Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion
by Wayne Cordeiro
Ministry is draining. Thankfully, God promises to renew us and give us strength to minister. But, as the author Wayne Cordeiro reminds us: “We don’t forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.” We tend to push ourselves too hard for too long, not realizing that little by little our spiritual and physical tank is running dry.
Wayne wrote this book because of what he learned, the hard way. After pushing for years in ministry, he finally came face to face with burnout. He shares the lessons learned to help others.
For those that have been in ministry for some time, “Leading on Empty” serves as a prescription for renewal. For those that are just beginning, it serves as a preventative plan to structure your life and ministry to endure.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the book:
1. Your BODY needs to replenish as well as your SOUL: “Serotonin can get depleted when you don’t live with a cadence that allows it to be replenished.” “Once these serotonins are exhausted, adrenaline has to be produced to take their place . . . your body becomes dependent on this powerful chemical to meet deadlines, get reports ready, and rise to the expectations of others—or your own.”
When Serotonin is depleted we get depressed. We may not be SPIRITUALLY depressed, but our BODY may be depressed!
Many people in ministry try to hide depression because they feel it is unspiritual to be depressed. But understanding that our body’s depleted Serotonin levels may be the cause is a helpful reminder that we must take time to renew both body and soul.
Are you seeing symptoms of burnout or depression?
2. We are our own worst enemies:
Most people in ministry (missionaries and pastors alike) are very driven people. They can focus on a goal and push hard to see it completed. This determination is a great strength and is necessary to get you into ministry or to the mission field. However, the flip side of our strengths are often our weaknesses.
Wayne said that he “drove hard on all cylinders, not realizing that being an entrepreneur means that everything you initiate, by default you must add to your maintenance list.” This truth hit me hard. (Sometimes the most basic things are the easiest to overlook.) What you start you must maintain. Not only must we structure our lives with the proper cadence, we must not add too many things that need maintained.
Have you added too many things to your plate?
3. Leave time for what only YOU can do:
We usually fill our day with things that feel urgent, but are unimportant. They are little things that could be delegated, automated or batched to be done once a day/week to save time and mental energy.
When we don't do this, the result is that we have little energy left for the things that only we can do. “I would have to distill my life down to the few issues of absolute importance . . . I had to come to grips with what only I could accomplish . . . These would be responsibilities that, in the end, God would hold me accountable for.”
We must learn to “STEWARD YOUR ENERGY: A leader’s greatest asset is not necessarily time. It is energy. A person with energy can accomplish more in four hours than another would in four days.”
What are the things only YOU can do?
How can you structure your day to invest your energy on these things?
4. Fill your tank:
Schedule activities that recharge you. “Each of us has an internal emotional reservoir. On the topside, there’s an input, and on the bottom, a drain. Certain activities will drain you more than fill you, and others will fill you more than drain you. Some tasks will contribute to you and others will take from you . . .Do as many of the things that fill your tank as you can. That is how you recharge.”
Whenever possible, fill as much of your ministry with things that energize you. These are the areas that God has most gifted you in. You can’t get rid of everything that drains your tank because some things just need to be done. But by ensuring that you stay filled you will find the greatest fulfillment and will be ministering from your gifting.
What fills your tank?
What drains your tank?
I personally went through these questions to help me identify ways I could better steward my time. For me a few things that fill my tank are journaling, teaching/preaching, coaching/mentoring others, spending time in nature, motorcycle rides and golf. A few things that drain my tank are paperwork, endless emails and large groups of people.
5. Schedule your rest:
I identified with Wayne when he said that over “the years I developed a complex . . . whenever I took a break, I felt guilty.” Maybe you feel the same. But, rest is both a gift from God and an act of faith. “God gives us rest, but sometimes we can’t seem to accept such an extravagant gift. We somehow imagine that the world won’t be able to go on without our involvement. There’s too much to do. Yet God says: “You shall do no work at all. . . . It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls” (Leviticus 23:31–32).” “Sabbath rest becomes a command we respond to, not a result of nothing left to do.”
We must learn to “schedule rests in before your calendar fills up. Rest is not an afterthought; it has to be a primary responsibility. It brings a rhythm back to life and a cadence that makes life sustainable.”
Am I scheduling time to fill my tank?
What fills/drains my spouse’s tank?
Am I allowing my spouse to fill their tank?
6. Schedule time with God:
Above all else, find time to regularly be with God to renew your soul! “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). The springs of life! The headwaters of the soul. You can’t refresh those springs from the outside in. Only God, the Creator and Sustainer of life, can release those vital energies from deep within the human spirit.”
You cannot give what you do not have.
“I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastor’s spiritual health—not the pastor’s efficiency—our number one priority.” PHILIP YANCEY
To be most effective, we must minister from a full cup!
How is your spiritual health?
Are you ministering from a full cup?
I can say with confidence that scheduling my time with God has revolutionized (and probably saved) my ministry. I was addicted to busyness and felt guilty if I stopped working (even if it was to take a chunk of time to pray). As crazy as it sounds, it felt unproductive because it wasn’t measurable. If I had free time, I would fill it. This is probably because I wanted to feel that my activity was so important that I couldn’t stop to rest. Obviously, everything around me would grind to a halt if I took more time with God, right? Wrong. My wife can vouch that the only thing this accomplished was to make me uptight, tired, grouchy and a few migraines to boot.
Scheduling my time with God is different than my daily devotions. This is a longer block of time where I go to a quite place to be with God. These times bring life to my soul as I quiet my heart, enjoy His presence and trust in Him to work.
I still work hard, but I no longer feel guilty taking time to “be still” and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). It is still always an act of faith to pull away from things that feel urgent. But if I truly believe that all spiritual results lie in God’s work and not mine, then I can be like Mary and sit before the Lord. My heart is more important to God than how busy I look.
How freeing it was to see that even Jesus would regularly stop ministering and “withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). If Jesus needed it, who was God incarnate, so do I!