Healthy Leaders


Life Management in Ministry Leadership – Video

Bert WatsonBert Watson

This is a presentation from LDC 2014. To learn more about the LDC, please visit

Today’s ministry leaders face serious challenges. For many, the dream has become a nightmare. The statistics say it all. 90% of leaders struggle with feelings of inadequacy. 80% have insufficient time with family. 75% carry unhealthy stress. 70% have no close friends. 50% of pastor’s spouses see ministry as the greatest threat to marriage and family. 40% of pastoral couples live on the verge of burnout. 33% of church leaders burn out within their first 5 years in ministry. 25% don’t know where to turn when they experience conflict or a personal issue. Two out of three will never reach their full potential. Over 1700 U.S. church leaders leave the ministry every month. These shocking statistics tell us two things. First, church and ministry leaders need help with life and ministry management. Second, our church leader training processes are inadequate. This workshop helps ministry leaders to take an honest look at their own lives and ministries, identify and implement strategies for change, and develop a more effective approach to life management in ministry and leadership.


The main thing we want to look at is transformation and our understanding of what we are supposed to do as Christian leaders and how we engage in the fulfillment of that responsibility.  Most of us have grown up in environments that are very driven.  If you’re a leader with any kind of responsibility you get asked to do more than you have time to get done.  You sacrifice family time.  You sacrifice your health.  You do a lot of things often not as well as you would like to, and as a result of that you often say your fruitfulness is not quite as good as you’d like it to be.  Is that pretty descriptive for most of where most of us are at?

That’s very much been my life experience and as I’ve grown up, praise the Lord, I’ve learned some good life lessons and I’m going to share some of that with you today.  But before we do that I want us to engage in a process of exploration and self discovery about our own lives, about what motivates us, about how we use our time and the areas where we need to change.  Question:  How many of you experience stress in ministry – in your leadership roles?  Those of you who did not raise your hands I will pray for you to be healed so you can raise your hands.  No, I’m just kidding.  Most of us do, and if you don’t that’s wonderful.  That means you need to already be reproducing and sharing what you’ve learned and what you’ve discovered with the next generation of leaders because the inherent tendency in the body of Christ around the world is for young leaders to grow up highly stressed and you just don’t lead as effectively when you’re stressed.

Now, how many of you believe Jesus had a stressful lifestyle but somehow managed the stress?  Somehow He managed it, so it can be done.  At the end, we’ll probably just glance over a few principles that Jesus learned to practice, but He didn’t learn.  I think it was built into Him from his connection with the Father.  So we need to learn from Him how to execute our own ministry responsibilities and especially how we engage relationally with others and the kind of commitments we make and then how we execute those commitments to make sure that we’re not driving ourselves to an early grave. Life in ministry leadership can be very demanding.  Would you agree with that?  Yes, I would agree as well.  As your experience and abilities increase, something happens.  People notice and they begin to say, “You’re pretty good at that.  Would you help me?”  Or, “Hey, you know I just need someone to coach me.”  Or “Can you come speak at our church?”  Or “I have this camp next month” – and that begins to happen more and more and more.  It’s exciting to be used by God; it’s exciting to see people’s lives be impacted, but what is traumatic about it is that we don’t monitor what happens to us in the process and we end up coming short in the whole process.  We end up hurting ourselves, hurting our families, hurting our relationships.  How many of you have had some sort of life experience that was negative as a consequence of over-commitment or living under stress for too long?  Anybody?  Anybody here been in the hospital yet?  May that not be in your future.

How many of you have had relational issues – husband or wife, children?  “Dad, can I make an appointment?”  Anybody ever had that one?  These things happen and so those are all warning signs, just like earlier we were talking about the whole sense of the body giving you warning signs.  Your social relationships, especially family relationships, will also give you warning signs when you’re pushing too hard and ignoring your other ministry responsibilities like your wife and your children.Sooner or later, every Christian leader is forced to make difficult choices and that’s the operative word; choices about how best to utilize the limited time God has given us on planet Earth; that’s the bottom line – choices.  Are we making choices that are informed by the Holy Spirit or are we making choices that are motivated by factors beyond the Holy Spirit, other than the Holy Spirit – often emotional choices, choices riddled in inferiority or feelings of the need for acceptance, those kinds of things.  So there are a lot of things that are involved with that and that’s very interesting that this issue of stressful ministry has been around since the beginning.  The Lord Jesus Himself experienced tremendous demands upon His time.  The early church leaders – same problem.  As I was looking through the scriptures this past week, I ran across this verse that interestingly enough I’d never really noticed before.  I’m just taking a short segment out of it.

