“It’s one thing to preach sermons and cast vision. It’s another thing to get into the nitty-gritty of building healthy culture and confronting the elephants in the room.”
Knowing that so much of our growth toward health is related to internal things, what can you as a leader do to contribute to the emotional health of the team, besides paying attention to your own journey?
First, we clarify an expectation that each person is investing time, effort and money in their own personal development and learning. That’s foundational. For me that has meant having mentors, seasons of counseling, reading, going to conferences to learn. Who I am is so critical to what I do. God is speaking to me. I’m not skimming and just riding on the fumes of my past experience.
Secondly, we are resourcing the team for their own growth and development. So I’m bringing in resources, whether it’s books, articles, people who come in and share. I’m making sure people have mentors. We have a nice development budget for people; it’s one of the ways we allocate money. We do staff retreats and team meetings where development is part of the agenda.
And if people are married, we ask, How’s the marriage going? And we know the spouse, we’ll ask them too. If you’re single, How’s your singleness going? Do you have community? Are there people you’re walking with outside the work of the church?
Are you doing good self-care? Do you have good healthy hobbies outside of church? We don’t want you working 80 hours a week. We want you to have rhythms and balance in your life. You’ve got work; you’ve got rest; you’ve got prayer; you’ve got play—a wholeness in your life.
Let’s circle back to success for a minute. We feel such profound pressure to succeed. Ironically, one of the things that makes success elusive is our very pursuit of it. The energy we invest in the chase. So is there a definition problem here? How do you define success personally and as a church?
Success as a follower of Jesus is to become the person God has called you to become and to do what God has called you to do. Period.
So for example, if I grow our church to 10,000 people and I come to God at the end of my life and say, “God, here, I built the church to 10,000 people,” and God says to me, “Pete, I never asked you to do that. You were supposed to grow your church to 500 people or 400 people and be faithful in that and some people were going to come out of your church and they were going to plant churches and do this and that, but I never asked you to build this church to 10,000 people. That was for the guy down the street.” Now, was I successful? No. Because success is doing what God asks me to do.
Here’s why I use that example: At New Life we are committed to bridging racial, cultural, economic and gender barriers. Success for us is that we’re modeling a community that’s multiracial. The measurement’s going to be different. Now, if I were just going for pure numbers, I’d do a church of one race. If success for you is numbers, then don’t do multiracial churches, right?
Jesus had a wider view of success. I think one of the great passages is John chapter 6. He multiplies loaves and fishes, thousands of people follow him, then he gives this sermon and it says at the end of John 6, many disciples no longer followed him. And Jesus is fine. Because success for him is not purely numbers.
But again I want to be clear. We want to grow and reach people and make disciples. I don’t want to be anti-numbers—we have a whole book of the Bible called Numbers. Acts mentions numbers.
Somebody was counting.
But there’s a question of motivation. David counts the people in 2 Samuel and in Chronicles and it’s pride, it’s idolatrous and he is judged for that because he counted his fighting men. His motive was wrong. He was looking for a false sense of security and identity and that was not good.
Am I looking to grow my church so people will look at me a certain way? So we’re back to your inner life. We’re back to motive. We’re back to knowing yourself. Back to having people in your life that have some maturity and aren’t just reinforcing your pathology—which is a great danger. We don’t want to surround ourselves with people who have their own insecurities, so they’re reinforcing things that are not helpful to us—reinforcing the shadow.
I’ve been to leadership conferences where I realized this is not doing me any good in my relationship with Jesus, because it’s feeding ambition.
At one point you list signs of an emotionally unhealthy leader and among them you say that they do more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain. And you talk about the danger of leading without Jesus.
When you get out of loving union as a leader it’s dangerous. You wind up using your own flesh, your own strength, your own experience, even as you do it all in the name of Jesus.
Some people get into a larger ministry responsibility for Jesus—and they have the gifts to do it—but they don’t have a loving union relationship with Jesus. That’s so dangerous, because you don’t have the life to handle the weight that you’re carrying in leadership.
That’s what makes Christian leadership so different. We do it in the name of Jesus; we do it through Jesus; we do it in Jesus; we do it with Jesus in us. This is not the business world. We’re not just taking the corporate best practices and putting it on the church or Christian leadership. We can learn things from the marketplace, but for us it’s much more about living in loving union with Jesus out of which we lead, lest we do our will and not his will.
And it’s very important you know the warning signs of when you’re out of loving union with God. I know mine. I feel it in my body. I feel pressure. I feel tension. I feel hurried. I’m short with people. My time with God is being cut short. I’m not relaxing in him. My times of silence and solitude are being shortchanged. I can feel it in the anxiety in my life. I see it in my marriage, not having time with Geri the way God intends. It comes out in relationships. It comes out in team meetings. It’s really obvious for me now. I’m so aware of it.
By the grace of God I’m one day at a time—one day at a time, slowing down for loving union with God. To do that and be a leader in Western culture is very, very challenging.