Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.
St. Paul, First Timothy 4:16
My favorite definition of leadership comes from John Piper: Spiritual leadership is knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to get them there by God’s methods in reliance on God’s power.
Within that definition, there is the assumption that, as leaders, we have spiritual, emotional, and pastoral resources necessary to take initiative and move people to the right place.
Leadership Renewal, as I call it, is the process of ongoing self-reflection and personal development to maintain these internal resources needed for pastoral leadership in a complex world. We know and teach that all believers must practice spiritual rhythms to remain balanced and growing in life with God. But do we as pastor-leaders understand and practice the right rhythms of life to—in addition to being balanced and growing in Christ—also be balanced and growing in the calling of leading souls?
Leadership Renewal has three components: Spiritual Formation (the leader’s orientation toward God and reality; the normative perspective); Personal Integrity (the orientation toward self; the existential perspective); and Leadership Fruitfulness (the orientation toward the world; the situational perspective). How is the leader “renewed” in these three components?
Formation comes about through time in God’s Word and in prayer. Integrity develops through Spirit-led self-reflection. And fruitfulness, the goal of spiritual leadership, occurs when the leader aligns his rhythms of life with his God-given personal calling. Given my frequent writing on formation, allow me to focus on the latter two of these three dynamics.
Last April, I was in Atlanta getting certified as a leadership coach, and had the opportunity to spend a week with Dave Sander (who had recently retired as Executive Director of Campus Crusade International and an old buddy of Bill Bright’s). I was describing to him the challenges I was facing in life and ministry—I was just about to transition out of my campus role at East and into the global community role, my wife was seven months pregnant. Finally, he stopped me and said a sentence I may never forget:
“Jeremy, one thing will determine if you have a long career in spiritual leadership: whether or not you have the courage to meet the demands of reality.”
This is the definition of integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality. Think of the design and construction of an airplane. Airplanes are designed according to their purpose; their use determines everything that goes into the design. A fighter plane has to have lightweight, flexible metals so that it can be launched off an aircraft carrier. Every jet must have the right structural integrity necessary to meet the demands of its reality (the air pressure, speed, temperature). Integrity is the word used for a metal’s consistency; its ability to do what it was designed to do under immense pressure. Integrity is a state of being undivided/whole.
It’s the same with personal integrity: it all depends on the demands of your reality. We have to have wisdom to know why we exist, what purposes God intends us to accomplish, what demands will be placed upon us, what pressures we’ll be exposed to… We have to be consistent, undivided, and whole in order to meet the various demands of our reality.
Of course, meeting the demands of reality as one whole person takes courage. It’s easier to be one person at work, another at home, another at church. That’s the definition of a hypocrite—one who wears different faces for different audiences. Integrity is about being consistent, undivided—one life before God, family, friends, co-workers, in private.
My purpose is to be a child of God, first and foremost. Second, to be a husband; third, a father; fourth, a pastor; fifth, working professional; also, a friend, family member… Although our God-given purpose is always personally unique, most of these components will be ranked in the same order for each of us.
But in my personal life and my professional coaching experience, THE critical question for leadership renewal is: What is my reality? What demands (pressures and forms of stress) are being placed on me?
What is Your Reality?
Each aspect of our purpose has corresponding realities: as children of God, we must practice communion with God in order to thrive spiritually—that takes time and energy. As husbands, we must spend intentional time with our wives, cultivating our relationship by listening, asking questions, encouraging and praying. As dads, we have the realities of midnight diapers and lost sleep; as pastors, we have immense spiritual responsibilities, we have the relational demands of 4000 people; we have the demands of work—deadlines, budgets, meetings, relationships, conflict, etc. Plus we have to keep the realities of our bodies in mind: we have to make time for adequate sleep, a good diet, proper exercise, etc. And then some of us have additional realities, like managing a chronic illness or raising a developmentally disabled child—these things are crucial parts of our reality.
Have you really considered what unique demands affect your leadership capacity? Leadership Renewal is all about this ongoing process: Spirit-led process of self-reflection to cultivate integrity and growth.
So where and how do we begin? Here are three steps I encourage in my coaching relationships.
