The One Thing Burnt-Out Leaders Need
“The wonder of our God once took my breath away, and now I’m afraid that I’m just out of breath serving Him.”
Those raw words were spoken over a hushed crowd of thousands of leaders at a leadership conference a few years ago. A bestselling author and megachurch pastor was admitting he had lost his passion for his God while serving Him. I was in that crowd and found quiet tears in my eyes because that was my story, too.
For years, I had faithfully been serving as a women’s ministry director at our church, keeping busy teaching women’s Bible studies, planning conferences, and encouraging other women to put their hope in Jesus.
But in the midst of all that out-of-breath-serving-Him-busyness, I had lost wonder.
The wonder of knowing Him.
The wonder of prayer.
The wonder of His Word speaking directly into my own heart and life.
Oh, I was passionate about prayer, but not really praying; teaching Bible studies, but not really spending time alone with Him in His Word. I was discipling other women, mentoring young moms, and “doing” ministry. But that was the problem—the “doing” for Him had replaced the “being” with Him.
Confronted with this truth at the leadership conference, I cried out aloud while driving home alone in my car: “Jesus, I miss You! I’m so busy serving You, but I’m not sure I really know You anymore. Make me desperate for You. I want to thirst after You and Your Word again!”
Remembering the Who Behind the Why
The Psalmist David had a similar heart’s cry. Tucked away in Psalm 42 is a verse that I now have written in the front of my Bible as a gentle reminder:
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (v. 2).
I am convinced that one of the enemy’s most subtle attacks on ministry leaders is to distract us with the tyranny of the urgent, keeping us so busy with doing good things for Him and others that we don’t even realize our own hearts have drifted away from Him.
Just this morning I was on the phone with a gifted leader who left a high-pressure ministry position that was consuming all of her time, leaving very little left for her family or God. She told me, “I felt like I was around Jesus all day, but I didn’t really know Him.”
In The Screwtape Letters, a Christian apologetic novel by C.S. Lewis, the demon Screwtape writes in a letter to his nephew and minion, Wormwood:
Once you have made the world an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.
My prayer for us as women’s ministry leaders is that we will guard our hearts (and calendars) from forgetting the who behind the why of our ministry callings. Like the Psalmist, may our daily heart’s cry be “when can I go and meet with my God,” not out of a sense of duty or something else for our full to-do lists, but out of a deep and abiding love for Him.
Our Lord Jesus modeled how to guard that sacred time alone with His Father God, even in the midst of His busy earthly ministry. We’re told in Luke 5:16 that “he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Again in Luke 6:12, we see that Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray.” It’s almost as if He, too, was desperate to get that time with His Father.
But thankfully, our Savior can also relate to the needs of others pulling us away. Mark 1:35 tells us, “Rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” Then in the next two verses we see that “Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’”
Can you relate to that pull as a busy ministry leader? Do you often feel like “everyone is looking for you,” and it’s not even practical, let alone possible, to just spend time with Him? Aren’t you grateful that your Savior understands that pull?
A CARA Day
After the leadership conference, I sought out my mentor and prayer partner for ideas of how to reawaken my love for God’s Word and how to guard time alone with Him. In her typically practical and blunt way, she said, “Judy, you need to put CARA (come away and rest awhile) time on your calendar! That non-negotiable time with Him needs to be at the top of your to-do list.”
She pointed me to Mark 6:31 where Jesus wanted to protect His disciples from the tyranny of the urgent taking over their days:
He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat (HCSB).
What an invitation!
Come with Me by yourself . . .
To a quiet place . . .
And get some rest!
My mentor encouraged me to find a day on my calendar and write CARA on that day. She wanted to know the date so she could be praying for my getaway day with God and wanted me to be accountable to her that I actually got away.
And so I did. And my heart for Him and my ministry calling has never been the same. God used that first CARA day to gently woo me closer to Him and ignite a fresh love for His Word. I began to long for my quiet time with Him early in the morning rather than feeling guilty that I couldn’t squeeze that time into my busy days.
What about you? This time on your ministry calendar can be one of the busiest for women leaders with the launch of a new ministry year in the fall. I encourage you to write CARA over some of your days. Make it a date that is non-negotiable for other distractions to pull you away. Ask Him to meet the longing of your heart for more of Him that day. Be accountable to a mentor or ministry partner, knowing they will be praying for you on that day.
I promise you that our faithful and very patient God will be right there waiting for you.
By Judy Dunagan