Learning to Lead Without Burning Out


Lungs clenched tight, skin dull and colorless, eyes dark and heavy. It had only been a month since I was appointed as a team leader on the mission field, and my mind was like a deflated balloon the day after a birthday party.

With our bus ride snacks and the backpacks, we had finally arrived at our much-needed debrief after month seven of our 11-month mission trip called, "The World Race." There is no doubt in my mind that I was called into leadership. Nevertheless, the learning curve of anything new is always rather exhausting.

On paper, I was leading well. I delegated duties, I had pretty good boundaries, and "I surrendered all." So, why was I so sucked dry?

Surrounded by my friends who were eager to explore canyons, raid the coffee shops, and soak in the hot springs, I was spelling one word across my agenda: N-A-P.

But, this debrief would be the perfect chance to reflect, recharge, and have wisdom poured into me from older and wiser mentors. So to kick off the weekend, all of the ladies on our squad gathered together for some good old-fashioned girl talk and Q&A with Rozy: a strong, godly woman around the same age as our mothers.

With a room full of introverts, I am the dominant talker -- usually the first to ask a question. Not this time though. Even when Rozy noted that I was usually the first to ask a question, I sat blankly with a brain completely fried.

As the wheels of my brain turned with tires that lost their tracks, I somehow conjured up a question amongst my fleeting half-thoughts:

“Rozy, I keep hearing so many sermons and advice telling me to surrender everything up to The Lord -- to work out of the Lord’s strength rather than my own, but I feel like I’ve never been told how to really do that.”

Classic Rozy does not even pause to think about that. She clearly knows through experience and had the answer on the tip of her tongue.

“It’s so easy in a leadership or discipleship position to come before God with the goal to prepare things for other people. My time with the Lord is only between myself and Him. Everything else is stripped away. Having it any other way would be like if I was a great wife in the sense of being a great mother, great with finances... everything, but I had no actual relationship or intimacy between my husband and me. It would be a very lonely marriage.”

Wow. Can I get an “amen, sister”? Want to convey a concept to a group of ladies? Pitch something like that to a group of chick-flick-loving, Pinterest-crazed girls. You’ll have them at hello.

Beautiful vintage sofa next to wall (retro-style illustration)

Picture this with me, ladies. You have a dreamboat for a husband. Yes, I just said dreamboat. We’ll name him Brad (Brad seems like a good name for a dreamboat). You and Brad have two beautiful children, a golden retriever, and a cozy house with a fireplace. He reads to the kids every night, gives them baths, and showers them with love. He does everything he can to provide for the family. He serves in the community.

Despite all of this, you haven’t had a heart-to-heart conversation in years. In fact, when you two do go on a date every so often, he’s half-present and half-on a conference call. When he does talk to you, he’s bouncing around ideas for his next board meeting with you. He doesn’t really ask how you are.

I wouldn’t want to be married to Brad. He’s not really a husband. He's essentially more like a roommate who put a ring on it. Jesus called us His bride, but was I treating Him more like a roommate? I imagine what it would look like to be roommates with Jesus:

I’m ready to go out the door for classes as Jesus walks into the kitchen to heat up leftover pizza from the night before.

"Jesus, where did you get all of that pizza? I thought I ate the last piece last night."

"Multiplied it. Want some? It's stuffed crust."

"Sure," you say while taking a bite, "by the way, where were you last night? You came in pretty late."

“In My Father’s house, of course.”

"Right, right. I forget how close You two are. Oh, and our bathroom keeps flooding. I called the landlord about it."

"Oh, not to worry, I've just been kind of walking over it. See you after class!"

I head to class, and maybe we cross paths again in a few days.

I never went to seminary, and I couldn’t tell you about the original Greek or Hebrew or Aramaic, but I would guess that Jesus never laid down His life to become our pleasant acquaintance. Isaiah 54:5 says: “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name.” What this means is that hundreds of years before Jesus was even a twinkle in Mary’s eye, there was a furious, passionate longing in His heart to come in the flesh and lay down His life in order to be united with His bride.

On the other side of the equation, we are wired with a blank space within us that longs for that stripped-away intimacy.

In Song of Songs 1:4 NIV, the woman in the dialogue says, “Take me away with you — let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.” As this book is a parallel to our relationship with God, a king’s chambers are meant to be the most secret and private of places. He is knocking on her door and calling her away with him. Later in chapter five when he approaches her, she is even too preoccupied with the idea of getting her feet dirty when she answers the door to invite him in.

I thought I was spending plenty of time with Jesus, but similarly to this bride, I was far too preoccupied with more trivial things like preparing myself for ministry, my future, or the people I was leading when He was calling me away into a secret place. There was no intimacy.

People without the intimacy of their Creator are like a solar system without a sun: directionless, confused, and lifeless.

I was like a busy spouse who was missing the entire point of the marriage. A marriage without intimacy is no longer a relationship. It's a routine that left me worn out and dry.

How do you respond when you are called into the King’s chambers? Are you occupied by your daily routines and responsibilities, or do you run to answer when He knocks?