that structure. If you only have people around you that enable you or tell you what you want to hear then its time to get some different people in your life. They are doing more harm than good and you are allowing that to happen. Accountability is only as good as your willingness to be transparent. I wish I would have done it this way before I actually did so. 

Burnout and exhaustion isn’t new in ministry. It’s been around forever, but there are new variables in the church today that expose it on a new level. There is increasing pressure to keep up with the world, fill up the seats with people and become more and more relevant than we were the week before. It’s a never ending rat race and a never ending treadmill that is unforgiving and seems to not have an off switch. As leaders we feel if we don’t keep up with it, we will lose everything, our church (which isn’t ours to lose), tithers (not ours either) and our ministry and livelihood. The pressure is enormous and is impossible to live up to. The culture must change, there are too many good people falling by the wayside and eventually leaving ministry. Part of my calling following my situation years ago, is to help pastors from making it to this point. I’m tired of seeing pastors who have lost their passion for ministry and are sleepwalking through the rut of ministry and at times to their family’s detriment. I have a desire to see leaders lead by no longer hiding their scars but rather by exposing them and allowing God to use them for good. God has the ability to take the very thing that the devil desperately uses to try to destroy us and changes others with the stories of our scars and wounds. He has done that with me and he wants to use you to do that as well. 

I was told immediately following the greatest storm of my life, that my greatest days of ministry are ahead of me and not behind. I struggled to believe that but I see the fruit of that today. I believe that still for guys like Pete Wilson and others who may feel tired, broken and hopeless. God did not bring you to this place without using it for His glory and your good. If you are struggling, stop lying to yourself, drop the facade and admit it. Don’t wait, it will only make things worse. I don’t want to be just a guy who writes an article about it, drops the bomb and leaves. I want to be a part of the solution and not the problem. So I am willing to help get leaders on the right path to healing and provide encouragement to you. I wrote a book called Unbroken, Discovering Wholeness Through the Shattered Pieces of Life. It’s a book that many pastors, leaders and anyone who has felt broken have read and have been helped. But I want to go a step further, I want to personally help you. If you are a leader or pastor who is feeling tired, broken and burned out due to any reason, I want to encourage you and talk to you. I am giving you my number, 713-492-5266 and my email, Feel free to drop me a line or call me at any time of the day. I don’t want to see you go through the pain that so many of us had to go through. Let’s stop this epidemic of running on empty, join with me as I pray for restoration over so many who are hurting in ministry today! May God give them a dose of humility, renew their soul, restore their homes and reignite their passion! Heal our broken world!