I want to spend the rest of my time on the issue of capacity:
Let me highlight two things that will help you retain and grow your capacity for glorifying God in leadership: sustainability with joy; team life
Peter Brain says in his excellent book “Going the Distance” that he often hears phrases like “I would rather burn out than rust out”. Neither of which, he says, are biblical. The biblical paradigm is finishing the race. It is very easy to go from saying “I will work hard”, to setting up work patterns that are actually unsustainable. Here is what happens: we look at a potentially infinite workload, and at a set of congregational expectations that are beyond anyone’s capacity to meet, and decide we will meet them.
Imagine a graph of least acceptable and most doable. Where do most leaders live their lives? At the most doable end. The problems this creates include: no capacity for driving godly future vision, unsustainability in the long term and cheating our families to satisfy the church. We will be driven by visible activity because that will seem like the only measure of success that we or our congregation can point to. And therefore our secret prayer life will suffer.
There are no easy measures of success to what we do, until the final judgment. If we allow visible activity to become that measure, then we will need to be seen to be doing stuff all the time. Peter Brain points out very well where that leads: you will end up working 15 hours a week more than anyone thinks you are, being drained by that extra amount more than anyone expects, and feeling like you have to respond to every demand for something visible.
It is interesting that most churches have in their contracts with the pastor something like “we employ you for the ministry of the word and prayer.” If you say to them that you will therefore spend half a day of work time a week praying for the church, all of a sudden you find that people don’t actually think that is real work.
You can sustain that kind of expectation for a while but not for ever. Your love for God, your passion for his glory in your life, your prayer life will go eventually. If you are not with the Lord for his sake in the secret place, then you will not lead for the glory of God. In fact you will put on a show, you will hide the rubbish bits and the failures in your life and you will open up a gulf between where you know you should lead others and the fact that your work patterns mean you aren’t there yourself.
And it gets worse the older you get. You won’t have the same capacity for activity in 15 years time that you do now. You won’t have the same capacity as your families grow. If you establish visible activity as your measure of success, if you establish that 105% full steam is the normal expectation, then as soon as you can’t sustain it anymore, you will feel that is failure and everyone else will too.
I want to warn you that the rate of long term leaders leaving ministry humanly speaking prematurely is at an all time high. Don’t think you are not in danger of that, we are all in danger of that. None of them expected to. And one of the main factors was the establishment of patterns that didn’t take account of feeding their souls freshly every day. Souls eventually seize up under the unceasing demands. When they do, leading to the glory of God has come to a halt.
We have to know ourselves and when we meet the law of diminishing returns. How many hours a month do you do before you start pushing paper around the desk? How many things do you take responsibility for before your prayer life shuts down? And you mustn’t let your patterns be decided by the congregations view of the last person in the job. “He did all this and more, so why can’t you?” It has been well said that as soon as we see ourselves as the servants of the agenda of the congregation we are sunk. There are too many competing demands and none of them know how long you spend on your knees, how long in confidential pastoral visiting, how long it takes to prepare a sermon.
Here is the important practical question for you: what do leadership patterns look like for me that allow me to lead out of a place of stillness with God, joy in God and a personal, white hot passion for the glory of God? What leadership patterns would make me stray out and stay out of that place? What will put me, for the long haul in a place of spiritual vitality and capacity, what demands would put me in a place of long term attrition for my soul?
John Wesley said: Although I am always in haste I am never in a hurry because I never take on more than I can do with a quiet spirit