Often when I am speaking somewhere and introducing myself I say that being tired is biblical, but being retired is not. Now, this statement is not meant to be a slam against retirement, but rather a criticism against those who say they are retiring and are stepping down from and stepping away from doing anything to make a continued difference for the kingdom.
It’s perfectly okay, in my book, to slow down, change things up a bit, discontinue doing some things so you can focus on a few things, but I honestly have a problem with those who at some point in their 50s, 60s or 70s who are in good health and could continue to have influence for the kingdom, but instead decide to stop doing much of anything of eternal value and chose instead to sail into the sunset as they watch more TV, play endless rounds of golf or take more cruises to one place and the other. When you are in your 50-70s or even 80s, you can make some of the best contributions of your life, and younger leaders need you more than you realize.
I will be 83 in December of this year and will continue to trust God to bear fruit in old age (Psalm 90:14) as long as I have vision and vitality. I have no desire to “retire” and do little or nothing.
Now, switching gears a bit: In my work with leaders and the churches in which they serve, I am encountering (more so than ever before) those who are very tired. As I said earlier, tired is okay. Jesus was tired and fell asleep in a boat in the middle of a storm. Paul was tired and speaks of it in Colossians 1:29 where he says:
“For this I toil, ‘struggling’ with all his energy…” ESV
Or, in the New King James Bible, “…I also Labor…”
The word toil, labor (Greek word Kopiano), according to the Strong’s Concordance, means: “To feel fatigued, work hard, be wearied.” Paul was tired, very tired, but that’s okay and very biblical to my way of thinking. But when and how can tired become exhaustion that leads to burnout?
A few years ago when I would meet somebody I hadn’t seen in a while, upon asking them how they were doing, I would often hear that they were busy, very busy. I still hear that, but now I’m also hearing I’m very tired. Now, as I say (and Jesus and Paul would agree), tired is okay. There is something good about feeling tired after working hard–whether that be a physical or mental expenditure.
But when tired turns into very tired/exhausted (which many leaders are really speaking of) that gradually leads to burnout, which over time can lead to moral failure and disqualification from ministry, we have a problem–a big problem! So the critical question is: when does tired develop into exhaustion and head down the road to very dangerous burnout?
The only way you will be a “Leader Who Lasts” in ministry over the long haul is to stay healthy spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally.
From the book “Lasting Impact” by Carey Nieuwhof, here are some signs you are moving into an unhealthy and possibly exhaustion/burnout place.
1. Your motivation is fading
2. Your main emotion is numbness
3. People drain you more than they normally do
4. Little things make you disproportionately angry.
5. You’re self-medicating (for some leaders food is their drug of choice)
6. You laugh hardly at all anymore
7. Sleep and time off no longer refuel you
Do you recognize any of these signs in your life or in the life of someone with whom you serve?
Here are some things to keep in mind to prevent you from going down the slippery slope of exhaustion and burnout:
1. Make sure you have consistent and life-giving times alone with Jesus in scripture, prayer, worship, confession and repentance–both in your “closet” and in your community. Make it a top priority in your schedule.
2. Exercise 3-5 times a week for at least 30 minutes. Swim, bike, run, use exercise equipment or whatever you would be able to do consistently, but do something besides vegging on the couch.
3. Watch what you eat. Make sure you have a balanced diet and are not “living” at the fast food restaurants.
4. Get 7-9 hours of sleep and take short naps during the day. Naps are gaining a new level of acceptance in leadership circles today.
5. Create margin/space and don’t fill every square on the chess board with work.
6. Maintain quality time with family and friends
7. Develop some hobbies and spend some time each week involved with those things which refresh and renew you. The leader who says his work is his hobby is kidding himself and living a dangerous life.
8. Find a mentor or coach to walk with you and hold you accountable. Perhaps someone older who has been down the road you are traveling and has gained some wisdom which can be passed along to you.
If you are not very carful, work will take over most everything in your life and push Jesus, family, friends, good eating habits, exercise and fun out of the picture.
This is nothing to take lightly. There are strewed bodies all over the leadership landscape. Please don’t become one of them–and don’t say that it can’t happen to you!