Leadership Pitfall: The Danger of Unnecessary Sacrifice

“What has been my biggest mistake or decision of regret? I have a few, but there is one that stands out among the rest.”

As a minister of nearly 19 years, I’ve often encountered the same question that you probably have: “Pastor, what is the worst thing that you have ever done?”

Now, there are several reasons why someone would ask this. Sometimes he or she is looking for justification for a previous action the person now is questioning or has regret over. At other times the person may want to find hope in comparing my past choices with the potential to where God could bring him or her. Still yet, there are those seeking wisdom who simply just want to learn from others’ mistakes.

No matter the motivation behind the inquiry, it is in those moments, and sometimes hours later alone in the dark, that I’m forced to examine this question, to be honest with myself and with God. It’s that place where I will either ignore this very difficult question I’m facing or attempt to confront it honestly. For me, I found freedom in taking it head on. I decided to answer it, and I want to share it with you today.

So, what has been my biggest mistake or decision of regret? Well, I have a few, but there is one that stands out among the rest—how I continually sacrificed the moment I was in to pursue my next step.

Now, I understand at first glance this statement may appear to run against the grain of most trending leadership principles, but from my own personal experience, I can assure you that at its core it is not. This is because what is often negated from these leadership philosophies is the critical point of identifying a God-designed sacrifice from a destructive, self-created sacrifice.

Unfortunately, I spent most of my later teens, entire 20s and first few years of my 30s eagerly driving and pursuing my next step and big adventure in life. I was consumed with my next degree, next job, next house, next opportunity—next everything!

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Because of this high drive, I gained a reputation for my high capacity to complete tasks, rise to the top among competitors, accomplish very challenging and sometimes what appeared to be impossible goals. These were primarily in ministry, but also in other places of employment as a previously bivocational pastor.

So, all that sounds positive, right? That is because you do not know the truth behind the scenes—that in accomplishing so much I was accomplishing nothing of real value. It was in the honest evaluation of these experiences that I came to realize another critical truth, something that has forever changed my life and the entire reason I’m addressing you today: In continually pushing doors open, you miss the joys of the room you are in.

Now, I realize that I can’t get those rooms of time back and I have come to fully accept that. People have moved on, kids have grown older and so many of those precious moments have now passed.

But what I can do is live my life differently from this moment forward. I can sit down in the room of time that I’m now in and enjoy the ever so quickly passing moments with those I love so dearly. I can learn to pursue my next steps with God while still resting in his plans and purposes for my life as he clearly opens doors, rather than me relentlessly pushing on them.

My prayer for you today is that you would not make the same big mistake as I did. Or, if you are stuck in the place of tirelessly striving, you would follow my decision to know the joy of savoring the moment you are in. I now understand Jesus’ words in a brand-new light: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

L. J. Johnson is an associate pastor at Christ Alive Church in Newton, North Carolina.

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