Know Your Time
The old management genius, Peter Drucker, wrote that the very first step to achieving balance and clarity in these things is incredibly simple: keep a time log for 4 weeks. On a simple worksheet, write out what you do every hour of the day, and after 28 days, reflect on where your time is going. (I’m currently leading our 40+ Sojourn elders through this project!)
Most leaders object, “I already know exactly where my time is going.” But I’ve done this with a lot of guys and typically the ones who don’t think they need it are the ones who are most deceived about their time.
Think about it this way: All of us, hopefully, live on a very detailed budget. The only way to budget for the month ahead is to know where your money went last month, as specifically as possible. And if you have detailed records of all your expenses for a full year, then you’re able to pick up on major trends and build into your budget the adequate amount of “margin.”
I think all of us would say the only more precious and fleeting commodity in our world than money is time. How much more important is it to track where all of our time is going, especially over long periods of time! Just like with our finances, our expenses of time reveal our true priorities.
We all have idealized priorities and actual priorities. Idealized priorities are simple: we write down a list of what’s most important. God first, family second, church third, work fourth, golf fifth, and so on. But your actual priorities can only be discovered by working backwards from your time.
Remember, the goal of integrity is to be one fully integrated, whole-istic man, whose idealized priorities are reflected perfectly by his actual priorities. Before anything else, you must know your time.
Clarify Your Calling
Second, in order to practice ongoing leadership renewal, you have to frequently clarify your calling.
I’m referring to our calling as the combination of our God-given purpose and our God-given realities. Because our realities change with each season of life, so much of how our calling plays out in everyday life is ever-changing. We have to frequently clarify our calling. So how do we do this?
(1) God’s Word – what does God say about you and your calling in his Word?
(2) Prayer/Reflection – what demands are upon you, where is the Lord leading you?
(3) Feedback – what are others around you affirming or challenging?
St. Paul encouraged young Pastor Timothy:
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Spend time in reflection: What has God called you to be and do? What have your council of elders called you to be and do? What does it look like to “immerse yourself” in your calling? What rhythms are necessary to “keep a close watch on yourself”? Answering these questions allows you to clarify your calling.
Manage Your Energy
Lastly, time, like money, is a precious commodity and a great revealer. But the goal is not a well-kept schedule; the goal is a well-kept soul.
So, mange your energy first, then your time. In other words, listen to what your soul is saying, not just what the calendar says.
Moses charged the Israelites, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.”
Recognize how the demands of your life affect the deepest core of your being—your soul. Ask how your soul is doing? Is it thriving under these demands? Maybe you’re able to keep your calendar and responsibilities and manage yourself well… But your soul is suffering. You have to take time and effort to “manage your soul diligently.” You need margin in your budget; you need margin in your schedule; you need margin in your soul.
When our energy reserves are running low, regardless of what the schedule says, we need to take a break to recharge physically. Ignoring your body’s warning signs and energy levels is taking a great risk. There’s terrifying research about the effects of long-term stress on the human body. And typically our souls suffer under prolonged stress way before our bodies do.
It’s like the dating advice that Hitch gives: “when a woman is talking, listen and respond.” When your body aches and needs a break, listen and respond. When your soul is weak and weary, listen and respond. When your marriage is struggling, listen and respond. When your kids are distant, listen and respond.
“Keep your soul diligently.” For what good would it be, as Jesus said, “for a man to gain the whole world yet forfeit his soul?” We are all aiming at the same thing: deep godliness, a thriving family, and a fruitful ministry and career.
Leadership is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you start running a marathon at a full sprint, you’ll wear out in a half mile. Distance running not only requires a different pace, it requires different muscles and a different technique. You can’t just sprint slower; you have to learn and practice distance running.
If you started out your leadership life at a dead sprint—like I did, before picking up a chronic illness at 28—you need to adjust your technique, slow your pace, and focus on the finish line… that you can’t even see.
Lord willing, at the end of our leadership run, we’ll be able to look back on this phase of our lives and say that, although we were far from perfect, we were self-reflective, Spirit-led, well-balanced, renewal-focused leaders.