Healthy Leaders


When Your Needle Hits Empty

Steven MillerSteven Miller

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matt 11:28)

Ministry hinges on leaders.

But effective leaders are few and precious.

And many effective leaders fall.

And before they fall, they burn out.

Chinese leaders especially get emotionally, spiritually and physically burnt out. Rest is considered unspiritual; performance is everything.

Counseling is a fairly new concept in China, not always accepted by people not comfortable with sharing their deep pain. One Chinese woman that I minister to received a Masters in Counseling. She keeps busy with other work and avoids functioning in her passion and calling. Another I minister to was emotionally abused by a leader who justified his abusive approach because “it helped her live up to her potential.”

Both have felt the heavy weight of always having to measure up to others’ expectations.

They ask, “Who is God?” and desperately seek to renew an intimate, refreshing relationship with Him.

Each needs to:
receive healing,
be encouraged,
rekindle their personal walk with Jesus,
see things through Jesus’ eyes,
potentially consider other opportunities, and
have their hope restored.

Practically, both needed a structured sabbatical where this could be experienced. It was a privilege to help both of them walk through their sabbatical.

Su was able to come to the U.S. for her sabbatical where God healed, encouraged, and rekindled her heart. She shares her experience with us:

CH: What was life and ministry like before your sabbatical that led to why it was needed?

Su: I was exhausted, hurt and confused emotionally. I was bitter towards God often. I was numb with my ministry, which means I did most everything out of obligation. I had been deceived, potentially, in my heart to believe that ministry was most important ‒ even more important than God ‒ but I wanted to give Him my best. Through that, I also found my value as well. In my relational circle, I was living under unrealistic expectations from myself and others. I also had a lot wrong expectations from God, which led to a lot of disappointment and brokenness between me and God. There were times I just reacted instead of responding when I faced certain situations. Somehow, I knew that I couldn’t keep going this way any longer. If this kept going, I foresaw that I would end up giving up on everything about Him which is what I fear the most, so I desperately cried for help, freedom and a change in me. God brought China Harvest alongside and prayed with me to confirm that I did need a sabbatical seriously.

CH: What you have experienced during your sabbatical and your process for healing?

Su: God brought me to the U.S. and He designed an agenda for me. I believe that He will keep designing my life agenda for me. His design is perfectly fitting into my situation; I wasn’t aware of what I truly needed. God did a lot of change in me the past months.

He did some really important things; I would like to highlight them here:

1. Priority ‒ God reveals to my heart what’s most important for Him, what He desires the most from me; He just wants to have intimacy with me. He desires me just to have some fellowship with Him. He loves me alongside of Him when He is working, not when I try to do things for Him. So, a shift happens in my heart in terms of moving me from focusing on ministry first to focusing on my relationship with God.

2. Childhood healing ‒ I grew up in a culture and family where lots of lies were passed on, which led me to live under a lie. I didn’t know that I had shame, guilt, fear, law-based values, poor self-image, and inner vows I had made. God revealed all of these to me and how these issues had negatively influenced me to view life and God. So I asked for truth and healing, freedom from these issues. God made the second shift in me.

3. Expectation free ‒ My wrong view towards God, people and life led me to have unrealistic expectations. I kept seeing others and myself failing, causing hurts for people and myself. I tried and tried, never getting to where I wanted to be. Never good enough. God showed me that I should not have any expectations ‒ I should not expect things of myself, others and God. I only can have trust in God. So I asked Him to set me free from these specific expectations and He has been working on it.

Now, a big shift happens. I see myself freer and freer. Not having a mind to always meet people’s needs; God is the one, but I am willing to help out if He wants me to.

4. New lifestyle ‒ I used to live in an old way, which I describe above. Now He shows me a new way of living. Constantly prioritize Him on a daily basis, pay attention to His heart, and honor and trust in Him in all circumstances. Secondly, guard my heart, invite the Holy Spirit to work in my heart. I need to give Him enough chance to work in me. God, through Fresh Start, really taught me how to have a new lifestyle of taking care of my heart when I face offenses, loss and hurts. I want to take care of my heart as Proverbs 4:23 says, to guard my heart.

5. A loving and real Trinity God being revealed ‒ God had designed for me to learn through all kinds of resources to see Him in a more objective way. He caused me to meet amazing, loving and generous people of God. He kept building my trust in Him through not allowing anything I fear to happen. He showed me that He is a provider, leader and protector, and someone who likes to have fun as well. So, I see Him more like a Father now instead of a tough boss.

CH: Do you have a burden for others who need a similar experience?

Su: Through this sabbatical experience, I sense that everyone needs to prioritize God and what He wants in our lives. I think that everyone is living under cultural influences; everyone needs this revelation and shift to really know our Father and what He is doing in the nations. I feel where I was before, that most everyone I know is still in this place. It will be my privilege to be able to work with the Trinity loving God in these areas in His people’s heart. If He thinks this is what He would like me to join in, then I would like to share with others my experiences, and what Father has taught me, and walk alongside of them to get real life, which is designed by the Creator.

I would like to prioritize them in four steps:

1. Grow in intimacy with the Trinity God through . . .

a. Find current and potential leaders; bring them together and help each other be committed to this.

b. Learn to constantly stop to ask Him, listen, and learn to obey Him before making each decision in discipleship and leader meetings, relationships, or facing other situations.

c. Teach potential leaders to understand more about intimacy with Him through one-on-one meetings and smaller groups of leaders.

d. Encourage them to build this new habit and teach others to do the same.

e. Form an accountability team for the key leaders about following this new life style.

2. Getting healthy with God and others

a. Overall teaching to whole congregation about how to name different feelings and how they have affected people.

b. Help people learn to identify how they have been affected by offenses, hurts and loss, in families or other relationships.

c. Put people into smaller groups.

d. Provide skills training like: Fresh Start skills and Pledge, Deeper Still training for people to help each other. (;;

e. Assign group leaders and work closely with them before they take leadership to help others be healed.

3. Leadership Development

a. Model and teach potential leaders how to make godly decisions through walking alongside of them and exploring and seeking God together.

b. Explore how to do teamwork, build common culture, conflict resolution, communication training, and delegation according to the gifting with leaders.

c. Empower them to take on different leadership roles to build them up.

d. Leadership content, topic exploring, teaching.

4. Physical health ‒ For now, just help people work out an exercise plan, and have people keep them accountable; later on, we can think more when we have the retreat center.

a. Creative gardening

b. Healthy diet

c. Exercise

Su has just recently returned to China. Pray for her as she transitions back to ministering to several unreached people groups and the church she helped plant among them, that she rest in her Father’s love even as she labors in spreading it.

What have you learned from her testimony?

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