Live and Lead Well (Pt. 2)
In my last article, we looked at two of the keys in moving toward maintaining a healthy soul. Those things were: 1) Taking personal responsibility for our own spiritual health, and 2) Identifying and combating what I call the “soul toxins” within ourselves and our society. (If you’ve not yet done so, you can read all that in Part 1).
We will now pick up where we left off. What follows here are two more critical practices in moving toward (and maintaining) a healthy soul. I believe these two are so critical for spiritual leaders today. Not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all those who are part of our ministry.
3. Focus on LIVING WELL, not just leading well.
To live well you must create space in your life – In 2010, millions of Toyota vehicles were recalled due to accelerator problems. Toyota, apart from the costs of fixing the issue, will pay out billions of dollars to settle class action suits. They’ve had a massive “accelerator problem,” and so do a lot of people here today.
Many of us live with a stuck accelerator. The frantic pace of life can be seen everywhere. We just accept it as part of life in the 21st century. And as Christians we have no trouble rationalizing our velocity. After all, time is short, and we’re going fast for Jesus. We have been scammed into believing that an insane pace is simply the price tag of the “good life”.
Our addiction to speed is pervasive. Filling up every second and compressing time characterizes our generation. We keep the pedal to the metal, trying to grab every possible opportunity. Adrenaline is our hormone of choice.
So, what does God have to say about all of this… about the pace of our life, about managing our time, about our obsession with work?
- The QUALITY of your life has everything to do with the space in your life.
Much about 21st century life is unfriendly to a healthy rhythm of life. And it’s contrary to many of our cultural and family values… all our lives we are taught to go harder and go faster. More and more we live in a world that is open for business 24 hours a day… all the more reason that learning a healthy rhythm is crucial. You can’t live life at warp speed without warping your soul. You can’t follow Jesus at a sprint.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)
Your pace of life is usually in competition with your space for life. And the great spiritual irony of it all is this: when we are inactive externally, God is active internally. Thomas Moore wrote, “The vessel in which soul-making takes place is an inner container scooped out by reflection and wonder.”
In other words, imagine your life as a container or bucket. Your life is full with things, pressures, distractions, temptations, and fast-paced living. It is reflection and wonder (solitude) that scoops these out of our soul. It is through being quiet that we make room to meet God and let him do the work that he longs to do in us.
When I create space and I learn to pay attention and listen. It is in those moments where the soul is forged and prepared to deal with the temptation and seduction of the public and noisy exterior world. Jesus could stand strong in public because he stood still in private. It was in the unseen and unnoticed spaces of life that Jesus developed an unshakable identity.
We live in a universe defined by rhythm and space. – The noteworthy poet and philosopher Noah benShea writes, “It’s the space between the notes that makes the music.” The same is true of life. We must have space between the notes (rhythm) to make life work as God designed it.
These rhythms are all over the created order, if we just stopped to look. We breathe in, and we breathe out. The sun rises, and sets. The tides comes in, and goes out. To build muscle, you must have both intense effort and restful recovery.
Jesus regularly took time to live in the spaces between the notes. He often withdrew from the demands of life to be alone and to be with his Father. He also helped the disciples embrace the idea of rhythm.
Your Creator designed you to live “in rhythm”… but if you violate this, you will pay the price. When you ignore a healthy rhythm of life, you are doing violence to your body, your soul, your relationships, your emotions, and to your relationship with God. You are violating the way God made you to live.
- “SABBATH” is one of God’s strategies for helping us have space in our life.
This idea of rhythm traces its roots all the way back to creation. Genesis 2:2, the Bible says that on the 7th day, God rested. That is, he moved from creating to reflecting. This is the first thing that God makes “holy” in all of Scripture. In Exodus, God then established what we now call the SABBATH. This principle was so important that God made it the 4th commandment (Ex 20:8-10). The word sabbath literally means “to stop” or “to cease”. In Deuteronomy God repeats this command.
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 5:12-14a (NIV)
Sabbath is anchored in creation and in our “chosen-ness”. It is interesting to note, that when this commandment is repeated in Deuteronomy, a different basis is given:
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deut. 5:15)
In Deuteronomy 5, Sabbath was meant to be a mark of our unique relationship with God. One of things that makes Gods people different is that they STOP. In Egypt, there was no rest, no day off. They were and enslaved people. Now, as God delivers them, their value is not in what they can produce. Their value was in their relationship. It would do us well to remember: “I can do nothing and still be valuable to God.”
Part of what happens when we stop is that we experience his grace that is completely disconnected from what I accomplish. That my friends is a “gift”. On Sabbath, I am not Lance the pastor, Lance the leader, Lance the financial provider, or Lance the Replenish guy. I am simply a beloved son.
The New Testament makes it clear, the Sabbath is not a “have to”, it is a “get to”. Jesus‘ primary teaching was that “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk. 2:27) Sabbath is not the litmus test of your spiritual life. It is simply a means to create space to live healthy and know God deeply.
I believe this idea of rhythm is core to your spiritual formation because it creates space for you to be with God. Practically speaking, here are the five elements that I’ve found to be key components for a healthy “Sabbath”:
- Prepare… what would it take to prepare for Sabbath?
