This is a continuation of my series on my new book, The Power of Passion in Leadership, coming out January 7th on Amazon.
In this episode I cover:
- Piranhas that can rob you of your passion
- Both professional ministers and “ministering professionals” can burn out and become a part of the “walking dead.”
I was speaking at a conference the other day and had a pastor come up to me after I spoke. My talk was titled, “How to know when it’s time to go.” I could tell immediately that he was flat emotionally. “Hans,” he said, “I am totally bored in my job but have no passion to do anything else.” Honestly, my first thought was that I felt sorry for his congregation. I asked him how long he felt this way and what was going on in his life. He shared with me that he had been through intense counseling to get some answers. The professionals told him he was depressed and burned out. This man is truly among the walking dead that I will explore in just a moment. I wanted so much to give him a silver bullet of hope—some easy fix for his heart. Trust me, his situation is not easy to fix.
How does a man like that get there? He is a pastor of a church and is being faithful to the call of God on his life. What is it that takes the former passion completely out of our hearts? In his case it was not that his circles did not overlap–he just lost all passion, period (Check out episode 47 for more information on these circles). His heart had grown cold if not frozen. He could not name one interest or thing that would excite him. That is what I know as severe burnout. I will share some resources in a moment for people who get backed into that corner.
Leadership can wear you out. It is tough being the tip of the spear. The higher you go in leadership, the more eyes you have on you, and the more people there are to drain you. Expectations can drive you mad as everyone has a different version of who you should be and how you should act. There are so many things around you that can eat away at your passion like deadly piranhas. Proverbs 4:23 says it well, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” If we lose our heart we lose our leadership credibility.
Let’s talk about guarding. Here are some of the big passion piranhas that we need to guard against. Time and again the things on this list swim out there and suck the life out of us as we are robbed of all passion:
- Prolonged discouragement
- Opposition to your vision
- Lack of real vacation
- Working way outside of your gifting
- Working with people you don’t care to work with
- Unrealistic expectations of others
- Unrealistic expectations of yourself
- Unending marriage problems in the leader’s marriage
- Constant financial pressure
- A pattern of failure in leadership
- Dysfunctional people pulling you down
- Unhealthy leadership team
- Lack of a leadership team to share the load
- Constant unresolved staff conflict
- Lack of respect for your leaders above you
- Hidden moral failure
- Neglect of your relationship with God
Wow. That is quite a list! I get sort of depressed just reading it over again. If there is a preponderance of these issues plaguing you, you just might need a change! Here is a good exercise to do right now. Go down this list and check off every item that is true in your situation. I won’t give you a scale, but if there are more than a few of these eating away at your heart you can see why you struggle in your leadership. If you like, you can go to this checklist on my website, print it out and actually give yourself a grade with a scoring system for each of the piranhas. It might just be that you will find the explanation of how you got to where you are. Hans’s Passion Piranhas Checklist.
Are You Strolling Among the Walking Dead?
The pastor I met after I spoke the other day was really part of what I call the walking dead. His heart is burned out but his head is trying to keep up appearances as he goes through the motions of his ministry. If you can relate to the struggles I am sharing, I have some hope for you, I promise. If you are happy in your passion zone, you might learn something to help those around you. I will get to bottom line solutions in just a moment.
First I have to cover one or two more topics. One is about the unique place of “calling” for people in ministry. The other is about the unique difference for those of you working in the marketplace versus ministry. It is how I differentiate between professional ministers and ministering professionals.
Some of you listening to this are in full time ministry. The rest of you are working on the other side of the fence out in the marketplace somewhere or in education, government, military, law enforcement or a host of other places. I always like to joke that we who are in full time ministry get “paid to be good.” Everyone else is “good for nothing.”
Leadership is influence, and Christians are great influencers on both sides of that fence. Some of us are professional ministers, but many more are ministering professionals. I really like that. I see a huge passionate impact for God in the world by both groups. Some of my closest friends are you who are living out loud for God in the marketplace, and your ministry there is just as valid as those of us in professional ministry.
Sometimes, honestly, you are more effective than we full time ministry types are. We need the Billy Grahams of the world, but we also need just as many Truett Cathys (Chick-fil-A Founder). Let me speak to each group separately as it comes to matters of the heart and losing passion in your leadership position.