Paul is writing to Timothy.  Timothy has been trained under Paul, has been mentored by him.  He’s now exercising his own ministry responsibility but still very much under the spiritual fatherhood of the apostle Paul.  Paul writes to him and he says this:  “Pay close attention to you, yourself and your teaching.  Persevere in these things.”  When I saw that I went, “Wow, pay close attention to yourself” – he put that first – “and to your teaching; to your ministry.  Persevere in these things.”  This is important.  Make sure that you are diligently paying attention to these two characteristics in your life and in your ministry.  So the question we have to ask ourselves is how much attention are we paying to ourselves and to our ministry?  And I think it’s an excellent, excellent question.

Take a moment to reflect on that.  Do you take time to evaluate your spiritual and emotional health in ministry?  Do you take time to evaluate strategically the effectiveness of your engagement and your ministry responsibilities?  Have you given consideration to doing things differently, to doing things more effectively, to protecting your relationships better?  These are the kinds of questions we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis.  Now I ask the question, why is this important?  Well, let me shoot through some of the statistics with you.  This is quite incredible.  Bobby Clinton was the leadership guru at Fuller Theological Seminary for many, many years.  He’s about retired now, if not retired.  I had the privilege of studying under him; a wonderful man. Through his research in the Bible on historical leaders and contemporary leaders, he discovered there’s almost a one-third ratio in how leaders turn out.  One out of every three leaders tends to bomb out through sin or overwork or something like that where they have that catastrophic failure which forces them to leave the ministry.  One out of every three leaders plateaus.  That means they reach a certain point and they stop growing for one reason or another, and there are dynamics behind that.  About one out of every three makes it to the point of maximum development and influence.  And the simple fact is, when you look in the mirror you will see somebody – today later on or tonight – who fits into one of those three categories.  That’s the reality.  One out of every three bombs out.  One out of every three plateaus; they stop growing.  One out of every three really reaches the place God wants them to be, and you will be one of those.  That’s quite sobering.

Let’s listen to the statistics – these are from different resources.  Ninety percent of Christian leaders struggle with feelings of inadequacy.  Eighty percent have insufficient time with family.  Seventy-five percent carry unhealthy stress.  Seventy percent have no close friends.  Fifty percent of pastors’ spouses see ministry as the greatest threat to marriage and family.  Forty percent of pastoral couples live on the verge of burnout.  Thirty-three percent of church leaders burn out within their first five years of ministry.  I was one of them.  Twenty-five percent don’t know where to turn when they experience conflict or a personal issue and as was mentioned earlier, over 1,700 leaders leave the ministry every month in the United States alone.  That’s pretty shocking, but that gives us a picture of the reality of the kind of stresses Christian leaders are living under today.  Why do Christian leaders often struggle with life management?  What do you think are the driving factors, if you had to pick two or three of the major ones, what would you say that they are?

Pride is a big one.  We spoke about that one earlier.  Sometimes taking on too much work; being unrealistic in our expectations and the expectations of others toward you.  You must do everything.  Don’t be a youth pastor unless you like cleaning toilets and that kind of thing.  So our theological perspectives are often wrong.  So we’ve got to realize that there’s a price to be paid when you cross the line.

