The path of leadership is never constant; there are always highs and lows, good days and bad days. The challenge is to remain consistent through it all. Consistency elevates people’s trust and confidence in your leadership.
We are different in our wiring and current circumstances, but there are clear patterns in the conversations I’ve had with more than thirty church leaders over the past two weeks. As an overview, they tend to group up like this.
- For some, it’s about great momentum, progress, and keeping up—more success than setbacks.
- For others, it’s more about struggle and maybe discouragement. More questions than answers.
- For all, it’s about solving problems, making decisions, and carrying pressure.
Church leadership always carries with it seasons of success and setbacks, momentum and grind, joy and discouragement. Yet, we all do better through those seasons when we have learned the rhythms of resilience — the lifelines we need.
The highs alone are not enough to sustain you through the lows.
Even if you have been blessed with great success and sustained momentum, certain lifelines allow you to keep going with depth, meaning, and joy.
6 sustaining lifelines worth fighting for:
You’ll notice that this list isn’t about more to do but enables you to do more.
1) Margin to think
One of the highest priorities in a leader’s life that ministry can steal from your calendar is time to think. Fight for that time.
Dedicated think time is essential. Don’t fall into the misconception that we are thinking all the time. We are not. Our minds are like powerful software that functions on autopilot for much of our day. Set aside time to think.
Problem-solving is the primary way we as leaders invest most of our focused think time. Other specific categories of thinking are, for example, writing a talk, spiritual and self-reflection (including scripture,) and discerning culture.
The desired outcome of intentional think time is new insight that guides your decisions and informs the direction of your leadership.
New insight doesn’t mean a thought never before conceived, but fresh and relevant solutions, personal insight, increased self-awareness, and understanding of culture.
2) Reason to laugh
It’s unfortunate to go a whole day with no reason to laugh. Yes, there are days with a full agenda and nothing particularly light-hearted, but even on those days, there is reason to smile if we look for it.
Some leaders have personalities that find laughter quickly. Others need to work at it. Neither is right nor wrong, but it’s always true that laughter is a great medicine and a powerful leadership lifeline.
Because of my passion, schedule, and sometimes intensity, there are days I can become overly focused. So, one of my reminders is a little smooth stone on my desk that literally has the word “laugh” painted on it.
Kind of dumb, I know. But it works.
I see it and smile. It reminds me that no matter the circumstance, I have much to be grateful for and that joy is a choice.
How about you? Do you look for laughter and create light-hearted moments?
3) Permission to rest
You don’t need anyone’s permission to rest, but that’s not the problem. But, unfortunately, we often don’t permit ourselves to rest. Is that a struggle for you?
A great deal is written about the importance of nightly sleep, but I’m referring to periods of your working day where you have some time to catch your breath.
I will admit this is not one of my strengths, so I’m writing out of some failure and some success, enough of both to know that running at full speed is not a lifeline to longevity or effective ministry leadership.
Rest during the race of leadership is about learning your rhythms of intensity. The goal isn’t to empty your calendar; it’s a rhythm of leadership activity that allows you to catch your breath before the next more intense engagement.
It could be doing thirty minutes of email before a long, complex meeting or exercising before several more intense meetings. On the other hand, it might simply be twenty minutes of quiet reflection or taking a walk outside and returning to write a message. These kinds of ideas are practiced in weekly and monthly rhythms as well.
4) Space to heal
It’s impossible to lead and not be hurt. The real issue is knowing how to heal and return to soul-level emotional and spiritual health rather than becoming withdrawn or even bitter.
Emotional and spiritual space to heal starts with grace for your soul. There is no need to manufacture it on your own; God gives you this grace. Your job is to receive it.
These 4 steps are not easy, but they are as simple as they appear. Don’t make them complicated; lean in.
- Admit when you are hurt. Don’t stuff it in an attempt to be a strong leader.
- Do not put energy into revenge or withdrawal. Instead, face the hurt and have the honest conversations.
- Give yourself space and time to heal; this is a true leadership lifeline, but don’t let yourself get stuck there. (You may need some counseling.)
- Choose a coach or mentor to test your resolve and closure, so you know you are fully ready to forgive and move on. The baggage of carrying hurt (pain) is too heavy to carry and lead simultaneously.
5) Time to pray
Time to pray may be obvious, but I mention it for two reasons.
- Many leaders confide that they are unhappy or satisfied with their current prayer life.
- Prayer is the most powerful asset we have.
That being the case, it is always good to call attention to prayer, a true lifeline!
The good news about prayer is that it’s not a performance thing. It’s a relationship with God, who loves you and desires to bless you. Time is needed, but it’s more about time to sit, reflect, listen, and drink in the presence of God.
I encourage you to pick a time that works, a place that is conducive, and find a pattern you find personally helpful.
6) Initiative to grow
Your desire to grow as a leader is deeply connected to your calling, passion, and gifting. A lack of desire to grow signifies deeper things that require your attention first.
Desire alone to grow as a leader isn’t enough. True desire reveals itself through initiative. Action plus effort and energy are required to grow.
The great thing about your development as a leader is that your church is automatically the environment of your growth. Your job allows you to practice the skill or ability you are working on and measure improvement regularly.
You can begin by identifying a specific area you desire to grow and focus on. If you are not sure, ask your boss or a trusted advisor.
Don’t make a long list of all the things that you want to get better at. Pick one. Maybe two. The way to distill your list is to discern which one or two will help you advance your organizational responsibilities the most.
In this way, you grow, and the organization does too. That’s a huge win-win.
I hope these lifelines are helpful to you, and you can add one more in the comments.
8 thoughts on “6 Sustaining Lifelines for Leaders”
Dan, this is an excellent collections of valuable advice which applies to every leader in the church. Thanks for these thoughts. David Roadcup
Thank you David. Glad this is helpful to you.
Great, practical advice. I really enjoyed your point about “Space to Think”. That seems to go out the window when things get crazy… and it’s so vital! Thanks for your continual investment into leaders, Dan!
I appreciate you and your dedication to lead others well!
It is a wonderful message, I really appreciate your message .
Thank you, Dan. This was quite timely as I am dealing with a significant hurt. I am grateful for the four steps reminder.
Quick and refreshing tips for leaders. I have bought both your books and have learned much from them. Keep up the good work, Dan.