A spiritual director once asked me the most difficult question I've had to answer as a pastor: "Who listens to you?" God and/or spouse were not one of the choices. At the time, I was on an individual spiritual retreat in the mountains far away from my parish, and she was asking one the basic questions that many church leaders, clergy and otherwise, avoid. Are you leading on empty? is another way to ask the same question.
That's why I am so grateful for the bent of Wayne Cordeiro's Leading on Empty. Cordeiro is a successful church planter and pastor. He speaks around the world. The book is a multifaceted approach to the costs not taking care of ourselves, such as burnout and depression. In continually referencing his own story of recovery from suffering a nervous breakdown, Cordeiro, doesn't attempt a "one size fits all" paradigm for health, but rather, offers wisdom and insight as someone who's been there. Moreover, his continued recovery- and struggles- adds authenticity to his account.
Cordeiro's willingness to share his experience is what is so helpful. His physician told him that, in order to recover his health and heal his energy reserves, he would need to take a year off from any ministry role. Arguing that one year was out of the question, Cordeiro's physician then told him to take six months off. They finally both agreed on a three month time line. This fit into the summer season. Much of the book, then, is about what Cordeiro has learned in the recovery, and choosing life-changes necessary for long term health and functioning in ministry.
For example, instead of waiting for a crisis, which most highly functioning pastors will probably experience sometime after seven years of ministry, monitor your energy level. You can do this by finding an aspect of ministry, a mission, that you really enjoy- where the energy seems to flow almost naturally.
Although doing our passion offers a God-given immunity from depleting our reserves, the fire can also burn us up, so certain disciplines are non-negotiable, according to Cordeiro. One is daily time for a spiritual discipline. The book suggests starting with reading a chapter of Proverbs a day for a month. Try the SOAP model daily (read the Scripture text, record or journal your Observations on the text and Actions in response to it, and finally, let the text lead you in what and how to Pray).
Some other non-negotiables are time away, family time, and spiritual counsel. Time away should be a regular practice, and the book suggests something equal to a full day of sabbath once a month, combined with a two- three months each year. Sabbaths are not the same as a weekly "day off." A suggested schedule for the sabbath day includes journaling, reading, study, setting priorities, and calendaring strategically. No phone calls or emails, or text-ing though. Another non-negotiable is time and connection with family and vacationing with them once they are young adults. Seeking the guidance of a therapist and/or a spiritual mentor, companion or director will provide you with what you are offering to others: someone who listens to you in love and who can see what you cannot see in yourself.
We cannot, finally, offer what we do not have. That, to me, is the gift of Leading On Empty. Everyone wants to be able to give from a full cup. Isn't it better to maintain that reserve rather than running until we hit the wall? Cordeiro's book invites us to begin and continue that journey toward wholeness and holiness. Just don't wait for the crisis as he did.
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