Somebody did some research on why is it that Christian leaders work so hard.  These were some of the statistics they came up with.  Normally, I would just ask all of us to do this, but we’re so short on time today and I want to use it for you to be able to process.  First, and interestingly, it’s not the church board.  The church board is at the end.  The main motivator for people in Christian leadership is that one:  high personal expectations.  We drive ourselves.  Now sometimes you can blame the senior pastor or the CEO or the board, but in the majority of cases it’s our own desires, either prime motivator or really honest desire to be used by God to maximum effect which is to get us into trouble.  Sometimes there are other factors involved as well, but all of it is important.  We just want to make sure that we’re aware of what really drives us. What I’d like us to do is take a few minutes to do some exercises together.  One of the things we have to do is we have to learn to identify what are the key factors or the key elements in our life that are really of importance to us?  It’s interesting how rarely we think about these things.  We just do stuff.  How many of you are just good at doing stuff?  I’m a practitioner.  I do things.  And I’m like a racecar when I hit the track.  I just want to go.  So I’ve had to learn as I’ve aged to be more strategic in my thinking because I’m 60 now.  I’m getting older and so it’s important to focus my energies.  I don’t know how much longer the Lord’s going to lead me and I want it to count for the maximum so by the time the Lord calls me home that I have fully accomplished everything that God gave me to do.  That’s one of my theme scriptures.  It’s very interesting that it was mentioned in the session earlier today.

So, have a look at this first exercise.  Identify the key goals, roles, relationships and responsibilities that you believe that you carry that God has given you.  Take a moment.  You don’t need to be thorough.  You don’t need to write it.  You can even do it in your head and do the exercise later if you want to, but I want you to begin to think about what are the key time uses, what are the key things which take emotional energy?  What are the things that you feel God has called you to invest in?  What are the demands upon your time that are important?  Think about family, think about ministry, think about real life and just take a few moments to write down maybe the top five or seven, especially the ones that you consider to be the most important.  Just write key words – that will save some time.  Key words that just remind you of – or make you think of what goes on.  Don’t over-think, just pick the main ones.  You can actually put 60 things on that list and that would be a bit too much.  We want to focus on sort of the main demands upon your life.  This is something you can process through over months and that’s often the best way to do it. For those of you who are “High D” people and you’re already finished with your list, because I’m sure they probably are, and the people who are what we call “High C” people – high compliance people who want to make sure they get it exactly right and they’re probably still thinking things through, that’s fine.  That’s the way God made you.  That’s wonderful.  But for those who already have a good idea of what their list is, this is very important.  You’ve got to identify your inconsistencies.  Look at your rating – one, two, three, four, five; the ones that you put at the top – and begin to think about the amount of time allocated against that; the amount of emotional energy, the amount of resources against that and try to find the inconsistencies.  For instance, if you say my relationship with my wife is first, my relationship with my husband is first, is it?  In practice, is it?  Would your wife or husband agree with that?  Would your children agree that you are the father or mother or would they say somebody else is?  So that’s the kind of inconsistencies you begin to look at.

Just as I put in here, I said, “Our true priorities show up in how we allocate our time, energy and resources.”  So ask yourself the following question and to keep yourself honest think about what people close to you would say, like your wife or your children.  How closely aligned are your life in ministry with what you believe to be the most important ministry goals, roles relationships and responsibilities as a Christian leader?  What I’d like you to do is write down specific ones where you experience the greatest levels of conflict – and that would be internal conflict and also external conflict – or the greatest levels of inconsistency.  For instance, last week your wife said to you, “I think you’re married to the church instead of to me.”  That’s an indicator that there’s an issue, so it’s important that you identify it.  If you don’t identify clearly areas of change, you will not change.  Something I learned a long time ago, change is not automatic.  Change is intentional.  We have to lock onto the areas that are the most important and begin to highlight that.  One of the issues I’ve faced is household maintenance.  I’m actually quite a good handyman, I just struggle to make time to be a handyman.  So I’m sitting with our guest bathroom with 12 tiles off the wall for about five months.

