Serving God Doesn’t Mean Living Life in Fifth Gear
“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)
I would like to begin with a confession.
On three occasions, I have thought seriously about leaving full-time ministry. I didn’t contemplate leaving behind my ministry job because of a desire to make a career change. It wasn’t because I needed to find employment with better benefits or higher pay. These thoughts did not enter my mind because things were going poorly.
In fact, every time I have considered walking away from full-time ministry, by outward appearances all was well. But inwardly, I was dying. I had taken on too much, overcommitted myself, and was in a general state of burnout.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
This has been a struggle of mine for much of my life. I can be quite ambitious. Like others in leadership, I get anxious when I don’t see forward progress, and for years even took pride in my overachiever persona.
Here’s how I once described myself to a ministry friend: “I don’t operate well in anything other than fifth gear,” I told him. “Have you ever driven a stick shift, and left it in one of the higher gears as you are slowing down?” I asked. “The engine stutters, and you stall the car. That’s what I feel like when things are moving slowly.” For the initial years of my ministry career this is how I operated.
OUT OF GAS
I remember the first time I ran out of gas. Those of you who have worked in youth ministry will surely identify. Leading into a particular summer, I had a desire to fill the schedule with activities that would help my teens grow closer to Jesus.
I committed to take them to two weeks of church camp, on a mission trip, to a conference that would help them grow spiritually, and we would serve on the vacation Bible school crew as well.
I had also accepted an invitation to speak at a week of church camp in the Midwest. In telling others about the upcoming summer calendar, I was proud of the busyness. At one point, a youth group parent questioned me about the wisdom of such a full calendar. I assured him it would great!
By summer’s end, I knew what a fool I had been.
RHYTHMS LIKE JESUS
The truth is, none of us were made to live life in fifth gear. This is a sure path to burnout. In this, we must look to Jesus. While we don’t have all the details of His ministry recorded, we do have enough to give us a good picture of the rhythms He embraced. At times, He found himself in front of massive crowds, preaching and teaching. At other times He engaged with his twelve chosen disciples.
And then there are the moments in which Jesus walked away from them all. I think of the instances when Jesus got up early so He could be alone with His Father, or the times when He got into a boat and shoved away from shore, leaving the crowd behind.
Yes, Jesus made the choice to slow down at times. Do not miss this!
HOW TO LEAD LIKE JESUS
Some have said that leadership is a lot like pushing a boulder uphill. Leading others is tough. It requires diligent, hard work. I’ll use this quick visual to relate what experience has taught me:
1. When there’s an uphill, there’s a downhill as well. Allow yourself to recover after a season of hard work.
2. While on the uphill, it’s okay to take a break.
3. Invite others into what you are doing. Sharing a load is a blessing.
4. Learn to recognize when you are in an uphill or downhill season, and treat it appropriately.
And finally, just as Jesus did, get alone with the Father. Only then will we find the strength to live out the mission He has called us into.