- Stop…what is most challenging for you to stop for 24 hours?
- Rest…for you, what does a day of rest look like?
- Delight…what kinds of things would be life-giving on a Sabbath?
- Worship… in what ways could you connect with God on a Sabbath?
- To live well you must integrate authentic spiritual practices
Your highest calling is to love and pursue Jesus. That is not the same as pursuing your ministry. This seems like Christianity 101, but after 30 years of ministry I can tell you this is easier said than done. Learning to integrate spiritual practices in my life has been huge in keeping my heart soft and connected to Jesus.
Over the years some of those practices have been fasting, solitude, unhurried prayer, personal retreat, Sabbath, lingering over scripture. The authentic practice of spiritual disciplines in your life will help you pay better attention to the subtle voice of God and working of God in your soul.
Two reminders as you seek to make these practices authentic:
- Intentionality requires getting these practices on your calendar! This is where the rubber meets the road. Your good intentions alone won’t move you to a healthy soul.
- Never lose sight of the fact that your ministry is not as valuable as your relationship with Jesus. Someday the trappings of ministry will fade away. We’ll move out of our church office. We won’t have a business card or a title. The spotlight will turn to someone else. Someone brighter, quicker, younger, thinner, and with more hair will take your spot. But if you’ve been pursuing Jesus more than ministry, it will be ok.
As a leader, we must give ourselves first and foremost to these convictions. As we do this, our next focus becomes those whom we are leading. This is where “living well” and “leading well” meet.
4. Make “health” a priority for your team.
- Integrate spiritual practices into the RHYTHM of your team life
You have to get this on your radar! We get so busy trying to grow the organization that we neglect to grow and develop our team. If your team is the greatest asset you have, then it is not only right to invest in them, but it is also strategic to the fulfillment of the vision. A healthy staff culture does not happen by accident. Just like you will never drift into a healthy marriage, you won’t drift into a healthy staff culture.
Let me say this loud and clear. You cannot assume just because you are in a church or ministry that your team is spiritually and emotionally healthy. Take time to ask; to lead; to pray; to open the Scriptures with your team and practice some of those spiritual disciplines together.
- Value PERSONAL CARE as much as productivity.
I remember years ago talking to a friend about my marriage. I asked him “what can I do to make my wife feel more valued?” He said “Well, maybe if you truly start valuing her she will feel valued.” OUCH! I was looking for some quick fix, for some technique that would make her feel valued. My friend was wise enough to point me to my own heart.
A lot of leaders want the quick fix. So, once a year we have a staff Christmas party and think we have celebrated and personally cared for our staff. While the staff Christmas party might be a good thing, that’s not the kind of personal care I am talking about.
I am talking about the kind of personal care that regularly communicates “what matters most is not what we want from them, but what we want for them.” “We care about your marriage. We care about your kids. We care about your health. We care about your walk with God. We care about your rhythm of life. We want you to be at your kids soccer games. We want you to have your day off. We want you to take your vacation time."
In his book Relational Intelligence, Steve Saccone (p.174) says “Consumers always look for what they can take from others, while investors always look for what they can give to others.” Do those we lead feel like people who are invested in or like a commodity that is consumed?
To make people feel invested in it starts with personal care. It could be as simple as a one minute hallway conversation that is personal rather than ministry related. It could be praying for and with someone about a personal matter rather than a ministry goal. It could be reminding a young staff member to spend time with their kids because they will never get these days back.
- Develop a leadership RULE OF LIFE…
What creates dysfunction in a team is what creates dysfunction in any relationship: colliding expectations. Because of our different personalities, backgrounds, and experiences we all show up with our own picture of what “team” means and how a team should function. This is further complicated by the fact that most organizations and churches do not articulate expectations regarding “how we do team around here”.
It is very possible to have organizational clarity and team chaos. You can have functional plans but dysfunctional teams. Here are some practical examples you might make in defining team “ground rules”.
“We will openly voice and express our own opinions and it is safe to voice contrary opinions.”
“We will follow through with our commitments.”
“We will agree to support and invest in each other personally and professionally.”
“We will pray for each other and with each other.”
“We will hold and respect all confidences.”
“We will have frank and open discussion within the room, solidarity outside the room.”
“We will strive to help each other win.”
- Craft a culture of HONOR
“Be devoted to one another in brother love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
The best translation of this phrase in Romans 12:10 is “lead the way in honoring others above yourself”. One scholar translated this phrase “try to out do one another in showing respect”. I love this because it is the opposite of our normal competitive spirit. Our human nature competes to show we are the best… but Paul says, “you want to compete, be competitive in showing honor”
Having a culture of honor doesn’t mean we don’t have hard, honest conversations. A culture of honor doesn’t mean we give a free pass to dysfunction. 11 times in Proverbs it talks about correction and rebuke, and in each verse, a rebuke is seen as a gift.
Honor starts with being secure enough in my identity in Christ, to be able to focus on the well being of others. I have nothing to prove. Honor is valuing people ahead of projects, and appreciating the beauty of our diversity. And remember, those in prominent positions should take special care to show appreciation and honor to those who hold less prominent positions.
"The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." (1 Cor 12:21-25)