Our senior past or at our church giving a sermon a few months ago said, “Now imagine going to visit somebody’s house and you walk into their bathroom.  Now what are you doing to think about them if you go into the guest bathroom and there are a bunch of tiles off the wall?”  I immediately got under conviction.  Something’s got to happen with the tiles, whether I do it or somebody else does it.  The tiles must be fixed; otherwise when our senior pastor shows up, I’m in trouble.  Now just as you’re thinking – how many of you are finding this difficult?  Is anyone finding it difficult to think of areas?  How many of you find it very easy to think of areas?  How many of you are asleep right now?  Now while some of you are working on that I want to find out, has anyone in this room, have you ever had any juggling experience?  Can anybody here juggle anything?  Can you juggle?  Would you volunteer to help me because I can’t juggle at all – I’m utterly, utterly useless – but this is such a fun exercise and I need somebody who has some level of competence beyond mine.  I knew we met for a reason over there, so thanks for volunteering.  I appreciate it.

Okay, now let’s think about what are some of the areas that you’ve identified as being the most important in your own lives in ministry?  In your writing, what are sort of the top five or top six?  What did you put?  I would say that’s a big one.  In fact that’s so important I’m going to give that a red rating.  You said it was relationship with God.  In fact I’d say that’s number one.  How many of you would agree?  That’s got to be number one.  I think the Lord would also agree that’s number one.  What else came up?  Family.  I already have an F.  That stands for family.  What are some of the others that came up?  Volunteering.  That would go under ministry.  We’ll call it ministry.  What are some others that came up?  Health?  You mean we should be concerned about that?  Yes, and in fact do you think that should be a red one or a black one?  I would agree.  That’s what color the lights are when you’re on your way to the hospital.  They’re red. What else came up?  Friendships.  I’m going to call that social, is that all right, because we’ve already got an F.  We’ll call that S.  Social.  Now I’m going to make social black on purpose.  Can anybody tell me why social’s not red?  We’ll talk about that in a minute.  Any other critical areas that came up besides bathroom tiles?  We’ve got that in the context of somebody who’s in part-time ministry but also has a secular job or would you be integrating the two of those as one?  All right, we’ll say that.  Then I’m going to have to create another one here that also says – I’ll put a line underneath it.  Let’s say even for those in ministry, how many of you know ministry – let’s say that this is the administrative side of work, the grunt work.  Even in ministry there’s grunt work.  How many of you experience that?  Oh, it’s my favorite part of the ministry.  It’s actually not.  I hate detail.  I’m not a detail person, I’m a ministry person, but unfortunately that’s part of life.  Just tell the IRS that you don’t believe in doing detail work and see how long you can get away with that.  Any others you can think of that would make the top six or seven?  That’s a pretty good list, but I’m really surprised nobody said taking care of my environment – not ecosystem, but the home environment.

How many of you have ever tried ministering without transportation?  Or living in a house where the ceiling tiles – we have tiles where we are – the shingles have big holes in them and when the hurricane comes you find out that you have a fountain feature you never knew you had?  I think that’s important.  Environment’s important and so I’m going to add that one too.  I just want to make sure Michael drops something.  This is a great exercise because we’re going to talk about juggling and that’s essentially what all of us do, we juggle.  We juggle all these different roles and relationships and responsibilities – all these things that other people have given us to do and things we’ve given ourselves to do and most importantly the things the Lord’s given us to do. Remember, what was the qualifying statement in the session earlier today?  It comes from John 17:3-4.  Jesus gives us the two most important dynamics in human life.  The first one is what?  This is eternal life that they might know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.  The word know there is an experiential word.  It means real knowledge, real relationship

The next statement Jesus makes is a very powerful statement.  “I’ve glorified You on earth.”  How did He glorify him?  By fully accomplishing the work you gave Me to do.  And so in those two dynamics we see the summation of human existence for those who belong to Jesus; knowing God and doing what He’s called us to do which means you don’t do your thing, you do His thing.  That’s very important.  So now I’m going to ask Mike to come up and I’m going to begin to assign him some responsibilities.  Something I learned a long time ago about jugglers is that jugglers get better at juggling as they have experience.  Would you agree with that?  Can you juggle three balls?  Okay, so I’m going to give him his relationship with God, his family responsibilities, which hopefully you won’t get an F for, and his ministry responsibility, so we’ll see how he is juggling these three.  I’m impressed.  Let’s give him a hand. Now as he begins to grow and mature and get better and better at what he does – can I just throw another one in?  You’re going to catch that one for me so we can slow you down for a minute.  Let’s say he’s married, he’s got a family and the Lord blesses him and he gets a beautiful home, so he’s got a house to take care of now.  I don’t know how I’m going to get this into your hand; so he’s got a house and car to take care of and he’s beginning to mature, his hair’s getting a bit gray like mine and so he’s got a bit of a health factor he’s got to be concerned with.  And of course you have some friends, don’t you?  Are your friends important to you?  And mentoring arrangements and all that kind of stuff?  And so – oh, uh-oh, uh-oh!  Okay, now the moment of truth has arrived.  We haven’t even given him all his responsibilities yet and did you see what happened?  What happened?  A ball fell.  He dropped the ball.