For those of you who are ministering professionals: OK, now I am ready to tell you about Jack, who I referred to earlier. Jack is miserable in his job. He called me the other day for some advice. We talked for about an hour. He runs a company out in California. He is not the owner but he works for a family business. He has really never liked working for the family due to a lot of dysfunctional behavior that takes place there. And he has a ninety-minute commute each way! He told me that when he started working there twenty years ago his commute was forty minutes, but through the years the traffic has gotten a lot worse. He wants to leave so very badly. He told me he is going through the motions for the paycheck.
The sad thing is that Jack runs the place for the family owners! Imagine how everyone else feels who works there? This man spends his days doing work he really does not love or even like. I asked him to listen to my podcast on how to know when it is time to go. He did and got back to me, “So I took your advice and listened to podcast thirty-two – now I desire to leave more than ever – Man, I’m busted big time. Thanks for the good advice and great work, Hans.”
Donna and I have a dear friend who is stuck in a high tech job that she hates. She is a big shot VP and has a fat salary to go with it, but she hates the job, the ridiculously demanding hours, and she hates the toxic culture. There is an exciting new opportunity staring her in the face but she will not act because of fear. She is afraid, because the new thing that is calling her has some risk.
Many people seem to enjoy
The certainty of their misery
Rather than the misery of uncertainty.
Then there is an older man we know in his sixties who has spent his career in financial services. He has plenty of money to retire, and he knows he needs to leave the company. He is bored and no longer engaged, and his coworkers would really like to see him retire. He is taking up space but no longer making a contribution. But he too is paralyzed with fear to step out into something new.
There are plenty of walking dead in all professions. It seems to me that life is too short and too precious to allow the most vibrant years of our lives to be spent doing work we really don’t enjoy. For some great advice and help in this arena, check out my friend Dan Miller’s book and website, “48 Days to The Work You Love”.
For those of you who are professionals in ministry: So what about passion and the calling of God on your life to your place of ministry? As a follower of Christ, His calling on your life affects your passion and your decisions about your career. The crazy thing about Christian leadership is that you can be in love with God and hate your job. Maybe hate is too strong of a word–more like the pastor I described who was just very burned out and bored. Yes, this can happen even when you are following the call of God and working in a church or a ministry. Outsiders might find that puzzling, but if you are inside the world of ministry leadership, you know of what I speak.
We don’t set out to have that happen, but I have seen it occur in far too many Christian leaders. A calling, a passion, a hunger to change the world all fades away and we begin going through the motions of our assignments like the walking dead. I have heard many a pastor whisper to me, “I love God but his sheep drive me crazy.”
Over the years of a long-term leadership assignment, we can subtly morph from passion to paralysis. A calling we once loved and thrived on becomes routine and even boring. Things that jazzed us in our thirties weary us in our fifties. We Christian leaders are expected to always be spiritual and passionate, because we supposedly have a special connection to God. So we subtly become pretenders, not letting on that we don’t feel close to God anymore and don’t really enjoy what we are doing.
I know from firsthand experience that Christians are not always easy people to lead. I have been a pastor, a teacher and the president of a Christian international nonprofit. I love God but his sheep… well, that is another story. Sometimes the very people we lead can snatch the fire right out of our hearts. One of the things that led to my own burnout in my job was resistance to my vision and my leadership. When enough people pour cold water on your dreams it is demoralizing.
And then there is the principle of being promoted right out of our sweet spot. We believe in the work of the ministry that we are doing, but as we rise higher and higher in leadership, we are more disconnected from the front lines of the work, which drew our hearts in the first place. That leadership detachment can kill passion. As I rose in the ranks of leadership in ministry, I found that I missed the front lines–the smell of the gunpowder and the bullets whizzing past my ears. What used to be fulfilling front line ministry is replaced with way too many meetings, reports, conflict management, hiring, firing, fund raising and budgets. All those things that can occupy the life of a top leader can take the fun out of our calling.
The struggles of leadership in ministry can lead to great discouragement. Are you discouraged right now in your role? I meet a lot of you. Pastors are leaving the ministry by the thousands… and the number one reason given is discouragement. Those who don’t leave often wish they could, but struggle with the question, “What else can I do to make a living at this point?” Of course discouragement often leads to depression which, of course, leads to a loss of passion. That is the story of the pastor I met after my talk.
My next episodes will talk about the solutions to this problem: either getting your groove back and re-invigorating your passion, or moving on.