the shape of leadership

Pace Yourself

Five questions healthy leaders ask to sustain lifelong ministry

John Lindell on January 13, 2020

Rising to an altitude of 19,280 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is known as the roof of Africa. Anyone who has climbed the mountain will likely remember the phrase pole, pole — Swahili for “slowly.” To give the body time to acclimate to the thin air, slowly is the best way to move forward. People who don’t pace themselves won’t make it to the summit. That principle is true not only in mountaineering, but also in life and ministry.

Pace is important. Every ministry leader must periodically ask an important diagnostic question: Is the pace with which I am doing the work of God destroying God’s work in me? When I find myself viewing my service to the Lord and the people as more of a burden than a blessing, I know something is out of alignment.

To regain a healthy pace, I work through these five questions:

1. Have I made a schedule that reflects my priorities? A schedule isn’t just a to-do list or a slate of appointments. It is a reflection of strategic thinking. A schedule isn’t about the expenditure of time as much as an accomplishment of purpose.

God created each of us with unique gifts for fulfilling His purpose. Understanding our purpose and building our life and ministry around that purpose will result in a life of maximum impact. Whatever is most important, schedule it. A well-developed schedule will help you live out your values and focus on what provides the highest return on your time investment.

2. Have I created margin for the unexpected? No one knows the future, but you can count on the fact that life will bring surprises. Even the most strategic calendar can’t circumvent that reality, but margin can accommodate it. What may initially feel like a waste will prove to be some of the most valuable time you have.

A wise leader understands that adding something to a full schedule requires subtracting something else.

Margin is like a shock absorber, offering a cushion in those times when emergencies arise. Margin also leaves daily space for engaging in meaningful ministry moments without feeling the pressure of a schedule that is too packed.

3. If I add an ongoing commitment, have I subtracted a commitment of equal time consumption? We tend to believe we can do it all, but it doesn’t take a math whiz to know that if you keep adding and adding, at some point you will be completely maxed out. Anyone can say “yes” to requests and opportunities, but a wise leader understands that adding something to a full schedule requires subtracting something else.

Over the years, I’ve learned it’s possible to choke to death on opportunity and that not every great opportunity is one I should make room for in my life. I have found that if I am not willing to give up something to add an opportunity, maybe I should let that opportunity go. Keeping this mathematical equation as a part of my scheduling considerations has helped me stay focused on the things God has called me to do.

4. Am I regularly taking one day off in seven? God hardwired into our being the need for a one-day-in-seven rest. When I don’t stop to rest, I forfeit God’s recreative and renewing work in my body and soul. Along the way, self-reliance supplants worship, and deadlines diminish joy. I lose time with those I love most, and I eventually sacrifice my health.

Speaking from experience, if we don’t sabbath, a sabbath will be imposed on us. Taking one day a week to rest is also a powerful declaration to yourself and the people around you that you are not your own provider; you are trusting God to supply everything you need.

5. Have I considered that different seasons of life require different schedules? Every season presents unique opportunities and challenges. Recognizing the season I’m in as a leader helps me make the necessary adjustments for a healthy pace.

Every organization has times in the calendar when the workload is more intense. Plan in advance to meet the challenges of the busy seasons rested and ready. And once that season comes to a close, don’t feel guilty about adjusting your schedule to allow time to recover.

Leaders must let go of the illusion that someone out there should be rescuing us from ourselves. If you’re waiting for someone to say, “You are working way too hard,” dream on. A part of healthy leadership is owning the responsibility of establishing a sustainable pace. Your life, your ministry, your marriage, and your family all depend on it.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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