I’ve learned something about the balls and human life.  We have different kinds of balls.  Some balls bounce and these bounce pretty well.  Some balls, like a baseball or cricket ball in South Africa – very hard.  You get hit by that ball, what happens?  Either it hits your hand and it hurts your hand or it hits your face and rearranges the way you look.  One of my friends’ nose looks different today because he got hit by a cricket ball right in the nose.  Let’s just say he now looks at everything from a slightly skewed angle.  His nose is that way.  And then some balls don’t bounce at all and they don’t bruise, they break.  They’re actually eggs.  That’s why I like to do this with an egg.  The ones that break, I use eggs.  Let’s see what happened.  Well fortunately he dropped his ministry ball.  Now that’s not a good thing, but guess what?  Most ministry balls will bounce.  You may be out of commission for awhile.  People may get hurt, but you can usually “Oh, I’m out of the ministry now.”  Normally you can get back in.  So a year or two goes by, he recovers, he’s ready to get going again.  I’ve got to give you your friends.  You do have friends.

So now he’s taken on mentoring relationships.  It’s social, you see, to help them so he doesn’t drop the M ball next time.  You can see his mentor is not very effective because he’s juggling more, probably, than he can handle.  Go for it.  Oh, now he definitely – now he’s dropped his mentor, right?  Uh-oh!  Let’s see what this ball is here.  What does this ball say?  That’s red and it says F.  Family.  Does this ball bounce?  Not very often.  You know what normally happens with this ball?  You drop that ball, you don’t easily recover from them.  Sometimes you can, but the divorce rate amongst people in ministry is as high as anywhere else in the world.  People don’t know that.  But there are lots of married couples that are together but they have a terrible marriage.  They stay together for the sake of the children and the sake of the ministry, but their marriage is a lie.  It’s very hard to produce something authentic from something inauthentic. So the question we have to ask ourselves is, how many balls can you really authentically juggle?  My tendency is always one too many and all jugglers learn the law of the limit.  They know, “Hey, as my experience grows I get better and better.  I can juggle.  I’ll try another one, I’ll try another one,” until you reach a limit.  What do you think your limit is?  Six would be a bit difficult, so if you saw these two balls here and you wanted to juggle these two balls, what would you have to do with the ones in your hand?  You would have to do something.  That’s right.  You have to lay down two to pick up two.  And this is a big mistake most of us make in ministry.  We don’t lay anything down.  We’re used to picking up and picking up until something with a red letter on it falls.  When that ball hits the ground it doesn’t go “boing,” it goes “splat.”  And the impact upon our lives and the lives of those around us is traumatic.

Now sometimes the ministry ball is red.  If you’re a senior pastor and you have a moral failure, that can hurt a lot of people.  So not everybody’s balls are the same color.  The question is what color is it in your life?  So the question I have to ask is what is your risk?  What balls are at risk?  You’ve got to ask yourself what’s at risk?  Think about the various areas in which there are areas of vulnerability.  You may be thinking nothing’s at risk right now.  Let me ask your spouse about that.  Let me ask your children.  Let me ask your colleagues and see what they have to say.  I’m very grateful I have a high capacity.  I can do a lot of things, but there’s a crossover point in which operating at high capacity without any outlet or any chance to unwind or let down is asking for big, big trouble.  I have accountability partners.  I have a wife who’s straight as an arrow and she’ll ask me really hard questions.  And I have a 13-year-old boy who says, “Hi, Dad.  Do you remember me?”   When your child says something like that, it’s time to evaluate.

