“We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence.” ~ Mother Teresa
I feel really privileged to work with faith leaders. It inspires my hope for the world that I know so many brilliant, courageous men and women who are working so hard to make it a better place for us all. There may be evil everywhere; Lord knows it definitely gets more air time on the newsfeeds. But there’s a lot of good out there too, going head to head with the darkness every day. That’s a very hopeful thought to me.
Of course, even the best of us is only human, and you don’t work in a job like mine without seeing trends in the ways the darkness most often, and most effectively, undermines leaders and takes them out. We regularly hear stories of yet another leader’s “moral failure,” by which we mean they got mixed up sexually with something or someone they shouldn’t have, but I don’t think that’s what takes out the vast majority of leaders who crash and burn ~ not by a long shot.
The greater danger is, unfortunately, much less scintillating, and much more tolerated in the leadership world. Some leaders, ironically, even consider it a sign of how hyper-committed they are to Christ. But it’s not. It’s a deathtrap; a slow poison that chokes the life out of the soul and turns a leader impotent long before he finally burns out.
I’m talking about the ever-present battle in leaders’ lives between the Urgent and That Which Matters Most. You’d be surprised to know how many spiritual leaders tell me they feel disconnected from God, and rarely if ever hear his voice anymore. You’d be surprised how many have chronic health issues tied to stress, how many are exhausted, how many lack even one authentic friendship, how many feel like they don’t even know their spouse anymore…and the sad list goes on.
It’s not as though God has left them. Really. It isn’t that at all. The problem is that somewhere along the way somebody (guess who?) convinced them that serving the Voice of the Urgent was the same as serving the Voice of God, only faster and more effective. But it’s not. Urgent is a small “g” god. A usurper. A charlatan masquerading as effective ministry. So what if you build a megachurch and thousands of people know your name, if the entire endeavor costs you your soul?
Mistaking the call of the Urgent as the call of God, these leaders, now perpetually short on time, start whittling away at That Which Matters Most. They no longer linger with God. They meet him on the go. Five minutes here; 15 minutes there. Their longest prayer times, ironically, are often when they’re teaching others to pray. The branch they are begins to whither from the Vine, and what was a deep love affair devolves into a work-based relationship, and then, slowly, to nothing much at all. A memory, perhaps. Nostalgia. “Ministry” becomes a desperate attempt to get God to show up again, like he did “back when.”
But it usually doesn’t stop there, for Urgent is a terrible god. Leaders often stop caring for their health as well. They eat poorly. They don’t sleep enough. They stop having fun…of any kind. Family becomes another casualty. Kids are estranged, and angry, even if they don’t know quite why. (How can a kid expect to compete against God for a parent’s attention? Isn’t it wrong to even think such a thing?) Date nights with the spouse, if they happen at all, become little more than obligations on the monthly task list.
So…this is the compelling life that draws others to Christ? Not even close. And these leaders know it, deep down they do, even if they try to hide it, and even if they don’t have the slightest notion how to dig out of this pit, or even which way is up.
I wonder how many beautiful, courageous hearts have been taken out this way ~ not for lack of passion but for lack of Him?
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)
If what’s written in this post describes you, Leader, even if only in part, then here is what I would say to you, as a message from the great Lover of our souls: You haven’t lost Jesus, even if it feels like you have. He’s close; as close as your own breath, even now. His invitation is to courageously walk away from the Urgent, to drop the burden that serving the Urgent has placed on your shoulders, and to come away with him and become a learner again.
Have hope. There is another way.
How do you handle the battle between the Urgent and That Which Matters Most?
P.S. ~ Next week, I’ll post some practical steps you can take to get out from under the thumb of the Urgent Taskmaster.