A few weeks ago I was sitting in a doctor's office answering questions about how I was feeling. The questions were part of the process for the doctor to figure out what was going on with me. Individually, the symptoms weren't a huge deal, but taken together they provide a picture of what's happening. In ministry we need to regularly ask ourselves diagnostic questions about our leadership, especially when it feels like we're on the roller coaster of ups and downs. Those times, with their uncertainty and unpredictability, can be debilitating for us unless we dig into the issues. So here are 7 diagnostic questions to regularly ask yourself in ministry, but to really look at on the rough days.
1. Is your personal spiritual life growing, regular, consistent, and engaging? - In ministry we're only able to give to others what we're getting ourselves. That starts by the regular practice of spiritual disciplines, the practices we do to engage our faith. If your time in the Word isn't charging your heart, if your time in prayer isn't shaping you to be like Jesus, and if you're not regularly fasting, serving, giving, witnessing, and sharing hospitality, it's no wonder your ministry leadership feels dry. You're running on an empty tank.
2. When was the last time you dreamed? - Daydreaming is a waste of time, that's pretending you're high-fiving Lebron James when your name gets called as an NBA starter. Start practicing your jumper or start studying for that Physics test. But dreams are a whole other thing. Dreams are where the energy for our effort comes from. Dreams are where we picture an ideal future of what we want our lives and ministries to look like. Sleep studies have shown if we don't dream, we can really hurt ourselves. Are you dreaming of what your ministry could look like? Or are you content to just let things continue?
3. Is your marriage and family life balanced and healthy? - The downfall for far too many pastors who burn out or disqualify themselves happens not in the pulpit but in their home. Are you engaged with your kids or distracted by your phone? Are you involved in their lives reading bedtime stories or attending games? Do you date your wife? Are you regularly intimate (physically and emotionally)? Satan will attack your home before he attacks your church (cf. Mark 3:27), so take an assessment and see if things are strong?
4. When was the last time God answered a prayer? - James tells us we have not because we ask not (James 4:2-3) and sometimes I think that happens when we stop praying expectantly. If it's been a while since you can remember God specifically answering a prayer, check to see if your prayer life is vibrant or perfunctory. Are you praying to seek God's face and plead with Him, or are you running through your church's sick list?
5. Can you name who's shaping you and who you're shaping? - I'm a huge fan of mentoring, both to have someone shaping your life but also for you to shape someone else's. One of the best uses of a leader's time is spending time investing in another leader--that multiplies your influence. If you shape someone and are being shaped, you're constantly sharpening yourself. If your ministry influence isn't being replicated in others, you're not developing a culture of leaders, you're creating a dependency.
6. Are you reading something right now? - Ministry leaders fill their offices with books, a lot of it comes from spending 3-8 years in intensive study in seminary (especially if you're crazy enough to go for a doctorate!). But when a ministry leader doesn't have to read for class anymore, many times they fall into a trap of not regularly reading anymore. Harry Truman made it clear when he said "leaders are readers" because if you're not growing and expanding yourself as a leader, you're on your way to turning into a Dead Sea. Check out the book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books for more on sharpening yourself as a reader. Also, don't be scared to read outside of your tribe. I've gleaned so much from secular leadership books, there's so much to take from them that are observable principles of working with people.
7. Can you remember the last time you depended on faith to do something? - One thing I've learned in almost a decade of ministry is that we are trained to be risk-aversive. Risk isn't always good or wise, sometimes when we think we're taking a risk to accomplish something we're actually being stupid. But our risk aversion means that more often than not, we're not depending on faith to get anything done. We're so good at "counting the cost" that we forget to look to the Lord of the harvest. If you can't remember the last time you needed to depend on faith for something, maybe you've been depending on yourself and your ability more than God's. Take a step back and look for a BHAG that only God can accomplish, get wise counsel, and after much prayer take a leap of faith. Watch how God provides, protects, and works through you.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.