We need to look at our own lives honestly and so what I did was I prepared a bit of a self-assessment exercise based on the wheel-of-life concept.  Some of you have heard of that maybe through counseling or life coaching.  Just take a few minutes, instinct only.  Don’t think about it too much.  The more you think about it, the more complicated it becomes and harder to answer.  You’ll see there are two pages of statements and I know it seems long, but there’s a reason.  It’s because it looks at 10 different areas of ministry life.  Rate yourself between zero and five where zero means never and five means always.  We’ll have a little tool at the end that will help you assess how in balance or out of balance your wheel of life is and that will help you to identify potential hotspots that you might need to have a look at down the road. How many of you encountered something today where you realized okay, that is an issue?  That is something I need to consider.  That is something I need to think about.  Did anybody see anything?  Did anybody discover anything new or is it just a reminder of things that are already there?

The important thing in all of this is to remember that none of this will ever change unless you do something.  If we were doing a coaching workshop, my question to you would simply be you’ve identified that this is a crisis area potentially or an area of weakness.  What are you going to do about it?  What intentional action or thought change can you take to facilitate some sort of transformation in that area so that area is more aligned with something that truly represents a change in lifestyle and honors and glorifies the name of Jesus and protects the vital relationships in your life and protects your own health so that you’re here for a long time?  The important thing is to take the responsibility to do that.  Something I’ve found that helps me is to speak to my wife about it.  I have a good friend who is an executive coach, so I speak to him about it.  I go to my senior pastor and have him reflect on it, and just talk to other people who you trust, who can ask you hard questions and make practical suggestions, to help to bring about a creative solution because you all know we’re under tremendous pressure and as technology improves, pressure goes up.

Something I’ve discovered is, technology does not make pressure go down, it heightens expectations and pressure goes up as well.  So that’s an area where we’ve really got to guard ourselves, to realize that technology is not always your friend.  Technology can be your enemy simply because it allows people to communicate with you more easily and therefore the expectation of return is always there.  So let’s think about it for a minute.  What are some things you think you might need to do a little bit differently in the future to help you have a better balanced wheel?  What do you think?  How many of you realize as you did this there may be relational issues you need to address?  That’s the area of greatest vulnerability – that and killing yourself or killing somebody else in the process.  Because if you drive yourself, you will drive other people, especially if you’re in authority; you will drive others.  You will place the same expectation on them and they will kill themselves for you.  That’s one thing.  They can die for Jesus, but not for you. So it’s very important to make sure we don’t pass on our stresses to other people because of ego-drivenness on the inside of us.  We’ve just scratched the surface today.  All I wanted to do was to evoke a response.  I don’t want to say provoke, but to evoke a response.  This kind of stuff is emotional.  Nothing wrong with it, it’s good.  My heart challenge to you is to take it seriously.  Take it seriously.  If the Lord highlights an area in your life that you need to address, please don’t be a fool.  You need to understand what the will of the Lord is.  That’s a biblical command.  And if you’re operating outside of that will, you’re operating in your own strength and your own wisdom and your own ability and guess what?  It’s not a work of the Spirit and it will burn up in the judgment.  It’s only that which is authored by the Lord himself which will endure and that’s why it’s so important not to get caught up in doing everything.  Find out what God made you to do and do that.  Like Jesus said, “I fully accomplished the work, Father, You gave Me to do.”

As God’s people, we need to recognize and discern what is that work.  And of course, that’s rooted in what Jesus said, which is a dynamic relationship with the Father.  It all came out of overflow.  This whole ministry came out of an overflow relationship with the Father and that’s what all of us need. Unfortunately, when we get busy that’s the first area we sacrifice – intimate time with God.  Big mistake.  Don’t make it.  Can we close in prayer?

Father, even though this was a very hurried session to engage on such an important matter, thank You that You speak to us through little exercises like this.  We pray that You will help us to be people who are 100 percent aligned with who You’ve created us to be, doing what You created us to do, that our lives might be lived in maximum honor and glory to You.  We pray that, Father, in the precious name of Jesus.  Amen.

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Bert Watson