There’s a secret many leaders won’t readily tell you.
One of the most difficult aspects of Christian leadership is keeping your relationship with God fresh and alive.
It’s amazing to me that a frequent casualty of Christian leadership is a leader’s personal walk with God.
I have had to regularly engage this battle for two decades now. So have so many leaders I’ve talked to.
I realize if I don’t engage the battle, I’ll lose it.
The question today is: How exactly does that happen?
Here’s how it starts—at least for me.
THE STRUGGLE STARTS INNOCENTLY ENOUGH
Drifting away from the God who loves you happens innocently enough:
You start out in ministry with enthusiasm and passion.
You get “burned” a few times by people and the challenges of leadership, and your heart grows a little hard.
You confuse what you do (your work) with who you are (a follower of Jesus) and the line between what is personal and what is vocational becomes blurry.
You end up cheating your personal devotions by reading the passage you’re working on for Sunday. Or not reading much Scripture at all.
You end up so focused on strategy and execution that the mystery and supernatural aspect of Christian leadership get lost.
The services you lead become technical and clinical rather than life-giving and awe-inspiring because you’re focused on executing them well.
You find yourself singing words that used to mean something and preaching words that once sounded more personal and alive than they currently do.
You still believe in your head, but you’ve lost your heart.
I have drifted into or close to that territory in seasons, and as soon as I do I realize it’s a terrible and unsustainable place to be in, let alone stay in.
A SEARING QUESTION
I have tried to keep this issue front and center in my life because I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ who gains the world (or even a small slice of it) and loses his soul.
A few years ago I landed on a question that forces me to be 100 percent honest about where I am with God.
If I weren’t in ministry tomorrow, what would be left of my faith?
In other words, if ministry came to a dead halt:
Would I still passionately love God?
Would I have lots left to pray about?
Would I want to lead people to Jesus?
Would I wake up grateful?
Would I still confess my sin?
Would I live out of an overflow of my relationship with God?
If the answer to these questions is “I’m not sure” or “No,” I have a problem.
And so, I try to foster a personal relationship with God that runs independently of anything I do in Christian leadership. I try to remember that God loves me, not what I produce. That in the end who I am matters so much more than what I do.
SO WHAT HELPS?
There are many components to staying healthy spiritually over the long term. You need a close circle of friends for support and accountability (I wrote about how to develop an inner circle here).
You need to pray.
You need to cultivate an interior life that is greater than your exterior life (I write about that in detail in my new book).
But here’s what I find. It’s so simple you might dismiss it, but I can’t. It’s just always true:
The more I engage the Scriptures, the more I engage God.
When I read the Bible personally, I grow closer to God. When I skip or skim, I don’t.
And this is also the area in which I find many leaders and so many Christians struggle.
5 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR SCRIPTURE ENGAGEMENT FRESH
So in the hopes of helping, here are five ways to ensure your engagement with Scripture stays fresh. At least these work for me:
1. Find Your Best Personal Time.
For me, it’s a no brainer. I’m always best in the morning. If I try to spend time with God at night, I fall asleep (it’s nothing personal, I also treat late night movies, friends and family the exact same way after 10:00 p.m.) I love having time with God between 5 and 6 a.m. I’m fully awake, engaged and present.
What’s your best personal time? Give it to God. You’ll grow.
Okay, I better come clean. I have a bias. I think everyone should become a morning person. I think there are inherent advantages you don’t get any other way. I started becoming a morning person in my early 30s and have never looked back. Think you can’t do it? Here are five ways to do it.
2. Find the Medium That’s Best for You.
I’m a reader, so a written Bible has always equaled awesome for me. But a few years ago I discovered that I had stopped reading my Bible in a fresh way because I had been reading it for so many years. The words didn’t feel fresh anymore because they had become so familiar.
Around that time I had bought my first iPhone. I downloaded the YouVersion app and suddenly I found I was reading the Bible as though it were the first time.
Every word looked new, even though I had read it before. And that meant my connection with God and the Bible was stronger. The only thing I changed was the medium.
That was a decade ago, and now I keep variety by changing the translation. This year, I’m all in The Message, which really does create a fresh hearing for me.
Or you may want to try an audio Bible. Whatever you need to do to keep it fresh, do it.
3. Scale Back.
Honestly, sometimes the problem for me isn’t too little Scripture, it’s too much.
Eighteen months ago I found my personal reading of Scripture felt more like checking boxes than a living experience.
So last year, I cut back my reading from 5 chapters a day to about 5–10 verses. Not so I could be less faithful, but so that I could be more faithful.
For the first six months, I only read the verses in the Psalms Tim and Kathy Keller include in their devotional book, The Songs of Jesus. Then I read the devotion and prayed.
It helped renew the spark and heart I was looking for.
By the summer, I started adding a few verses of the Gospels back in, and by the end of the year, my time with God was alive and rich again, and I was so thankful.
4. Use a Reading Plan.
Random reading can get you started, but it often doesn’t keep you going. Like many others, I use a reading plan. Here’s a sampling of the hundreds available, including a 5-day plan I wrote on beating cynicism.
Nothing has kept me more engaged with God on a daily basis than that. It’s about 15 minutes of reading a day (so it’s a commitment), but for me, there has been nothing better. I love it because I simply look for the daily readings and they’re all laid out. No flipping pages all over the Bible. So whether you use a paper Bible or an app like me, it’s all there for you. So easy to use.
5. Take Time to Reflect and Pray.
A combination of prayer and some kind of reflection time is advised. Some people love to journal. I’ve tried to journal, but I’m not sure it’s me.
Other people reflect on their life and issues when they pray. If you make your prayer time a time of asking God to help you apply what you’re learning and apply what you’ve read, you will never run out of things to pray about.
Whatever you do, keeping your relationship with your Savior fresh and alive is critical.
After all, if your relationship with God dies, you lose your authority to lead, not to mention your passion and joy.
For sure, the issue is far more complex than just reading Scripture, but for me, the closer I am to God’s Word, the closer I am to God.
This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com.